Friday, March 31, 2006

what gets lost in the current discussion about delphi

Sure it is a terrible prospect that thousands of production and union employees in the Mahoning Valley are facing employment woes. I think another component that is not being talked about, at least in the media, is the loss of high-wage engineering jobs and management positions if Delphi goes under.

By some measures, Delphi is the largest individual contributor to the knowledge-based economy of the Youngstown-Warren region by a long shot. Consider the following list of the largest patent-producing companies that created intellectual property in the Mahoning Valley so far this decade:

82 patents - Delphi Corp.
19 patents - General Motors Corp.
12 patents - Keystone Ridge Design

source:, patents affiliated with the Mahoning Valley from 2000 to 2004

Is it true that Delphi is the region's largest employer of engineers as well? Regardless, white-collar employees working in the Mahoning Valley are leaving Delphi in droves, either by early retirement, relocation to other Delphi facilities, quitting, or simply being released. This week's business journal reported a story of salaried workers being escorted to the door at the local General Motors plant after their dismissal.

Some of the engineers that will be released will move to other areas which is extremely unfortunate, and a loss to this region. Others may choose to retire and stay here. But is there a way to harness these peoples' knowledge before they consider leaving or quit working? They know the industry, and they may have ideas for new companies and new entreprenurial ventures.

It would be a great exercise for this community to pool the recently unemployed and the soon-to-be unemployed workers together, from BOTH the salaried AND hourly Delphi and GM employees to see if they have any ideas for future business opportunites that can be located here in the Valley.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

martinis in the museum

A few months ago I went to an event at a science center called "Martinis & Imax" which was a pretty cool idea. You have a movie, you have a martini, and voila! Next thing I knew, I was flying with the penguins in the Arctic.

Well it seems our little martini bar downtown is doing well, and Imbibe recently celebrated their official grand opening (watch it online).

So can we create these type of fusion events in the Youngstown?

Maybe there could be a late-night gallery tour at the Butler with martinis, or some type of cross-promotion with the indie film people affiliated with Keep it Reel, Inc? It says here that they are looking for venues to show movies.

It would be an interesting exercise for all the city businesses and arts groups to think about unique ways they could partner together in the future.

Maybe a live-music concert in the Planetarium?
Or ballet in the garden?

any other ideas?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

why the garden club couldn't save youngstown (part III)

The previous two blogs (part I and part II) on this topic described the differing economic divergence and historical reaction to crisis between the Youngstown region and the Allentown region. In his research, Sean Safford hypothesized that the types of personal connections between different local social groups may have contributed to the actions taken by each community.

So how does one measure the connectivity of social networks? Safford delved through the historical records to find the names of every person in both 1950 and 1975 who was an officer or on the board of directors for all the major local companies, banks, utilities, universities, civic and cultural organizations, religious groups, and government for each community. He separated each organization into one of two categories: economic or civic. He then developed a mathematical method to quantify the strength of the ties between each of the organizations based upon their membership.

So what did his models show? In records from both 1950 and 1975, in both the Youngstown region and the Allentown region, many of the economic organizations shared the same people with other economic organizations, and many of the civic organizations shared the same people with other civic organizations. In other words, the network ties were extremely strong within these subgroups.

But what happens when the economic and civic subgroups are combined into one big group? The results are completely different between the two communities. In the Youngstown region, the numerical values for the social ties are still very high – the same people who ran the civic organizations also ran the economic organizations. In the Allentown region, the values were much lower – showing that the composition of people in civic organizations weren’t necessarily the same people in the economic organizations.

In general, not all the same people hung out together in Allentown, and the leadership of civic organizations was connected to people from different economic backgrounds. In Youngstown, both the leaders of the civic leaders and the economic leaders were for the most part, the same people. This may help to explain why Allentown developed centralized, community-oriented action that turned into success, and why Youngstown developed a variety of different plans, run by different people that ultimately did not succeed.

Regardless if you believe his conclusions or not, Safford presents us with some interesting food for thought, which may extend into how we as a community organize ourselves.

If his theories are correct, how can we create a stronger community in the future?

In our local organizations, we can continually strive to make sure people from a variety of economic and civic backgrounds are represented in their leadership. When facing a problem, we can organize one diverse group to explore solutions, instead of many organizations with competing interests.

What organizations and conflicts exist today in Youngstown that embodies these types of challenges?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

why the garden club couldn't save youngstown (part II)

The first blog about Safford’s research showed that the Youngstown region and the Allentown region have taken two very different paths since the demise of the steel industry. But why is this the case?

