Roundtable Preview: Next-Gen Leaders Discuss Valley’s Attributes, Future

CANFIELD, Ohio – They live in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys. They’re optimistic about the region’s future and committed to its success, but they recognize there are areas that need improvement.

Eleven young people, all leaders in their professions or community groups, participated in a Next-Gen roundtable discussion hosted by The Business Journal on May 14 at Courtyard by Marriott to talk about the region, how to keep and attract young people and what they can do to make a difference.

Betsy Bresnahan, marketing manager at DGPerry in Canfield, graduated from Boardman High School and then West Virginia University. She worked in Chicago for a few years before deciding to return to the Valley.

“I want to be an example that you can come back here,” she said. “There’s a lot of great opportunities here in Youngstown.”

Many people want to see what is available in other communities, and that’s great, Bresnahan said.

“But you can always come home,” she said. “And there’s a lot of great people here – a lot of great organizations.”

Jacob Rickert is the director of workforce development at Penn-Northwest Development Corp. in Hermitage, Pa.

Penn-Northwest developed the Homegrown Initiative to help keep young people in the area.

“It’s led entirely by other young adults, which we call the future leaders,” Rickert said. “It’s young men and women that act as the guiding body for all the decisions we make to help further retain young adults, whether they grew up in Mercer County or came here to get their education.”

The other panelists were Paige Genova, pelvic floor occupational therapist and founder of Vital Pelvic Health & Wellness in Poland; Nico Morgione, associate director for business development and industry partnerships in the Youngstown State University College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; Levi Smith, a budget administrator at YSU; ShoMoré Wright, director of recruiting at Canvass America; Shea MacMillan, commercial agent at Platz Realty Group; Kaneesha Ellen Tensley, Boardman police officer; Katie Cretella, director of clinical services at the Trumbull County Mental Health & Recovery Board; Tyler Wolfe, regional manager for Winner Aviation; and Gina Peplow of Jobs for Ohio’s Graduates.

MacMillan was one of those people who planned to leave the area after he graduated from YSU. He studied economics and wanted to work at the Fed in Cleveland.

“But the more I started going to YSU and started meeting really impressive leaders in our community and getting a sense of the size of our community, I wanted to be a part of world building rather than going to a place that was already well-established,” he said.

Tensley hopes to help young people.

“I find that the younger generation often believes, ‘I can only do this,’” she said. “One of my goals is to let young people know you can do more than only this. You can do anything. I want to be that motivation for them.”

Peplow also strives to help youths.

“I look for leadership to develop our youth so they can get beyond the barriers in front of them,” she said. “A lot of the youth I work with are 200% below the federal poverty guideline.”

They don’t have access to many resources. Peplow said she was one of those young people.

“So I can go to them and say, ‘You can move beyond where you are,’” she said. “It’s not what you control under 18. It’s what you do after 18 and how you build yourself and your life.”

The panelists discussed some of the reasons they believe the Valley is a great place to live.

Genova said it’s easy to start a business in the region. She had never taken a business class before she started hers.

“The idea of starting a business wasn’t something that I ever had in my mind,” she said. “But when I got out of the traditional health care system and out of the hospital system, my eyes were opened to how many resources there were in Youngstown, how much community support there is in Youngstown from other local businesses, and how many local businesses there are in Youngstown.”

Even though she didn’t have a business background, she had passion.

“There is a patient population that needs help outside of the traditional medical model,” Genova said. “And there’s been countless resources at my fingertips since starting my practice.”

Morgione doesn’t believe the community talks enough about the good things the Valley has to offer.

“… The people who know about the wins celebrate them …,” he said. “But something needs to be done that gets the message across to others.”

Wright agrees.

“We don’t celebrate our wins as we should,” she said. “That’s where the negativity comes. Everybody is so quick to harp on the bad things. But there are wonderful things in Youngstown.”

She opted to stay in the Valley because of family but also because she’s passionate about Youngstown.

“My entire life I’ve been here,” she said. “I’ve never left. Why wouldn’t I want to see the place I call home grow?”

And her generation sees the Valley’s potential, where older generations may not.

“That’s what our leadership here shows,” Wright said. “We’re positive, and putting that positivity on Youngstown is going to make it much better for us.”

Wolfe said people want to feel like they’re part of a winning team.

“And Youngstown doesn’t do that as well,” he said. “But we also don’t have as many opportunities as a bigger city. When people don’t feel like they’re winning as a team, they don’t feel they’re winning in life. So they seek other opportunities.”

They also talked about the affordability of living in the Valley.

“Youngstown is a blank canvas to do what you want,” Tensley said. “You can start a business and still live because things are affordable. That’s one of the biggest things for me.”

Smith, who also runs a couple of businesses, said he’s one of the people who left the area and decided to return.

“… The Youngstown community brought opportunities that enabled us to redevelop two formerly vacant buildings and bring them back and become, not an economic hub, but a place for community to meet and get together,” he said. “So it’s tough. It’s very, very hard. But opportunity brought me back.”

The Next-Gen roundtable participants also stressed the need for mentoring young people.

“Youngstown has been flying with only one wing because the whole area isn’t unified,” Tensley said. “Education is crucial to getting ahead. It’s having people like you to sit down with young people and say, ‘These are the steps you need to take.’” 

Cretella said she’s been blessed to work under great leaders who helped her.

“What other organizations are willing to cultivate young leaders?” she asked. “There’s work to be done among our generation of building the leaders in the community before we can start moving to the generation entering college.”

Morgione believes there are a lot of different organizations doing the same work separately instead of working together.

“Instead of reinventing the wheel and having a ton of different events for the same thing, make it big,” he said. “Reach a larger audience. Get the message across. Still have your organization show how you differ, but come together to reach that larger audience.”

Pictured at top: From left are Paige Genova, Tyler Wolfe, Gina Peplow, Nico Morgione, ShoMoré Wright, Jacob Rickert, Kaneesha Tensley, Levi Smith, Katie Cretella, Shea MacMillan and Betsy Bresnahan.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.