By Burton Speakman
and Karl Henkel
As a city in transition, Youngstown appears on many lists. One day the area is ranked as one of the best places in the nation to raise a family, while on another it appears as one of the poorest cities.
The most recent example is Forbes magazine’s rating Youngstown as the lowest city in Ohio in a survey of the best cities for business and careers. The study also placed Youngstown 188th out of the nation’s 200 largest metropolitan areas.
Forbes said its rating was based on job growth [past and projected], costs [business and living], income growth over the past five years, educational attainment and projected economic growth through 2014. It also considers crime rates, cultural and recreational opportunities, net migration patterns and the number of highly rated colleges.
Before that, the Valley appeared on a Brookings Institution list that showed both positive and negative aspects of the area. The Youngstown-Warren-Boardman metro area was rated 95th out of 100 metro areas after losing 46.2 percent of manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010, but the same publication ranked the area third nationally in manufacturing job growth between the first quarter of 2010 and the fourth quarter of 2011 at an 11.7 percent increase.
Even though these types of lists appear to be factual, many still include significant amounts of opinion, said Robert Batchelor, a professor at Kent State University who specializes in pop culture and the media.
The groups that do these lists may use some type of factual basis, but a lot of bias goes into them. They force people to organize on one side or the other on a topic, he said.
“A lot of these are media driven, particularly online sources will use these to drive social media,” Batchelor said. “These are the bread and butter of Facebook and Twitter.”
The entire point is to engage readers in an argument, get them on one side or the other, he said.
“Just for fun, I put a list of the 10,000 most underrated songs and the 10,000 most overrated songs, that I chose personally, on my website. They generated 10,000 hits in one day and that’s normally one month of traffic,” Batchelor said.
Despite the negatives of these polls, some believe they can have legitimate use.
The fact that Youngstown appears on a lot of lists that are both positive and negative indicates the area is undergoing a transition, said Tony Paglia, vice president of government affairs for the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber. The chamber attempts to keep track of the various lists the area appears within.
Youngstown was down for a long time, so the city will show up on poverty lists. In addition, when other parts of the country were experiencing a housing boom, higher unemployment kept housing prices down, he said.
“Now low housing prices are a good thing as people look to relocate to the area,” Paglia said.
These surveys serve as a way to show the community has made progress, he said.
Employment has climbed in the region for 23 consecutive months.
“This growth we’re getting now is extraordinarily welcome,” said Cleveland-based economist George Zeller. “Youngstown has a better model than any other city in the state, but we’re still not growing fast enough.”
The Mahoning Valley has the most inexpensive housing among large metro areas: This statistic also dates back to the pre-recession era.
Because Youngstown’s economy has always lagged behind the national average, housing prices, for the most part, were never artificially inflated like those in other areas of the country like California or Florida.
“We were always a moderate economy when it came to home sales,” said Michael D. Klacik, part owner of Klacik Real Estate. “We were not overinflated on our prices like so many areas across the country.”
“I predict over the next few years, you’ll see Youngstown appear on more of the positive lists and less on the negative lists,” Paglia said.
The negative lists will not go away completely. There are still a lot of problems locally, he said.
The information contained in these surveys should not be taken too seriously. There is too much potential to interpret, misinterpret and reinterpret facts, Batchelor said.
“I would not make public policy based on top 10 lists,” he said.