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Same ol’ rap: Valley economy ranks low on list

By Don Shilling

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

By Don Shilling

The area ranks 90th out of the nation’s 100 largest in Brookings study.

The Mahoning Valley will shrug off any bad vibes that are created by a second consecutive study that ranks its economy as among the worst in the nation, local officials say.

“We’re poised to make some real progress once the downturn is over,” said Tony Paglia, senior vice president at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. “I’ve got a feeling we’re going to surprise some people who do these surveys.”

The Brookings Institution released a study today that ranked the Valley’s recent economic performance as 90th out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

Last week, Forbes ranked the Valley as one of 10 cities “with the longest road to recovery” from the national economic recession.

John McNally IV, a Mahoning County commissioner, said he isn’t bothered by these surveys or similar ones in past years.

“I don’t think it has any effect whatsoever. If anyone thinks otherwise, they are giving too much credence to these organizations that do these studies,” he said.

Companies that are considering opening business operations in an area don’t rely on such studies but will conduct their own research, he said.

In such cases, the Valley has shown that it can hold its own, Paglia added.

He pointed out that the Valley tied for seventh in the nation last year among midsized metropolitan areas in terms of adding new and expanded facilities. It was the first time the area has been in the Top 10 since Site Selection magazine began making the rankings in 1978.

Paglia said the chamber, which handles economic development for Mahoning and Trumbull counties, has been aggressively promoting the area. Starting a half-dozen years ago, the economic development staff has been visiting site-selection consultants who help companies narrow their list of targeted areas.

The chamber’s staff passes along information about the area’s property values, schools, work force and available industrial land.

Paglia said studies such as the Forbes and Brookings reports reinforce what local leaders already know — that the Valley’s economy is lagging behind the rest of the nation.

He noted, however, that the current recession and collapse of the housing market has created problems in more glamorous locations as well. The bottom 10 in the Brookings report had four Florida cities and three in California, while the 10 struggling areas listed by Forbes included New York City and Los Angeles.

Paglia said he is optimistic the Valley can move up in such rankings because of General Motors’ commitment to its Lordstown car plant, the technology companies in downtown Youngstown and the area’s young, aggressive political leaders.

The Brookings study ranked areas based on changes in employment, unemployment, housing prices and gross metropolitan product, or the value of goods and services produced in the area.

The Valley ranked 33rd in housing price changes but was listed as 92nd to 98th in the other categories.

The report noted that Youngstown, Detroit and Modesto, Calif., have been suffering much longer than the rest of the country. Employment in those areas peaked in late 2004 and early 2005 and has fallen since.

The report said all areas have lost jobs in the recession, but areas that are strong in education, government and health care have fared better than others.

“All metropolitan areas are feeling the effects of this recession, but the distress is not shared equally,” said Alan Berube, co-author of the report. “While some areas of the country have experienced only a shallow downturn and may be emerging from the recession already, people living in metro areas that are now performing weakest economically should prepare themselves for a long recovery period.”

The top performing areas were San Antonio, Texas, Oklahoma City, Austin, Texas, Houston and Dallas.