YBI Works Toward Diversity, Inclusion

By Barb Ewing, CEO, Youngstown Business Incubator 
The Youngstown Business Incubator, a cornerstone in downtown Youngstown since the late 1990s, has seen exponential growth in the past decade. 

What once was simply an information technology incubator has expanded to a five-building campus with a staff of 13 managing several programs and funding streams. 

While we’re continuing to develop our entrepreneurship program and ramping up for more additive manufacturing projects to advance local industry, we’ve identified an additional goal we want to work toward: diversity and inclusion within the local economy. 

In 2013, a study by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service identified Youngstown as one of the 20 most racially segregated cities in the country. 

While the study specifically looked at housing trends, there is plenty of evidence to show that poverty, measures of health and wellness and other economic indicators also follow these trends. Many experts would argue that this segregation has contributed to the continued economic stagnation of the region.  

In 2016, YBI began to develop programs to address this gap. 

While not specifically focused on minorities, our Women in Entrepreneurship (WE) program became the foundation of our work with traditional, non-technology based businesses. A year later, we had successfully competed to be designated as the Minority Business Assistance Center for the eastern corridor of Ohio.

Since then, we’ve seen our staff grow to five full- and part-time employees who serve minorities, veterans, women and economically distressed populations.  

Last October, an anonymous donor funded a staff trip to Montgomery, Ala., to visit The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, giving us a better understanding of the ongoing challenges we face as a nation in addressing economic and social inclusion. 

The memorial was founded by Brian Stevenson, the criminal defense attorney whose fight against systemic problems within the judicial system is the focus of the newly released movie “Just Mercy.”

Coincidentally, this trip was just days before the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, making the entire experience more impactful for us.

What does this mean for Youngstown? 

We plan to be as forward about diversity and inclusion in our staff and board leadership as well as in the clients we serve. 

All too often, clients come to the Minority Business Assistance Center with what are commonly considered “lifestyle businesses,” with no plan to become an economic driver for the region. 

In 2020, we will continue to work to better integrate our technology entrepreneurship and manufacturing programs with our Minority Business Assistance Center clients. Additionally, we will continue to build stronger ties to the minority community, strengthen our outreach and marketing efforts and build programs to diversify our supply chain.

But there’s also a larger systemic question that we need to answer. How do we break down social and emotional barriers to move beyond where we are as a community? 

One of our employees said it best in her reflection on the trip: “Injustice isn’t something we look back on in history and wish we could change. Rather, it’s something taking place today that we have the power to change.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.