DEVELOPMENT 'Voices & amp; Choices' targets Valley

Organizers say citizens must act on a regional level to improve economic conditions.
CHAMPION -- Some news media and economic development professionals had seen experts come into the Mahoning Valley preaching economic revival before, and their experience told them any new effort needs to be special if it's going to work.
Leaders of a private group made their pitch for a new approach Monday at Kent State University Trumbull Campus, a program called "Voices & amp; Choices."
They told the media and development pros attending that the program can improve economic conditions of a 15-county area in Northeast Ohio that includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
First, the program involves interviews of citizens conducted by citizens, in which people are given a voice in explaining the place where they live -- the good and the bad, said David Abbott, executive director of the George Gund Foundation and one of the leaders of the effort.
"The only way we're going to improve the economic competitiveness of Northeast Ohio is for citizens to take action on the regional level," Abbott said.
In the Mahoning Valley, a meeting will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in First Presbyterian Church on Wick Avenue, Youngstown, to provide more information about the program. A leadership workshop will follow Aug. 23 at Youngstown State University. Both sessions are open to the public.
Leadership workshops such as the one at YSU will take place in 11 locations across the region between Aug. 23 and Sept. 12 with about 100 leaders from multiple sectors at each.
Findings from the interviews and leadership workshops will feed into a "21st Century Town Meeting," which will take place this fall in Akron. Hundreds of other forums will take place in communities across the region and online. The final step will be another town meeting in the fall of 2006.
Local co-chairmen are Hunter Morrison, director of the YSU Center for Urban and Regional Studies, and Tom Humphries, president of the Regional Chamber.
Positive outlook
Asked whether local people are going to buy into an initiative that includes so many other counties across Northeast Ohio in addition to the hard-hit Mahoning Valley, Morrison said the process has already started. People in the Valley are seeing the future more positively, as evidenced by the success of the Youngstown 2010 program and the media coverage it has received, he said.
Humphries said one reason for seeing the Mahoning Valley as part of the larger Northeast Ohio area is that in faraway countries, small areas such as the Valley don't exist. But as part of Northeast Ohio, they have a better chance.
Morrison said he is excited by the potential for leaders and citizens to get together and see the commonalties between different areas in Northeast Ohio, such as appreciation for our parks and recreational facilities.
Joe Goldman, senior associate with AmericaSpeaks, the Washington D.C.-based organization that will facilitate the interviews, said these sessions "charge people up" and make people feel like something positive can happen.
Those who would like to volunteer to conduct a citizen interview or participate in Voices & amp; Choices may sign up at

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