Ever since "The Sopranos"' fictional Paulie Walnuts got arrested in Youngstown, I've been stewing about our area's propensity to get free bad publicity. Just last month, Youngstown was designated one of the country's most dangerous places to live.
A day after hearing that, I heard Thomas Waltemire, chairman and CEO of PolyOne Corp., broadcasting over WKSU Radio. He talked about the promise brought to the Akron area by the institutions of higher education: Kent State University, the University of Akron, Case Western Reserve and Cleveland State universities. Youngstown State University, I thought, was noticeably missing.
But I don't mention Waltemire to grouse. His message was inspirational. In fact, I thought at least one part of his speech should be embraced wholeheartedly by Mahoning Valley residents.
Focus on the positive
Waltemire said to create a "buzz." Get on the rooftops and shout about what you've got here.
And when I heard it, I thought: That's just what Youngstown needs, too. Buzz, not about what's bad -- we already get plenty of that -- but counterbuzz.
No, I'm no cockeyed optimist. Youngstown has problems; I haven't been living under a rock. And, obviously, we need to mobilize to solve them.
But many of our agonies are increased tenfold by relentlessly negative publicity. No sooner is Paulie arrested than congressman James A. Traficant Jr. follows suit (or was it the other way around?).
Still, is it impossible to believe we might, as individuals, start a buzz that would at least help to change our image -- even possibly draw some people or manufacturing into the Valley? Everyone is talking about the 2010 plan, but we don't have to wait to mount some rooftops.
The cost of living puts Youngstown high on the list of desirable cities. While the national average is rated 100, Youngstown is 85.1. As for housing, it's even lower, at 63.5. We also beat the national average for transportation costs, which include gas, insurance, maintenance and mass transit.
As for health care, you can expect to spend on average 85 cents to the average American's dollar.
The property tax in Youngstown proper, as of 1999, was just two-thirds the national average.
And get this: We have 22,617 colds per 100,000 people. That's about 700 less than the national average. (I just throw that in because it seems so darn implausible.)
The typical American commutes 19.1 miles to and from work, but the typical Youngstowner drives 16.6 miles.
Youngstown has the first facility in the United States built for the purpose of housing just American art. The Butler Institute of American Art on Wick Avenue continues to showcase American sculpture, video, paintings, photography and more.
YSU has a national reputation for its respiratory care degree. It is one of about 60 colleges in the United States that offer a bachelor's degree rather than an associate degree in that field. According to the National Board for Respiratory Care, YSU's pass rates for the respiratory care examination far exceed the average nationally.
We've also got Mill Creek Park with its 2,600 acres of greenery, 20 miles of drives, 15 miles of footpaths, three lakes, a golf course and Fellows Riverside Gardens.
And I haven't even mentioned the people yet. I've lived a lot of places, but I've never seen a community so committed to family.
A recent survey publicized in The Vindicator identified family as the No. 1 reason graduating college students stay in the area.
Then there is the plethora of volunteerism here. For two years now, I have been writing about people in the Valley who volunteer, and I'm absolutely blown away by the number who give of their time and money. For those who give money, by the amounts they give. For those who give time, by the length of time they commit to their volunteerism. Some of my interviewees have been volunteering for 60-plus years.
And I've lived here only a decade, and I have room for only so many words. I'm sure you can create a lot more buzz than this.