Journal Opinion: Reinventing Our Identity

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As this edition of The Business Journal went to press, community activists led by entrepreneur Derrick McDowell were preparing for their annual “Reclaiming Our Identity” event. 

Since 2018, the event has served as a commemoration of Sept. 19, 1977, the date seared into the Mahoning Valley’s collective memory as “Black Monday.”

Although it typically features reflections on the steel industry and the people who worked in it, more importantly the event aims to point the path forward – to show our identity is being reclaimed.

Fittingly, this year’s event was scheduled to take place at two industrial sites east of downtown Youngstown that are being reclaimed and repurposed. The commemoration was to begin at the former William B. Pollock Co., which Penguin City Brewing is repurposing as a brewery, tap room and event space. The event was to conclude at the former Northeast Fabricators building nearby, which McDowell purchased last year and where he now stages his Youngstown Flea markets for makers.

The past is important to remember. Certainly the steel industry played a critical role in establishing institutions that remain cornerstones of the Valley, such as the Butler Institute of American Art, the Youngstown Foundation and Youngstown State University.

But we also need to embrace the future and the industries that will shape it and support new entrepreneurs like McDowell and Penguin City’s Richard Bernacki and Aspasia Lyras-Bernacki who set an example.

Entrepreneurial activity is exactly how we reclaim our identity, another way of saying, as we have for 37 years, that we can’t wait for Washington or Columbus to rescue us.

The most obvious example of entrepreneurial success is the Youngstown Business Incubator. Over the last two decades, the YBI has expanded from its original building on West Federal Street to a fifth building that is being renovated to accommodate diverse startups in fields such as the emerging additive manufacturing sector.

Most recently, the incubator’s services were further expanded to provide new programming for minority-owned enterprises and even businesses founded by entrepreneurs as young as age 9.

Then there is the Voltage Valley.

From construction of the Ultium Cells plant  – part of General Motors’ entrepreneurial entry into the electric vehicle segment – to Lordstown Motors Corp. to the growing role Brite Energy Innovators plays in assisting entrepreneurs in the energy field: The activity is exciting and significant. The startup turmoil at Lordstown Motors appears to be easing with the new management in place. We are again optimistic about its prospects. 

And so, the Mahoning Valley, once the Steel Valley, is not only reclaiming our identity, we’re  reinventing our identity.

Full speed ahead.