Quality of life intangibles do matter

Lebensqualit §t. It’s a cool sounding German word that translated means “Quality of Life.” But for Germans, it’s more an embedded part of their daily existence, which transcends the workplace to the home to the vacation they take. For someone who just joined the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, with the mandate to bring in international investment to the Valley, it’s important to understand the significance of words like Lebensqualit §t. Because the success of luring global investment into this region will have as much to do with what this Valley offers to satiate life-quality issues as it will the tax incentives and geographic motivations that is natural to business attraction.

The reason I want to discuss my quality of life position is twofold. The first of which is that it is important for many to understand that certain intangibles in a community matter for economic development. And this certainly includes a flourishing arts community and a pedestrian-emphasized downtown corridor. It includes items such as bike trails that can connect New Castle to Lowellville to downtown Youngstown to Mill Creek Park to Canfield. I am amazed that in New York City, a city of 15 million people in a closed-in space, there are more bike-only dedicated trails than there are in the Valley. Connecting YSU, downtown Youngstown, and Mill Creek Park would create a golden triangle that other cities could only dream of having. Having bike trails in place is the most cost-effective and immediate bridge to such a connection. How cool would it be to get on your bike in Austintown, hook a left into Mill Creek Park, and to work up a thirst for an ice latte that can be quenched at an outdoor cafe on Federal Street? It is possible.

Another connection to the quality of life issues that we must address is a flourishing artists community. It is something that the Valley has not recently promoted strongly, and I have always wondered why. In a 1975 Youngstown State interview, Joseph G. Butler III (then director of the Butler Art Institute) mentions some of the artists who came from the Valley who went on to international acclaim. His words come off the paper and into my thoughts with a tinge of pride that Butler must have felt — knowing the museum was a part of that success. With the housing we have in Youngstown, with so much open industrial space that can be used for studios (some of it being between the downtown and Mill Creek Park), and with a new entrepreneurial attitude in the city, why don’t we use the Valley’s great resources to make a concerted effort to incubate new artists?

Hidden agenda

Now before you dismiss my points as having no correlation to economic development, let me divulge my hidden agenda. And that is to make Youngstown, Ohio, the Portland, Oregon, of the Midwest. Why Portland? Because it is the one city in America that seems to have all its toes in the waters of a diversified economy. And as a result, Portland is expected to outpace the national average for metropolitan area’s population growth for the foreseeable future, with a 60 percent growth by 2050. It’s a city that has a high-tech presence, a continued manufacturing presence, international investment (particularly from Asia), a restored downtown, and a thriving arts and community scene. People want to live in cities like Portland. And to make a Portland, it starts with little things like the Dave Grohl Alley in Warren, the opening of a Lemon Grove cafe in Youngstown, and a visit to an artist’s studio on Mahoning Avenue.

Since I have returned home many sincere people have asked me ”how can I be involved in the community more?” Its great to hear such questions, because I am sensing that Valley residents who have endured the collapse of the steel industry, the downsizing of the population, and the political corruption in the past, are now feeling a pervasive sense of optimism. My answer is to simply get involved and stay active. Read the blogs of our new community leaders to find out what events are happening and where we can participate. Sept. 12 will be a big day at Wick Park with the Grey to Green festival. Start there. And together, we can make the Valley live up to its potential.

X Eric Planey is vice president, International Business Attraction, for the Regional Chamber. In recent years, he wrote occasional Vindicator columns while working as a banker in Japan, China and New York.

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