Every Mahoning Valley resident who has bemoaned Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.'s felony conviction, or has shrugged off the 70 or so individuals caught in the federal government's crackdown on organized crime and government corruption, or continues to blame Columbus or Washington for the region's ills would do well to read the Forbes magazine article about the best and worst places in the country to do business or advance a career.
As the front page story in Wednesday's Vindicator noted, Forbes ranked the Mahoning Valley as the worst region from a business standpoint except for Gary, Ind. And one of the main reasons the magazine's study cited for this shameful and worrisome ranking?
"Youngstown's [the Valley'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."
That's how outsiders see us. In this one ranking, at least, the Valley has hit rock bottom. Do we have the ability, the will and the commitment to climb out of Forbes' cellar? It depends on the response of each and every thoughtful, caring resident who refuses to be swayed by the "things aren't so bad" philosophy embraced by a disturbingly large number of people. Our reputation precedes us -- and from Forbes' vantage point, our reputation stinks.
Make no mistake about it: Traficant's conviction on 10 federal criminal charges and his refusal to take any responsibility for his misdeeds are feeding the negative opinions like those expressed by Forbes.
While we agree with Reid Dulberger of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber that the issue of corruption in this region is more complicated than "a cheap shot on our political difficulties," the fact remains that for the past couple of years, the FBI's crackdown on organized crime and government corruption has defined our region.
But now that it appears the worst of the federal government's onslaught is over -- indictments are expected in Trumbull County, but there won't be as many as there were in Mahoning County -- it is up to the Valley to rebuild its reputation.
The challenge is to get outsiders to focus on the positive aspects of the area. There are good stories to be told, including the fact that General Motors Corp. has all but selected its Lordstown assembly plant for the proposed new compact car models. Friday's front page story about the Lordstown plant with the headline, "Looking good: Productivity up 13%," should be sent to the editors of Forbes. There also are high-technology companies in the region involved in exciting, cutting-edge projects that seem to have escaped the magazine's attention.
By this time next year, we would hope the Valley is defined by such positive achievements and not by crime and corruption.
That should be our goal.