Thursday, September 02, 2010

TechBelt Tidbits: Innovation Hub Geography

There is more good news for Youngstown. Ohio has designated the city the "Entrepreneurial Hub of Advanced Materials Commercialization and Software Development" for the state. Software? It is a testament to how well the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) has leveraged geographic arbitrage opportunities. Other Rust Belt cities could do the same. In my opinion, the real genius is in the urban planning:

To be designated an Ohio Hub, a region must identify core strengths and develop a strategic plan for urban revitalization. The designation consists of a commitment from both the state and the region to work collaboratively and target economic development efforts toward building upon those identified strengths.

The concept for the local hub, crafted by Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams and former YSU President David Sweet, "set forth a vision of a visually attractive, highly energized hub zone … originating in a compact geographic region between Federal Street and Lincoln Avenue but resulting in economic impact between Lake Erie and the Ohio river and beyond," said Michael Hripko, director of research and technology-based economic development at YSU.

The "compact geographic region" takes advantage of the dense infrastructure indigenous to Appalachian industrial cities. It is one thing to redevelop a brownfield within city limits. It is quite another to have a dense downtown with world class architecture as a playground. This landscape is ideal for knowledge transfer. And yes, the cost of doing business is ridiculously cheap.

Neither the drab modernity of the suburbs nor the beautiful buildings in the centre hint that Cambridge is at the heart of one of Britain’s biggest clusters of high-tech businesses. But on the outskirts of the city, just off a busy dual carriageway, is the collection of low-rise, landscape-gardened buildings that make up the Cambridge Science Park.

Not to claim that suburban tech parks can't generate significant knowledge spillovers. They do. Just that there is a lot talent in the center of town going to waste. Youngstown offers a university, urban amenities (such as a major art museum) and an array of venues where serendipity could strike. Federal Street is, surprisingly, teaming with life and creativity. The YBI is at the center of it all.

Imagine a cluster of software companies occupying prime downtown real estate. That's exactly what you find in Youngstown. It is the defining feature of the Mahoning Valley's revitalization. Artists, college students, software coders, and public servants all mingle at a few hot spots just a few steps from the front doors of the YBI.

There are more synergies yet to be fully exploited. The relationship between downtown and the university up on the hill is best characterized as improving. Connectivity with nearby spectacular urban park Mill Creek is effectively non-existent. The surrounding neighborhoods with gorgeous housing stock have yet to stabilize and are in sore need of more attention from city officials. However, I wouldn't bet against the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative and Phil Kidd.

I simply see Youngstown as an exciting place to be. It is the cultural epicenter of Rust Belt Chic. More about that in a tour de force post coming soon. All that energy is bound to go somewhere. Your software company should tap into it.


Youngstown Nation said...


Jim Russell said...

You spend too much time on Facebook. :}