I want to share an example of how hope and hard work can triumph.
It's the story of how Youngstown is attracting young tech entrepreneurs and making national news for creating a technology cluster. Yes, in Youngstown, Ohio.
First, let me give you some background, as someone who has spent her whole life in rust-belt cities. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and now live and work near Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. It may be hard for some to believe now, but Cleveland and Pittsburgh once were the Silicon Valley of their day -- the hub of all that was happening and interesting. They were the energetic commerce centers of their time. They were the places that all the ambitious entrepreneurs flocked to.
Smaller cities like Akron and Youngstown benefited from being nearby. They were smaller microcosms of their nearby cousins -- they also were thriving industrial hubs in their heydays, too. Akron for rubber, and Youngstown for steel and manufacturing.
But things change. Each of those cities has seen the action move elsewhere. Each of those cities has had to reinvent itself again, with new industries and new efforts.
They're actually more vibrant today than they sometimes get credit for being. Still, the adjustment to get to this point has been wrenching. Sometimes it feels as if these cities were in a constant state of downsizing for decades.
I know, because I read the papers and listened to the nightly news, blow by blow while it was happening.
Youngstown was one of the hardest hit. The smaller the city, the harder it is to recover when steel and manufacturing move out. The lyrics to Bruce Springsteen's plaintive song "Youngstown" gives a flavor for what this city went through.
But the Youngstown Business Incubator isn't letting anything stop it. Almost single-handedly it has attracted a group of young software entrepreneurs with B2B business models. Through the support those companies get from the Incubator they have developed success for their businesses -- and success for the entire Youngstown area. And they are serving as a shot in the arm of inspiration for other entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Just this morning I got an email update from Jim Cossler, the CEO and Chief Evangelist of the Youngstown Business Incubator who writes:
So... I heard yesterday from some childhood friends I had lost touch with who are now living in Chicago, Houston and Phoenix.
And we probably heard, based on an eyeball estimate of my email in-box, from another 500 people from places like New York City, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose and Denver. All thanks to National Public Radio nationally broadcasting a story yesterday morning to its 13 million listeners on the amazing software technology cluster being built by our organization in Youngstown, Ohio.
But, here's what we're most excited about.
We received countless numbers of emails from people who grew up in Western Pennsylvania or Northeastern Ohio, but who are now living in places across the country. They told us how thrilled they were to hear the story. They told us they wanted to learn more about what was going on. They told us that they wanted to visit with us the next time they came "home".
That's great, but we're going to go one step further.
We're going to be working very hard to get them all to move "home".
You can listen to the story here.
Perhaps this story seems more inspiring to me being born and bred in Western Pennsylvania and Northeast Ohio -- but I suspect not. It seems to me there's a story in there just as inspiring for all cities and regions that have gone through the same kinds of adjustments as they've seen once-thriving industries leave.
To inspire young entrepreneurs to return to (or not leave) their home towns, perhaps all it takes is the unflagging work of one man like Jim Cossler and the support of the community. And those cities once again can thrive from new blood rebuilding a new industrial center.