Safford argues that there is two shared critical moments in both of these regions’ histories that may help to describe their diverging paths. The first one is the response in the 1950s to the realization that their inland locations made their cost of production higher, and thus less competitive. The second one is the response to the dramatic plant closings and mass layoffs that commenced in 1977 throughout the local steel industries.

Safford's paper does a very interesting job of digging into history. Here are some excerpts:

page 4

. . . economic leaders in both cities commissioned consultants to outline a course of action. In both cases, the reports that resulted had very similar recommendations. However, the historical record makes it clear that very different kinds of collective action emerged in response. Key actors in Allentown came to support the consultants’ conclusions and took action to implement them. In Youngstown, on the other hand, outside consultants’ reports were largely ignored. Instead, political leaders pursued a set of policies which they assumed to be in the best interest of the city’s core economic elite, but ultimately failed to win the support of those actors when it came to implementation.

page 16
An academic paper on Youngstown’s economy published in 1952 is illustrative of their conclusions. Noting that Youngstown production costs were approximately 55% higher than in Cleveland 70 miles to the northwest and 19% more than Pittsburgh, the report offered the following: In large measure, the future of [Youngstown] may be determined by forces beyond their own control because local operations are only a small part of the total capacity of the major companies operating in this area. On the other hand, local interests have it within their own power to initiate actions which may be the deciding factors in the continued industrial development of the region. There are at least three possible solutions for the problems faced… The first is to increase the size of the local market by the encouragement of steel fabrication in the Valley. The second is industrial diversification. This could be accomplished by encouraging the development of a variety of new industries in the region to take advantage of its latent possibilities. Finally, the third solution and one which is largely beyond the control of the Valley itself is a reduction in steel production costs.

page 17
The massive steel industry strikes of 1956 and 1959 catalyzed local action in response on concerns about the viability of the steel industry in both places. In Youngstown, despite the mounting and apparent need for change, diversification-oriented elements of the consultants’ reports went unheeded(Walker 1981). Instead, with the backing of the region’s banks, steel companies and labor unions, Youngstown’s Congressional delegation—led by the city’s long-time U.S. Congressman, Michael Kirwan—sought federal funding to build a canal linking Lake Erie to the Ohio River Valley through Youngstown. The proposal came up for approval in the U.S. Congress in 1961 and received initial support. But it was ultimately quashed by the intervention of rail roads interests which feared competition as well as by politicians in bordering states who questioned the benefits of the massively expensive proposal.

In Allentown, the strike catalyzed a very different set of actions on the part of the community’s leadership. The first was a decision on the part of Bethlehem Steel to construct a new research facility on South Mountain overlooking both the main steel plant and Lehigh University. This facility, the Homer Research Labs, was the first of what would become a large contingent of corporate research and development laboratories located in the city. The stated goals of the company in doing so was to shift into higher value added production.

page 18
As the economic crisis in Youngstown worsened over the next several years, these various proposals—and their backers—battled for attention and funds at the state and federal level. Strikingly absent from the deliberations, however, were the leaders of region’s remaining major employers. In exception of the construction of a light industrial park at one the closed steel mills, none of the four proposals were ever fully or effectively implemented(Buss and Vaughn, 1987).

Page 19
The second proposal concerned a new initiative then being developed by the State of Pennsylvania known as the Ben Franklin Technology Partnership, which was meant to generate endogenous growth through partnerships between industry and research universities. Local business leaders, including Dealtrey, spoke with Walter Plosila, the State’s Secretary of Commerce at the time. Plosila was a vocal advocate of endogenous growth, an approach which contrasted with the more popular strategy of creating investment incentives designed to attract large employers which Plosila, among others, derided as “smokestack chasing.” The idea was to create public-private partnerships that would build on the state’s higher education infrastructure to support existing companies seeking to engage new technologies as well as to generate new ones. Initially, the Ben Franklin program’s creators planned on establishing three centers, one in Philadelphia, another in Pittsburgh and a third covering the rest of the state to be located at State College near Pennsylvania State University. The local group in Allentown, however, succeeded in advocating for a fourth located near Lehigh University. In addition to creating links between university researchers and the business community, the plan in Allentown called for a private venture capital fund which would be run in conjunction with the Ben Franklin center. The fund drew investments from several of the community’s companies and several wealthy individuals.

