It should come as no surprise that the Mahoning Valley's economic growth in the last decade did not keep pace with the rest of the nation. This region has been behind the eight ball ever since the collapse of the local steel industry in the late 1970s. The Valley must accept some of the blame because of its inability to get its act together in a timely fashion. But the federal and state governments also must bear some responsibility because of their failure to recognize the uniqueness of the situation.
Tens of thousands of jobs were lost when the mills closed, and with no other major employers to pick up the slack, the Valley went into an economic tailspin. Against that backdrop, the major economic growth that occurred during the 1990s in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties is noteworthy. According to a study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the gross metro product for the tri-county area was $16.2 billion -- a 62 percent increase over the 1990 figure of $10 billion.
Optimism: Granted, the median growth in the national survey was 78 percent, but a 62 percent increase is cause for optimism. Given that more than half the growth in the gross metro product occurred between 1997 and 2000, this region is in line for even greater success this decade.
For that to happen, however, local political and community leaders must establish closer ties with Columbus and Washington. As we have noted on numerous occasions, it is unfair to expect the Valley to compete for public dollars with regions that have not experienced the kind of economic dislocation that resulted from the closing of the steel mills.
It is time for the administrations of President George W. Bush and Gov. Bob Taft to develop a strategy that addresses the problems confronting old industrial centers. Switching from a manufacturing based economy to a high-tech/service economy is easier said than done. Without a major infusion of capital from Washington and Columbus, the recovery effort being spearheaded by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber will be undermined.
Empowerment zone: What is needed is a federal empowerment zone designation for Youngstown and Warren, jointly or individually, that would result in $10 million a year for 10 years coming from Washington. The money would be used for job-creation initiatives, neighborhood improvement and job-training programs.
As previous analyses of the metropolitan area's economy have shown, the cities of Youngstown and Warren remain the major challenges for local leaders. High unemployment in the cities negatively impacts the region's unemployment picture.
On the state level, Gov. Taft must continue the push for a new product line for General Motors Corp.'s Lordstown car assembly plant. Taft has said he is optimistic that the new compact models will be built in Lordstown, which now produces the highly successful Chevrolet Cavalier and the Pontiac Sunfire. We hope he is right, given that the Valley's economic future is tied to automobile manufacturing.