Valley’s Young People: Will They Stay or Will They Leave?

YOUNGSTOWN – If the Mahoning Valley is going to attract more people to fill existing jobs as well as those forecast for the future, retaining younger people figures prominently in the equation.

Retaining young people is one of the tenets of the Valley plan and its three-R’s approach. The other prongs are, receive refugees and legal immigrants and return people who have relocated to other areas. The Valley repopulation plan is being spearheaded by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments as a way to ensure there are a sufficient number of workers.

The average age in Mahoning and Trumbull counties is 43.7, older than the 39.9 Ohio average, according to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau. Columbiana County skews even older with a 44.7 average age.

The average age in Pennsylvania is 40.9 while it’s 44.7 and 44.2 in Mercer and Lawrence counties, respectively.

Four members of Mahoning Valley Young Professionals – Steven Weeden, ShoMoré Wright, Kurt Hurdley and Nico Morgione – are bucking the trend. They live and work in the Valley and plan to remain here.

They decided to stay while many of their classmates left for other cities and different opportunities.

Hurdley grew up in Austintown and lives in Canfield. He works in wealth management. Weeden and Wright both live in Boardman. He works at Premier Bank, and she works for the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. Morgione, of Canfield, works in business development at Youngstown State University.

All four graduated from YSU.

“For me, I was one of the few that didn’t even consider leaving, for a number of reasons,” Morgione says.

One reason is his ties to family and friends, but he’s also passionate about the region.

“For me, I’ve just always seen the positive growth that’s happening,” he says.

A Differing View

Kent Trumbull senior veterinary technician students Kamri Deley of Austintown, Kenzie Gray of Brecksville and Alysse Manda of Niles, will locate where they find jobs in their specialties after they graduate.

It’s different for a group of veterinary technician and nursing students at Kent State University-Trumbull Campus. Some plan to relocate after graduation for better employment opportunities or to see what other communities have to offer.

Alysse Manda of Niles, Kamri Deley of Austintown and Kenzie Gray of Brecksville, will graduate from the KSU-Trumbull vet tech program in May.

Christian Socha of Farmdale and Audrianna Espy of Hubbard will graduate from the university’s nursing program.

Espy got hired at the Mercy Health St. Joseph Warren Hospital intensive care unit, where she’ll work for about two years. She’d like to stay in the area to be close to family.

Socha is an extern at Trumbull Regional Medical Center Intensive Care, but he plans to leave to go work at University Hospital Ahuja Medical Center in Beechwood. He’ll commute an hour from his home to work. His long-term career plan is still in the works, but he envisions remaining in northeastern Ohio for a couple of years.

“I have family here and as a new grad nurse, I wouldn’t want to leave where I’m comfortable,” he says.

When it comes to settling down and starting their own families though, they want to go elsewhere.

Espy’s fiancé wants to go south, maybe to Texas or the Carolinas.

“It’s just different when you have your own family,” she says.

Kent Trumbull senior nursing students Christian Socha and Audrianna Espy believe they’ll relocate after graduation to maximize their career potential. 

Socha wants to relocate to Tennessee when he starts a family. He likes the weather, which fits better with his love of fishing and the outdoors.

“I think northeast Ohio is lacking opportunity and growth,” he says. “When you say northeast Ohio, do you think [of] a new up and coming area? I mean, not really.”

There aren’t new hospitals being built in the region, for example.

Espy agrees.

She loves the Valley, but she’s concerned about a lack of career growth opportunities here.

“You would feel like maybe stagnant as a nurse … not making as big of a change as you wanted,” Espy says. “I know personally, I like being in the ICU because I want to make a change” in patients’ care.

She’d like to serve a different patient population than those she might see in the region.

For the vet tech students, Mando isn’t sure where she’ll go after graduation. She wants to continue her education, to specialize in animal behavior as a veterinary technician. She may move to Columbus to do that.

Deley wants to work in emergency and is considering a facility in Pittsburgh.

“There really aren’t any big [animal] hospital facilities close,” she says.

Gray works in a general practice veterinary office in Parma and plans to stay there. She’s also doing an externship at Cleveland Metropolitan Animal Hospital.

