Group Wants Youngstown to Hold Vanguard Conference

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With all the growth, community action and technological advances in Youngstown, it’s time to show off. For a city that’s “punching well above its weight class,” according to Mahoning Valley Young Professionals member Jillian Smith, the time has come to attract new ideas.

At the meeting of the Economic Action Group Friday, Smith updated some 30 stakeholders in the downtown about the group’s plan to bring the Vanguard Conference to Youngstown in spring 2017.

“What [Vanguard] is looking for specifically is program ideas that highlight the best of the city and ways in which the city is working to be innovative,” Smith explained. “They want to come alongside the work that’s already being done in a community. That way, it will have the biggest impact when they leave.”

In May, the conference was held in Reno, Nev. There, the 40 who attended – all younger than 40 and chosen because “they show great promise,” according to the conference website – toured that city, talked to agencies and residents there about problems they faced and came up with ideas to revitalize its economy, culture and quality of life.

Hosts of the next two conferences in 2016 and 2017 will be announced Sept. 15. So far 11 groups have pledged to support Youngstown, among them the Young Professionals, Youngstown Business Incubator, Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau and NYO Property Group.

“I know it sounds far-reaching, but if you look at what’s going on in Youngstown, it’s time for us to be nationally recognized for what we’re doing,” Smith said. “It would highlight on a national scale the amount of work and innovation that’s going on here.”

Vanguard is hosted by Next City, an online publication that covers revitalization efforts across the country and provides networking opportunities. Staff for the site also write several stories on the host city leading up to and during the three-day conference.

Host cities have included Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., all much larger than Youngstown.

“It’s time for it to be in a small city, particularly one that’s been able to do what we’ve done with what we have,” Smith said. “Based on the general culture of Vanguard and Next City, it feels like something they would highlight and appreciate.”

Should Youngstown be chosen, former Mayor Jay Williams, now director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, has committed to being a speaker, Smith said.

“We can speak on Youngstown 2010 on up to what the Business Incubator is doing,” she said. “The things we’ve accomplished as a city of this size is remarkable and sometimes isn’t even seen in bigger cities.”

Also addressing the meeting was Nick Chretien, president of YSUscape. On Wednesday, the student organization at Youngstown State University cleared weeds and debris from in front of the “Welcome to Penguin Country” mural along Lansing Avenue on the interchange from U.S. Route 62 to U.S. Route 422.

“When people come in through the corridors to YSU, they see that things are vacant and abandoned. It brings a negative perception to the school,” Chretien said. “We had to be the ones to step up and make it better for potential students and anyone who’s going to be on campus.”

YSUscape has scheduled a second workday for Aug. 29.

Downtown’s wayfinding and signage project remains in the design phase, said Michael McGiffin, Youngstown’s director of downtown events.

“We have some preliminary designs, but it’s nothing we’re ready to show anyone,” he said. “It’s literally just a feel [of how the final designs will look].”

Studio Graphique, the Cleveland design firm creating the signs, is in the process of making a budget outlining the cost and location of all signs, McGiffin said.

The next Economic Action Group meeting is scheduled for Sept. 15 at the Youngstown Business Incubator.

Pictured: Jillian Smith.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.