Last March, Congressman Tim Ryan told the Regional Chamber breakfast that the Mahoning Valley is changing its Rust Belt image by focusing on high technology initiatives and enterprises, but stressed that the region must be ready when “the next great expansion” takes place.
That expansion, said Ryan of Niles, D-17th, could involve alternative energy, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, health care and homeland security. And with the federal government pumping huge amounts of money into endeavors related to those fields, Ryan, as a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is well positioned to ensure that this area is not shut out of the sweepstakes.
But, there are no handouts, which is why this week’s statement by Dr. David Sweet, president of Youngstown State University, that the institution intends to play a “central role” in the development of the “Tech Belt” is so important — and timely.
Just about every region in the country that has become a hotbed of high technology has done so in conjunction with local universities and colleges.
YSU, as Sweet noted in his ninth annual State of the University address Monday to campus faculty and staff, must think of itself as the center of the emerging tech belt between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. That goal is not as far-fetched as it may appear, given that Congressman Ryan and his colleague in the House, Jason Altmire of McCandless, Pa., D-4th, have been working closely to develop the technology corridor. They share the opinion that YSU is ideally positioned to be a major player.
The development of technology industries and businesses along the Pitsburgh-Cleveland corridor would be an economic boon to this part of the country. And while development agencies and organizations have important roles to play, higher education is a natural fit for this undertaking.
The stakes are high, indeed.
Late last year, Ryan obtained $14 million in federal funds for projects related to the technology fields he talked about in his speech to the chamber. Of the $14 million, $1.97 million went to Parker Hannifin’s Youngstown division for a hybrid hydraulic program, $2.4 million to Ajax Tocco of Warren for research and development of tactical metal fabrication systems, and $1.6 million for YSU’s Center for Excellence in Industrial Metrology and 3D Imagine Research.
The congressman is quick to point out that the Valley hasn’t hit a “home run” yet, but with Youngstown State committed to being a major player, the sky becomes the limit.
“Too often, we are an afterthought when decisions are made and resources allocated,” the president told members of the university community.
Not any more. The role Sweet envisions YSU playing in the Valley’s transition to a high tech economy not only reflects Ryan’s beliefs, but also is a response to the challenge given to all Ohio’s public colleges and universities by Chancellor Eric Fingerhut.
Fingerhut, who, under the direction of Gov. Ted Strickland and with the support of the Ohio General Assembly, is re-engineering higher education in the state, has made it clear that the mission of colleges and universities must be broader than what it has been traditionally.
He has said that each institution will be required to show how it is participating in the economic growth of the area it serves.
YSU’s role in the technology belt is a winning response to the chancellor’s challenge.