Mayor calls Valley’s low rank for business ‘almost comical’
By Don Shilling
The mayor combats Youngstown’s poor ranking with large business expansions planned for the city.
YOUNGSTOWN — Mayor Jay Williams says it’s “almost comical” that a new survey says Youngstown is the worst city in the nation for business.
The bad news came Thursday from MarketWatch, a news service that annually ranks metropolitan areas based on two main business categories: concentration of large companies and economic stability.
The survey rated Youngstown as No. 101, or last. Although it primarily talked about the city, the rankings actually included the entire Youngstown-Warren metropolitan area.
“Have they ever been here? No,” Williams said.
Rather than a report compiled on economic data, Williams said he will use other methods to gauge the city’s progress. He pointed to V&M Star Steel’s proposed $1 billion expansion, Exal Corp.’s planned $300 million expansion and the Realty Tower luxury apartments that just opened downtown.
“These are people with real dollars invested in the ground here,” he said.
He also cited other reports that conflict the image left by the MarketWatch survey.
Entrepreneur magazine, for example, ranked Youngstown as one of the Top 10 cities in the nation to start a business, and Site Selection magazine named it as one of the Top 10 mid-sized metro areas for business expansion.
This is the first time the local area was included in the MarketWatch survey because past efforts only looked at the 50 largest metro areas. Last year, New Orleans finished at the bottom, but it rose to No. 92 this year.
The article said Youngstown finished in the bottom third of all of its metrics. Among the criteria were how many firms were listed on big-company rankings, including Fortune 1000, Forbes Private Companies, S&P 500 and Russell 2000. It also looked at annual payroll and employment.
For economic stability, the survey looked at unemployment, population growth since 2000 and gross domestic product for the area.
The article said Youngstown suffers from competition with larger Ohio cities and notes that the city has 75,000 residents as well as 4,500 vacant structures and about 22,000 vacant parcels of land.
Albert Sumell, assistant professor of economics at Youngstown State University, told MarketWatch the ranking isn’t surprising.
He said, however, that the city is showing signs of life.
He noted that the city is embracing its smaller size, has a business incubator that is having success with technology companies and a downtown that is “undergoing enough of a renaissance that The Economist magazine recently said it may have turned a corner.”
“I think in some ways, our history is worse than our future,” Sumell said. “I honestly believe our reputation, nationally, is worse than our potential.”
The worst cities for business, as ranked by MarketWatch:
92. New Orleans
93. Bakersfield, Calif.
95. Tucson, Ariz.
96. Augusta, Ga.
97. Worcester, Mass.
98. Stockton, Calif.
99. Scranton, Pa.
100. Fresno, Calif.
Des Moines, Iowa, handily beat all comers, including two-time winner Minneapolis-St. Paul, in this year’s MarketWatch survey that was expanded on several fronts. Story and chart, B5