Brain Gain News

Poland Couple Finds Grass Outside Valley Isn’t Greener

By Lisa Solley
POLAND, Ohio – Collin Syphard now calls Youngstown one of the world’s biggest small towns, but he didn’t always feel that way.

A place that he and his high school sweetheart, Jayna Syphard nee Frasco, were encouraged to flee, the Mahoning Valley is once again home. It was the early 2000s and going to college was considered the only road to success for the Poland Seminary High School graduates.

“People said there’s nothing here, and that wasn’t really true,” he remembers. “People with nice houses and cars were telling me to move as far away from the Mahoning Valley as possible or you’re never going to make it.”

They followed the advice that had come to them from all directions. 

“When you’re a kid, you believe it,” Collin says.

Collin graduated from the University of Akron with a baccalaureate in supply chain and operations management. Jayna graduated with an accounting degree from Youngstown State University.

With the ink barely dry on her diploma, she headed to Akron in 2012, vowing never to return. They easily landed jobs in their fields, got married, switched jobs, moved a couple of times and began conversations of having a family. In essence, the 20-somethings were creating the life others told them was possible. 

But 10 years after hearing that anywhere else was better than here, the couple found that wasn’t the case. 

“We took a lot for granted of what the Valley had to offer when we were growing up here. And it wasn’t the same place we left,” Collin says.

He recalled a lone bar in downtown Youngstown and not much else. Today he describes it as a vibrant place to go out and have dinner with friends. Jayna says YSU’s growth and sprawling housing options surprised her. 

Ten years prior, that wasn’t how they saw it, and they headed for Akron.  

“It was that time in our lives,” Jayna says. “When I first moved to Akron I was right out of school, still young, and it was new and exciting.”

Jayna, Audrey and Collin Syphard have made their home in Poland.

Collin was working as a buyer while Jayna worked as a contractor. Three years later he commuted from Akron to JLG Industries in Orville. After two years at that job, a company recruited Collin and they moved to New Bremen, about an hour north of Dayton.

They found a beautiful little town in the middle of nowhere. After buying a home outside of town, he says they thought they had made it – living an idyllic, suburban life in their late 20s. 

“We were really far out and then reality set in,” Collin says. 

Suddenly, they recall, the experience of having success by moving away had an expiration date. The simple gesture of being friendly, Collin realized, was something he had taken for granted.

“People aren’t as friendly. I didn’t realize that ‘cause we have this macho, gruff persona here in Youngstown, but we really are the world’s biggest small town, or at least one of them,” he says, referring to how people just start conversations whether it’s standing in line at the store or walking in the park. 

“I wasn’t getting a lot of that, especially being way out in Orville and then New Bremen,” he says. “I felt like an interloper.” 

Jayna, meanwhile, felt alone. She hadn’t started working, didn’t know anyone and prairie suburbia left her feeling stranded. While talking on the phone during a drive across the prairie, Jayna blurted out that she didn’t want to be there and Collin agreed. 

“We had never felt that before,” Jayna says. “We were like, ‘Maybe we should move back.’ It was just weird because we never thought that we would come back here. We just got this feeling, like, it just felt right being back.”

Within weeks of that conversation, Jayna found a job at Hynes Industries and moved back while Collin remained and looked for a job. 

Finding a job in Akron, Collin commuted from Poland for more than a year until finding a job in North Lima with Hunter Lift, which makes custom material and handling equipment. 

After returning to the Valley, their daughter, Audrey, was born in 2018. Now in their early 30s, the family says they are happy to be close to family, working for a living and raising their daughter in the village of Poland. 

Collin and Jayna say they believe moving away to start their careers was a good move, but are advocates of people returning to the Valley to raise a family. 

Overcoming stigmas internally and externally are needed for economic growth, he says. The perception that few prestigious jobs exist is an issue that area leaders and businesses can strive to change, according to Collin.

The bigger stigma, he says, comes from within and is one he and his wife faced: that to be successful people have to leave the area. 

“I know people that I grew up with that are working in Toledo, and man, if we can’t get them to come home; what’s Toledo offer that we don’t?” he asked.

Jayna agreed, but says that may not change unless people see it for themselves. “Like our friends who live in Columbus, they love it, but it’s not home. I think deep down they feel that but nobody wants to admit that,” she says. 

As for the advice to leave the area, Collin believes his parents and others were only trying to look out for his interest at that time.

“I never remembered Black Monday. That was well before I was born. It was scary here for a long time,” he says. “I really think that’s from shared trauma. My generation never went through that and I think we need to let ourselves off the hook from that.” 

While the area has diversified, he says a lack of large corporations as a challenge for attraction to the region. He says trading bureaucracy at a company where he’s not just a number is what he enjoys. 

“After years of being gone it kind of crystallizes what you want in life,” Collin says. “We discovered what we really wanted was to be back here. It took a long time to realize, we were kind of in denial of it.”

“We’re here for the long haul now,” he adds.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.