Report illustrates economic weak spots in region
The author advocates political cooperation to reverse the decline.
By ROGER G. SMITH
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Mahoning Valley is a two-child family living in a 10-bedroom house.
That's how a leading expert on metropolitan equity and urban sprawl describes the Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana county areas in a report released today.
Myron Orfield, a Minnesota state senator and president of Metropolitan Area Research Corp., was most surprised by the area's population. It dropped nearly 10 percent over 20 years, yet living space grew by a third.
"That was striking," he said. "It's expensive and doesn't benefit the region."
Building roads and utilities to new areas pulls money away from maintaining the old ones, he said.
Suburban poverty: The other trend that stood out to Orfield was the poverty rate for areas outside Youngstown. Suburban rates for school-age children who are eligible for free lunches are growing faster than they should.
"Schools are getting poorer, faster," he said.
Orfield's report is the basis for an economic development summit tonight and Friday at Youngstown State University.
The Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods, or ACTION, commissioned the study and is organizing the event. ACTION is a coalition of 25 churches and organizations representing more then 45,000 Mahoning County residents.
Orfield presents his report to the public at 6:30 tonight in the Chestnut room of YSU's Kilcawley Center. On Friday, politicians and community leaders will meet in a daylong session. YSU President David Sweet will discuss a regional civic vision, based on his experiences in Cleveland.
Working together: Orfield is a strong advocate of regional cooperation. That includes taking a portion of taxes generated through new businesses' growth and redistributing the money.
The approach reduces social stress on communities with less tax base and ultimately benefits the whole region, he argues. Regions that are doing well economically do that, Orfield said.
For example, the Minneapolis-St. Paul region cooperated and changed from dying a timber and grain economy in the late 1960s and early 1970s to a technology and biomedical center today.
Politicians benefit because their areas do better when they cooperate with others, and they don't have to give up their power, Orfield said.
"It's hard to do when areas are at each others' throats," he said.
Potential: Some government cooperation is happening in the area, so there is the potential here to reverse decline, Orfield said.
"This has been done before. The question is, how do you make it work better?" he said. "You're poised to be able to do something about it ... but there's not time to waste."