Most proud residents OF THE Mahoning Valley don’t need a respected national publication to tell them that our community shines with stellar qualities for raising a family. In fact, Forbes magazine’s ranking this month of the Youngstown- Warren-Boardman area fifth among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas in that category comes as no great surprise.
Truth be told, we rarely put much stock in such listings as many of them perpetuate outdated, false and downright seedy perceptions of the Greater Youngstown area. Forbes’ seemingly contradictory ranking of Youngstown as among the most miserable cities on the planet last year quickly comes to mind.
Nonetheless, we thank the editors of Forbes for enlightening the world on the Valley’s outstanding attributes for raising a family enjoyably and successfully. It serves as one small sign that as the economy and quality of life in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties improve, the region’s public image to the world is gaining a flattering and much-needed makeover.
DETAILS OF THE SURVEY
Forbes said it produced this ranking — the Raleigh, N.C., metro area ranks No. 1 on it — by analyzing seven factors: median household income, cost of living, housing affordability, commuting delays, crime rates, school quality and percentage of residents who own their home.
Clearly, our metro area does not fare well in some of those categories. Our median income — $40,000 for the Valley in general and $24,000 for Youngstown in particular — rank far below the national average of $51,000. Those figures, however, are largely offset by the low cost of living here. The Council for Community and Economic Research has ranked Youngstown-Warren the ninth most affordable community out of 308 in the nation and No. 1 in Ohio.
In raising a family and pursuing the American Dream, few indicators weigh as heavily as the ability to purchase a home. CNN Money has ranked Youngstown as the second-most-affordable area nationally for housing.
Raising a family well also requires strong public schools. In most school districts in the Valley, Forbes rightly recognized that teachers and administrators serve students and communities superlatively. But just don’t take Forbes’ word for it. Take a glance at the listing of the best public high schools in the United States, published just last week by U.S. News & World Report. Of the 750-plus public secondary schools in Ohio, three high schools in the Valley — Columbiana, Hubbard and Poland Seminary — all rank in the coveted top 100.
NOT ALL INDICATORS ARE ROSY
To be sure, however, not all schools in the Valley come anywhere close to reaching those lofty standards. Youngstown City Schools, for example, remain an abysmal example of fiscally and academically challenged districts in the nation. Above-average crime rates in Youngstown and neighborhood blight in many Valley communities continue to cheapen the quality of life and the ability to successfully raise a family.
Yet even in the city proper, signs of improvement are emerging. Slow but steady gains in the school district, visible declines in violent crime (compare the two homicides in Youngstown so far in 2014 with the 21 slayings through the first four months of 1994) plus energized initiatives to fight blight and revitalize neighborhoods have gained steam. Witness such efforts in revitalizing the Smoky Hollow, Idora Park and Garden District neighborhoods in the city.
And even though Youngstown today accounts for only 10 percent of our metro area’s population, it remains its hub and the nameplate for the region. For better or worse, the image of Boardman, Howland, Lisbon and other Valley towns is inextricably linked to that of Youngstown.
That’s why as we thank Forbes for its compliment to the Valley, we also must work vigorously to maintain and improve that ranking — particularly by aggressively addressing the ongoing challenges within Youngstown that too often cast shadows on our entire region’s overall positive reflection.