“I’m going back to school in the fall for my bachelor’s in technical and applied studies,” she says.

Gray plans on a career that allows her to work in both emergency and general practice.

If there was an animal emergency hospital in the Valley, that’s where Deley would want to work. She likes the area and being close to her family.

Mando’s husband is a trucker and they’re considering relocating.

“We’ve grown up here and honestly, I would love to see what’s out there,” she says.

The couple lived and worked in Austin, Texas, for five years and returned in 2018 to be close to family.

What’s Missing

The students point to a lack of activities as one of the things that make younger people want to relocate. Places you can walk to like shops and bars are an example, they say.

Mando also views the crime rate as a detractor for much of the Valley.

“There’s a lot of abandoned homes, a lot of drug activity,” she says. “There’s a lot of crime that’s deterring. That’s probably one of the main reasons my husband and I want to move out of this town.”

Mahoning Valley Young Professionals is an organization for professionals who are younger than 35. The group hosts networking events for its members and conducts fundraisers for area nonprofit organizations. MVMP also organizes the annual 25 Under 35 event.

The four members see many benefits to living in the Valley.

Morgione has seen a lot of positive change in the region and points to downtown Youngstown. When he was a child, no one he knew went downtown. Now it brims with bars and restaurants. There’s even an amphitheater, he says.

“There’s things to do,” he says. “I’ve just always wanted to be part of that positive growth. For me, it was never a question of leaving, but just how can I get involved and be a part of it.”

Wright agrees. 

“For me, it was definitely staying because of family,” she says.

She gave birth to her son when she was 17 and needed her family’s support.

“But what also made me stay around is that I see the potential that Youngstown has,” Wright says. “We have so many opportunities here for anyone to thrive.”

Organizations like the Youngstown Business Incubator and Regional Chamber make it easier and less expensive to start a business in the area than in many other cities, she explains.

When Hurdley decided he wanted to pursue a career in wealth management, he looked at other colleges and universities as well as YSU. He learned that YSU had the same curriculum as more expensive colleges.

“I found out you could get a very good degree without paying a lot of money,” Hurdley says.

He met a girl at YSU, got married and settled down. Family and friends also figured prominently in Weeden’s decision to stay in the area.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” he says. “It’s where my heart is.”

He’s involved in his church and has a passion for the Valley.

The low cost of living is another attribute for the Valley, Wright adds. It’s also a good place to raise a family with many good schools.

Morgione believes the Valley is packed with opportunity.

“For a small town, we bring a lot to the table,” he says. “If you think of us as not just Youngstown, but looping in the Mahoning Valley, Columbiana, Trumbull, even Ashtabula… what we have here is very unique.”

The Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, the annual Y-Live concert at Wean Park, the local music scene, wonderful parks and amazing food and restaurants are some of the Valley’s assets that are not found in most smaller towns, he offers.

“It’s an opportunity to sell to someone that it’s on the rise,” Morgione says. “It has the potential. It has the infrastructure and it’s really ours in the younger population to seize on that.”

The area has a lot of benefits, he says pointing to its proximity to Cleveland and Pittsburgh with New York and Chicago not too far away. He hates when he hears people say there’s nothing to do here. It’s just not true, Morgione says.

“I’m inspired by Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley every day because of how we continually overcome the challenges,” he says.

And companies moving to Ohio and the region are bringing more opportunities, Hurdley says, citing the Intel facility coming to Columbus and Kimberly-Clark, which is planning to build a plant in Warren.

Morgione says perception is part of the reason many young people leave the area. Historically, there have been reasons to be skeptical with failed business ventures, he says.

“I think if you change that perception – and it’s a generational change that needs to happen – it starts with parents, with teachers, even employers,” he says. “Highlight the young professionals in your company. Highlight a path to growth, a ladder that you could climb up.”

That perception will shift, but it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.

“We need to change the narrative of what we talk about when we talk about Youngstown,” Morgione says.

Pictured: Nico Morgione of Canfield, ShoMoré Wright of Boardman. Kurt Hurdley of Canfield and Steven Weeden of Boardman, all members of Mahoning Valley Young Professionals, choose to live and work in the Mahoning Valley. 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.