Page 25
Second, the political processes which emerged around at two key historical moments differed dramatically with the responses in Allentown coalescing around a relatively unified set of community-oriented actions and Youngstown’s Balkanizing along the narrow interests of a powerful faction. Thus, despite having access to the same information and ideas, the implementation of those ideas into policy and strategic action was very

Do you agree with his assessment of history?

It seems that decisions made in the 1950s in Allentown are now bearing fruit. Is it too late, or can Youngstown get onto a similar path?

While you are thinking about this, an interesting story on some possible paths is available here. Maybe it is time to our leaders to request heavy participation in the Third Frontier, like Allentown did all those years ago in their state.

Monday, March 27, 2006

why the garden club couldn't save youngstown (part I)

About a year ago, I stumbled upon a research paper by Sean Safford, then a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The paper is an outgrowth of his PhD dissertation titled "Why the Garden Club Couldn't Save Youngstown" and presents some theories on the diverging paths of Allentown, Pennsylvania and Youngstown since the time both cities had their major industrial breakdowns in the 1970s. The pdf can be accessed here, at the website of the Local Innovation Systems Project, a part of the MIT Industrial Performance Center.

Why were Youngstown and Allentown selected? Safford created a statistical model where the dependent variable was the change in the regions' average wage over the decades. After looking at 38 other midwestern regions with less than 10 million people, the two regions were extreme outliers - that is, the Allentown region had relatively high per capita growth, and Youngstown region had much lower growth when compared to other regions of the country.

One fascinating and deeply revealing figure (below) illustrates the change over time for the regions' average wages adjusted for inflation by the regional consumer price index. In 1969, Youngstown's average wage was greater than both the nation and Allentown, but today is lower than both Allentown and the nation as a whole. Just as dramatic is the stagnant average wage in the Youngstown region, essentially flatlining between 1995 and 2001, at a level comparable to the average wage in 1975. Wow. The Allentown region's average wage climbed dramatically over this same period, eclipsing the national average in the mid 1980s.

Another chart (below) from the paper showed the importance of certain traditional fields of manufacturing within the areas in the past thirty years. The Youngstown region has maintained production in traditional sectors such as automobiles and steel, where Allentown's metropolitan area shifted to chemicals, electronics, and other emerging industries.

Safford describes in his paper what historic decisions created this divergence, and provides an interesting theory based on the strength of social networks why these specific decisions were developed.

This paper is a fascinating account about the progession of the Youngstown region's economy since the demise of the steel industry, and offers new perspectives on the necessity of social institutions within a community. In fact, there is so much interesting information in this paper, I'm going to dedicate the next two blogs to its contents.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

the relevance of trees

In some places in downtown Youngstown, they are adding trees to the urban landscape. Plans to extend Mill Creek Park closer to the central business district are underway, and the university is pushing to install more life along the 5th avenue corridor. In other places downtown, they are removing trees. One alternative for the development of West Federal Street being considered calls for removal of the tree-lined meridians and the flowerbeds in the near future.

Regardless of how you feel about trees and their place in the downtown, here is an ode to some of the trees I have stumbled upon during my travels:

I am looking at trees
they may be one of the things I will miss
most from the earth
though many of the ones I have seen
already I cannot remember
and though I seldom embrace the ones I see
and have never been able to speak
with one
I listen to them tenderly
their names have never touched them
they have stood round my sleep
and when it was forbidden to climb them
they have carried me in their branches

"Trees" by W. S. Merwin from The Compass Flower

An even better experience is listening to this poem, as read by Garrison Keillor.

Well, after a full week's attempt at blogging, it has come time to take a short break. Even the Flying Spaghetti Monster rested on the seventh day. May god bless His Noodly Appendage.

Friday, March 24, 2006

blossoms in the concrete jungle

Recent construction has done a good job of opening up Federal Street downtown, but there seems to be a glut of concrete spaces and anemic grey benches. Examples can he seen here, here, and here.

When the springtime hits in Europe, some cities take their wide-open public places traditionally covered in brick and place very large planters across the ground. They then arrange some flowers to make a pattern. Essentially it takes a normally barren area and adds life and color to the central part of some cities. Here is an example from a postcard:

Perhaps partially covering over the cement in the summer months with flowers, while leaving space for pedestrians is one way to ameliorate the attractiveness of our downtown's streetscape.

(special thanks to Matt at where I found these pictures)

UPDATE (August 2006): There is new blog entry about the flowers in Metz in summer 2006 and how they were assembled. Click here to see more details.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

food co-op in the Smoky Hollow

A few years ago the good food co-op store on Pyatt Street on the south side closed. Perhaps there is another opportunity to have this type of store in the Smoky Hollow, part of which is being recreated as a mixed-use neighborhood by the Wick Neighbors. A store that provides fresh and/or organic vegetables, bulk foods, vitamins and supplements, and community information might work in this location.

