MAHONING VALLEY Study rates area poor for business



Some elected officials haven't focused on working in the best interests of the Valley, a regional chamber official says.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Mahoning Valley is nearly the worst place in the country to do business or build a career, a new study says.
Forbes magazine ranks the Valley 199th out of the nation's largest 200 metropolitan areas, beating only Gary, Ind.
Declining jobs, slow-rising wages and a low expansion rate for high-tech businesses dragged the Valley down. Forbes, which had research help from the Milken Institute of California, released its rankings of the best places to do business or advance a career May 27.
Other problems
While the Valley fared poorly in the statistics used to make the rankings, it also has other problems, the magazine said.
"Youngstown's reputation for crime and corruption has made growth for this Ohio metro extremely difficult. ... It's going to take a lot to draw business to this rundown city plagued with bankrupt companies and a history of economic scandal," Forbes said.
Reid Dulberger, who works on economic development in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, said he couldn't argue with the statistics but thought the magazine's comments about corruption are unfair.
"It's more complicated than a cheap shot on our political difficulties," said Dulberger, executive vice president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
The Valley's biggest problem is that its economy is based on mature manufacturing businesses, he said. Companies such as General Motors and Delphi Packard Electric Systems, which employ more than 13,000 people in the area, are improving operations through better technology, which allows them to cut back on workers.
While not the main problem, political corruption has hurt, he said.
Some companies may choose not to locate here because of the Valley's reputation, but the ones who talk to the chamber don't seem concerned, he said. Corruption also has hurt because some elected officials haven't been focused on working in the best interests of the area, he said.
Finding the positive
Gary Kubic, Mahoning County administrator, said there's no doubt that the area's image has been hurt by having a congressman convicted, as well as other public officials. The area, however, still has a lot of positive things that can be promoted, he said.
"We are our own worst enemies. We continue to find fault with ourselves. We are divided," he said.
The top industry officials in the area need to step forward and lead an effort to make changes, he said. Governments must find a way to become united in their efforts, and education has to be improved so businesses can expand here and provide more jobs.
"This is our opportunity to say, 'Enough is enough,"' he said.
Dulberger said the chamber is gearing up for a national marketing campaign to boost the area's image.
In addition to the 200 largest metropolitan areas, 96 smaller areas were listed separately.
Sharon ranked 61st out of the smaller areas.
Dulberger said the statistics Forbes used are valid, but they don't necessarily measure where it's best "to do business." They would be helpful for people wanting to advance their careers if they had a general set of skills and wanted to go to a vibrant area, he said.
What the statistics do provide is a measurement of short-term economic health, he said. The study looked at one-year and five-year wage and job growth and evaluations of an area's high-tech economy.
The Mahoning Valley's diagnosis is poor.
It is ranked next to last among small and large metropolitan areas in one-year wage growth and sixth worst in one-year job growth.
"What this tells us is what we already know," Dulberger said. "In the last few years, the economy has been slow and our community has been hurt."
Recession hit hard
The recession hit the Valley hard after some promising years.
After gaining 6,000 jobs in the late 1990s, the area lost 8,000 jobs from 2000 to 2001.
The job loss is continuing this year. The area had 236,000 jobs in April, which was 5,000 fewer than a year earlier.
Some area employers are reporting improved business, but others are telling the chamber they expect to be slow the rest of the year.
shilling@vindy.com

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