Economic Development

Editorial: Onward to the Next 40 Years

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Residents of the Mahoning and Shenango valleys who were alive in 1977 look back on Sept. 19 as a date that lives on in infamy, the day the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. announced it would all but shutter its operations in the Mahoning Valley. It was the beginning of the prolonged and agonizing retrenchment of the domestic steel industry.

We prefer to look forward. The worst is long behind us. We not only survived, we refused to admit defeat and worked our tails off. We’ve bounced back, not to where we were in 1977, but we’ve adjusted and recovered, giving us reason for optimism about the next 40 years.

Especially heartening are the people who grew up here in the aftermath of Black Monday, left for greener pastures but returned and are playing leading roles in the rebirth of the Mahoning Valley. Their names appear often in the media here: R.T. and Hannah Vernal, Ian Beniston, John Slanina, Becky Keck, Dominic Marchionda, Daniel Catullo, Chris Rutushin, Heather McMahon, Danielle Seidita, Denise Bayer and Sophia Buggs, to name but a dozen. They are half of the contingent that sociologist Jill Ann Harrison, a professor at the University of Oregon, interviewed in depth for a paper she wrote, “Rust Belt Legacy: The Pull of Place in Moving Back to a Legacy City.”

The pull of home was but one factor in their decision to return, Harrison found. They enjoyed varying levels of success outside the Valley and used what they learned in Columbus, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Florida and elsewhere to benefit their hometown upon their return.

What struck us in Harrison’s paper is how Youngstown – its gritty blue-collar culture, its work ethic, its ethnic diversity, the sense residents have of extended family – prepared them to strike out for greener pastures before drawing them back. “Work represents dignity, virtue and integrity and the return migrants’ narratives reflect the enduring nature of this notion,” Harrison writes.

Many more people have left the Valley since 1980 than returned as Bureau of the Census data show. The age of Valley residents is well above the national average. So there’s ample opportunity for younger people to fill positions of leadership that cry out for their education and talent in private and nonprofit sectors. Four of those Harrison interviewed, including Beniston, work for the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., which has done a magnificent job in working to restore neighborhoods in Youngstown.

As Marcionda told Harrison, “Moving back to Youngstown [provided] opportunities you wouldn’t get if you lived in another city.”

Only two of the 22 Harrison interviewed are black and Youngstown is a city with an impoverished black majority. But most at least touched on poverty and segregation, the latter barely budging since 1970. Integration and greater economic opportunity remain works in progress. Much always remains to be done but those who remained and those who returned are hard at work.

Editor’s Note: This editorial appears in the MidSeptember edition of The Business Journal. To subscribe to our print edition, CLICK HERE.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.