Specific reasons that a co-op might succeed in the Smoky Hollow include the following:

  • Proximity to crunchy individuals like students and professors who may frequent such a place
  • Potential customer base due to no other grocery store in the downtown area
  • Specialized co-op products may attract not just those in the neighborhood, but others in the region
  • Smaller building with no obtrusive surface parking may fit ideals of New Urbanism
  • Unique offerings like cooking classes, yoga instruction, and hot vegetable cafeteria may be an added draw
  • Gives the appearance to be hip and progressive to attract creative types
So how do we get one started?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

signage for the downtown

I think we need big, colorful, and clear signs at all the main offramps and prominent intersections near downtown. We are getting people from all over the region now to attend events, and due to decades of life away from our downtown, these folks need to know where to go. The signs need to look smart and have eye-catching colors like the following:

Each location could be color-coordinated for the section of the downtown it is located, or for a theme. For example, the Chevrolet Center would have a sky blue background, Mill Creek Park a pine green background, things on campus like the football stadium and the planetarium a rich red background, etc. Also some destinations such as the Children's Museum and the Steel Museum might get some additional advertising just by being part of the signage system.

I walked past the sign pictured below the other day in Maastricht. I like how there is an ornamental figure on the top. Maybe on our Youngstown signs, we can add a little sculpture with some local significance. Wouldn't it be cool to have a blue heron or some other majestic water bird on each one of these signs dotting the downtown?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

nfl franchise in youngstown?

Click here for an interesting little story about football teams in the midwest during the 1910s.

It seems Youngstown, back when it was the 50th largest city in the United States, was granted a National Football League franchise in 1922.

(thanks to for the link)

UPDATE: there was a news item today about a proposal to build a Sports Museum in Downtown Youngstown. Maybe the above story would be a cool exhibit . . . More information can be found here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

brainstorming for public art projects in the downtown

In my opinion, we have too little public space devoted to public art throughout the city of youngstown. I remember as a kid being able to run around the life-sized statues on Federal Street of the workers throwing their shovels into the blast furnace. Now that George Segal's piece is near the steel museum, surrounded by a lawn, it just seems so removed from interacting with the public. But maybe that's where the public wants it . . . moving images of the past to the periphery.

I have some concepts for public art in the city. As more people add comments to this blog, I will give more ideas. So if you the public somehow wander onto this site, please post your thoughts and suggestions.

idea one: recreate in bronze the "snap the whip" image from Windslow Homer's painting which is hanging in the Butler. The models of the casting would come from children in the area, generating interest for the project. But each of the seven or eight kids playing the game would be from a different generation. The lead boy would mimic the original painting, clasping hands with someone from the early 20th century. Included in the mix would be a kid with a buzzcut, a girl with an afro, and a modern kid with an ipod in his back pocket. Some children would have hands clenched to others from a different generation, and others would be left reaching in the air.

But the collection of statues would be approachable, so in 20 years, children (whatever they look like) will be able to grab the shiny metal hands of the statue I am proposing. We can put in a public place, where it can be touched by children whenever they go past it.

idea two: we need statues signifying the historical legacy of our area's intellectuals in addition to its great coaches and athletes. I propose installing a life-sized image of John H. Clarke, who was an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 20th century. He was a part-owner of the Youngstown Vindicator and past president of the Youngstown Library Board of Trustees, where he worked to greatly enhance the collection of the library system. Clarke once stated the following:

"I have lived a long, very busy, and not uneventful life, and as I look back on its activities, other than professional, it seems to me that the most useful, certainly the most satisfying, part of it was striving as I did as a young man to obtain a public library for the city in which I lived, and to carry forward its good work when it was once secured."

idea three: Also spending a good portion of their lives in Youngstown were the Warner Brothers, most of whom emmigrated from Krasnosielc, Poland to Youngstown when they were children. One of the four brothers, Sam, became interested in film after seeing a movie by Thomas Edison at nearby Cedar Point amusement park where he was an employee.

What about some sort of recreation of an early scene in film history with the Warner Brothers? The sculpture could show the four brothers, at their various ages when they lived in Youngstown, redding up their equipment for a shot. One or two of the brothers can be behind the camera, taking a picture of the other two brothers. If these sculptures are life-sized, people can walk right next to the statues and pretend to pose for a photo with the Warner Brothers.