Surrounding suburbs must be part of the comeback effort, a municipal league official says.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- If Youngstown is to ever again be a thriving city, it must diversify and regionalize its economic base, as well as exploit its positives, according to top officials with the Ohio Municipal League.
"It can happen, but will it happen depends on local leadership," said John Mahoney, the league's deputy director. "Local leadership is a big factor and not just political leadership. There's business and union leadership."
Mahoney and Susan J. Cave, the league's executive director, declined to discuss their thoughts about the area's local leaders during a Tuesday meeting with writers from The Vindicator. The municipal league is a nonprofit organization that represents 802 cities and villages in Ohio.
"It's not one thing that keeps a city going, but a key part is the diversity of the economy," Mahoney said. "In most cases, if one industry drops off, there's another one to pick it up. But in Youngstown, one industry (steel) fell off and there was not too much to pick it up."
Success stories: Mahoney and Cave point to Toledo, Cleveland and Springfield as success stories in Ohio.
"A lot of cities came back, but not as they were," Mahoney said. "They had different industries or they converted their downtown from a shopping center to something else."
But for a city such as Youngstown to make a comeback, its surrounding suburbs must be part of the effort, Cave said.
"The futures of central cities and their suburbs have a lot to do with each other, either positively or negatively," Mahoney said. "The ones who get things done clearly see that there is a regional interest to having a viable central city. If you have a strong, vibrant central city, you have a strong, vibrant region."
Population problem: "The population didn't leave Youngstown and go to the suburbs; it just left," Cave said. "In other areas of the state, people may have left Dayton or Cincinnati, but they stayed in the area, moved to the suburbs and kept their jobs in the major cities. Here, they didn't stay."
Youngstown should focus on its attributes -- its interstate road system, rail lines and proximity to larger markets -- if it wants to make a comeback, Mahoney and Cave said.