Monday, February 27, 2012

Youngstown Diaspora Advantage

Youngstown is shrinking. That's a big problem. The Youngstown Business Incubator makes lemonade out of lemons:

The downtown real estate market had collapsed in Youngstown, so they made that a selling advantage to software developers. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars per square foot in San Francisco they can pay $8-10 in Youngstown. I spent a lot of time during my working career in software companies all over the world and the YBI offices are as hip and nice as any.

There is a lot more that could be said about YBI, but this is Warren Expressed, not Fortune or Business Week. As YBI’s story relates to Warren, the thing I found most interesting is that they found a way to use what Cossler calls the “Youngstown diaspora” to their advantage.

They searched the database of Linked-In (the professional person’s Facebook) to find people who attended YSU and who currently work for a group of major software and technology companies – people YBI thought could be helpful to their clients. They then began a thoughtful campaign to recruit those people to the YBI cause. Cossler told me:

“Each of those people had a soft spot in their heart for their old home town. Many only left because they had to do so for professional reasons; most of them still have family and friends here; they wanted to see Youngstown make a come-back and many were willing to help us make it happen.”

I had a hand in helping the YBI craft its diaspora strategy. Looking back on it now, just two years after completing the project, the effort was more of an experiment than well-designed initiative. I learned a lot from that experience. Diaspora networking can catalyze economic development and urban revitalization. Downtown Youngstown is proof of concept.

The journalist who wrote the above article ends on this note:

How many of you know someone who left Warren and became successful and how can we tap that power to fuel a renaissance in this town?

And there is a powerful lesson in the story of YBI: Success can happen here.

Success can happen in your community, too. I can help you tap the power of your diaspora just like I have for Youngstown, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. People develop, not places.

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