The Rust Belt Resurgence: Who Really Benefits?
Our second event for Monday, May 21, took us to Suzie's Dogs and Drafts in Youngstown for a City Club of Mahoning Valley "Views and Brews" panel discussion on the topic of "The Rust Belt Resurgence: Who Really Benefits?"
All of the participants were committed community activists who cared very much about the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley area and represented strong civic organizations. The moderator was Ms. Genna M. Petrolla, Economic Development Planner for the Eastgate Council of Governments; Mr. Kevin Alin, Vice President of Fund for Our Economic Future; Ms. Carmella M. Williams, Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the Youngstown Business Incubator; and Mr. Angel Cruz, who is now the owner of the very prosperous Oven Fresh Pizza after engaging in other local business ventures over the years.
What really impressed us about the discussion was the mutual acknowledgement that even though the situation was improving for some people and industries, others, including people of color, still lag behind and as a result, "inclusivity" must play a central role in any economic revitalization plan and not be just an afterthought. Therefore, the panelists challenged themselves, as well as all of us, to look past the initial appearances of people and places and see the hidden strengths beneath.
Along these lines, Ms. Williams spoke of her efforts (many of them successful) in mentoring young people who may initially come to her with poor grammar skills or dressed in a way some might call shabby. Likewise, Mr. Cruz shared his experience of assuming ownership of Oven Fresh Pizza in a rundown section of town and turning it into a success as well as focal/anchor point for other recently launched businesses in the surrounding area. As a concerned scholar, Mr. Alin shared with us the findings of a report (copies were available for all who wanted one) released by his organization that explored in detail topics very pertinent to the Northeast Ohio region like job creation, preparation, and access as well as systemic racial exclusion.
Moreover, Mr. Alin emphasized the need for the gathering of reliable data in order to measure progress, and all of the others readily agreed. Also touched upon were such matters as a need for the citizenry to take pride in their community by making use of local small businesses whenever possible, and the need for an emphasis on transportation/infrastructure improvements that are undoubtedly a key role in a person and/or party's success. On the latter point, for instance, we learned that in the Youngstown area, 27% of a person's income is spent on transportation related-matters but in New York City (!) it is only 9%.
During the Q and A, we made the case for the role that foreign-born people (especially entrepreneurs) can play in transforming a downtrodden region. Mr. Alin thoughtfully replied that immigrants/refugees can unquestionably be an important asset, but other factors (such as the ones discussed) were vital; in short, evidence has shown that immigrants are major contributors to our economy, but they alone cannot be expected to turn around a troubled region.
Before the program began, we spoke with Ms. Maureen Reardon, a retired social worker, who told us she believed we need to get past old ways of doing things because "we have been spinning in a circle for a long time" and are in need of "creative envisioning" to empower our communities and provide assistance to its inhabitants. Afterwards, we spoke to Ms. Reardon, who told us she was very pleased with what was said in the discussion.
Another attendee, Mr. Kelan Bilal (husband of Ms. Lynn Bilal, City Club Project Director), came to this gathering appropriately wearing a t-shirt (see photo) that had written upon it:
If the first letters of each word were put together, we would have D-R-I-V-E which, in any equation, is a necessary element for achieving one's goals, whether they be for oneself, one's community, or a combination thereof!
Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC