Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

“Fill it up?” Not quite

Nov 25, 2009 18:45 UTC

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Paramjit Singh says you can tell how poor this neighborhood is by how much – or how little – people spend on gas.

“We get people who come here and spend $3, $2 or $1 on gas because they have no money,” said the manager of Ohio Gas Mart, a gas station and convenience store in the working-class Idora neighborhood of Youngstown. “Sometimes we even have people come in for 50 cents worth of gas.”

“In some parts of the country you can’t even buy less than $1 of gas,” he added. “There aren’t any jobs here, so people have just enough money to buy gas to get to the store and back.”

While we were talking several cars pulled up to fill up with gas, most of them only for a a few dollars worth.

Singh moved to this area about three months ago and said he is not sure how long he will stay.

“We’re considering moving on because this area is not safe and it’s hard to make a living here,” he said. “Unless jobs come here then the situation will not improve.”

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COMMENT

When is there ever a good story about Youngstown OHIO that isn’t referring back to the 19th century? Let it go back to green and wild.

Posted by Anne | Report as abusive

“Pastor with no church” wants abandoned homes rented to poor

Nov 25, 2009 15:34 UTC

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – We didn’t have to go far to find Stephen Townes; he found us.

While we were nearly finished with an on-camera interview with a local community organizer in front of an abandoned red brick home in Youngstown’s historic district, Townes drove past and yelled out the window, “Save those homes! Don’t tear those homes down!”

We flagged him down and asked him to talk. Reluctant at first, Townes stood talking to us for a good half an hour, then agreed to let us come to his apartment to interview him on film.

“I don’t understand why have all these abandoned homes and have people living on the streets,” he said. “Why can’t turn them into affordable housing and have poor people who can’t afford normal rent live there. As long as they obey the rules, they should be allowed to stay.”

Youngstown has some 4,500 abandoned properties in a city of less than 73,000 people.

“There ain’t no way that a poor can ever pull himself up when you keep kicking him while he’s down,” said Townes, 42, who described himself as a “pastor without a church.”

Townes said that he used to be homeless himself and knows full well how difficult it is to get back into the mainstream.

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“I took drugs, I ate out of the trash, I stole and I committed minor crimes just so I could go to jail where I would be warm and have a hot meal,” he said. “This so-called Christian society needs to stop looking at what people have done. Society needs to stop looking at who they were and start looking at who they are today and who they could be tomorrow.”

Townes said he spent time in jail on three separate occasions for minor crimes, but has since cleaned up himself and is trying to help his fellow man.

“It makes me angry that if a man goes to prison and pays for his crime, he can’t get a job,” Townes said. “No one will hire a convicted felon.”

“The problem with this society is that we’re not helping each other,” he added. “If you’re hungry and you ask for bread they’ll give you a brick and tell you it’s over.”

Photos by Brian Snyder

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COMMENT

I have and still do agree with Mr Townes .The city Should help people in need of housing if a few peopleof Youngstown don’t purchase them they are stripped then tore down why not even let them go for part of their back taxes if owed ??? This is my personal opinion.

Youngstown’s business incubator relies on model of sharing to grow

Nov 25, 2009 15:25 UTC

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Craig Zamary has four full-time employees, but because of where his company is based he says it feels more like 300.

“I can reach out to the other companies here and know that they will share their expertise with me,” said the owner of Green Energy TV. “Just as they know they can ask me to do the same for them.”

Zamary describes Green Energy TV as the “YouTube of the green movement” as it takes videos from around the world on innovations in the alternative energy industry. The company also has an agreement with Transit TV, which provides video feed for buses run by the Los Angeles County Transit Authority.

Green Energy TV is one of the business-to-business software companies in the Youngstown Business Incubator’s portfolio. This nonprofit corporation acts as a base for small startups to grow. The incubator currently has a portfolio of 28 firms with around 300 employees, eight of which are resident here in downtown Youngstown. Incubatoor CEO James Cossler (above) explained that startups become resident when they start generating revenue.

The biggest company in the incubator is Turning Technologies with more than 130 employees.

Cossler said the incubator focuses exclusively on business-to-business companies for a particular reason.

“We didn’t want to have a broad range of industries that we couldn’t serve properly,” Cossler said. “We wanted to pick one sector and be a world class incubator.”

He said that one condition for startups to come to the incubator – and receive benefits and resources including deferred and reduced rent and paid utilities for furnished offices – is that they share their expertise and resources with the other companies here even after they “graduate” move out.

Zamary gave an example of that sharing principle, which he said took place not long after Green Energy TV moved into the incubator in early 2008. He told one of his fellow business owners that he was having some trouble with code for his website and the next day that business owner turned up with the code he needed.

“I was wondering what he was going to bill me for it, but he said ‘that’s not how we do things around here,’” Zamary said. “Some day if he needs something from me I’ll be able to repay the favor.”

Cossler said that the other benefits of moving into the incubator are that office space here costs $8 per square foot, compared to $200 in Silicon Valley, while “programming talent” costs about 60 percent more in California than in Youngstown. There are also several universities within an hour’s drive of the city, which can provide young talent for startups.

The incubator currently has three buildings in downtown Youngstown and will have a fourth in mid- to late 2010.

“It’s absolutely realistic to expect that within a few years we could have 2,000 to 3,000 people employed here,” at the incubator or around it, Cossler said. “This could be very powerful and very transformational for Youngstown.”

Photo by Brian Snyder

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Reviving a dream of a haven for gang kids

Nov 24, 2009 19:36 UTC

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Madison School has seen better days.

All of the windows have been smashed, and debris and shattered fluorescent light bulbs litter the floor. The paint is peeling off the walls after years of exposure to cold weather, and the occasional book lies abandoned on the floor.

But Pastor Charles Hudson, who runs a group called Bondage Busters that seeks to stem gang violence, sees all of this very differently.

He points out the murals on the walls that the children he worked with painted and talks to us as if they were here painting yesterday, using the gym downstairs or the chapel along the corridor.

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As Hudson talks, the tears start to pour down his face.

“Sorry,” he said, wiping away the tears. “It’s painful for me to even be here and remember what it used to be like.”

Hudson, 62, bought this building from the local school authority back in 2001 not long after it was closed down – a common fate in Youngstown, a former steel town whose population has fallen by more than half since the 1930s – for $13,000 using donations from friends and local business owners.

He ran the place as a refuge for children to get away from gang violence. But three years ago he had to leave town after three mini-strokes and spent time recovering elsewhere. When he returned earlier this year it was to a dilapidated and derelict building.

His dream is to renovate the old school and once more make it a haven for children, plus make it a place the elderly can come to.

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“Those kids need somewhere to go and this place meant so much to them,” he said.

The trouble is that Hudson needs $1.5 million to renovate the school, but he says that he has been unable to raise funds or get any help from the city of Youngstown.

“I don’t know where I can turn,” Hudson said, his chin quivering.

We asked Jay Williams, Youngstown’s mayor, about Hudson and his project.

Williams told us that like Youngstown – which has come to accept its fate as a smaller city with fewer financial resources – that Hudson may have to set his sights a little lower.

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“Pastor Hudson is a passionate man with a good idea that he believes in,” he said. “But if he spends $1.5 million on renovating it he’ll still need to spend money on lighting and heating it, plus raise additional funds for projects there.”

“If he raised $1.5 million and went for a smaller space that perhaps cost $200,000 to renovate, he’d still have $1.3 million for projects,” Williams added. “I’m not saying that he should give up his dream. I just think he may need to downsize it a little.”

Photos and audio slideshow by Brian Snyder

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COMMENT

american never learn to save money, now for repair this situation they serch the natural reservments around the world,for personalized satisfaction, for reach these send U.S. troops for kill inocent civilian foreigners (Afghanistan, Irak, Iran “spyes”, Pakistan)

Posted by Dubleih Ahim | Report as abusive

Youngstown looks to future after grappling for decades with past

Nov 24, 2009 18:18 UTC

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For this Rust Belt city, the hardest part of moving on has been coming to terms with the past.

“We have spent the past 20 to 25 years looking in the rearview mirror,” said Jay Williams, the city’s 38-year-old, independent mayor (above). “Letting go of the past has been difficult for many people because the past was so good.”

Youngstown – named for John Young, an early settler – was a boom town in the first half of the 20th century. The city’s main industry was steel manufacturing and the population grew rapidly and hit 170,000 in 1930.

But he city’s economy took a major hit in the late 1970s when the steel mills closed down. In one single day on Sept 19, 1977 – a day known to locals as “Black Monday” – when the first of its big steel mills shut down, 4,000 jobs were lost. Over a couple of years the city lost 40,000 jobs.

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“When I left school there were six steel mills I could work at and five railroads,” said local state representative Robert Hagan, who spent many years as a locomotive engineer in the area. “Those opportunities are gone now.”

“I watched the fires of prosperity burn in this valley,” he added. “And then I watched those fires go out.”

Since the steel mills left, the city’s population has dwindled. As of 2008 the population was estimated at just under 73,000 people.

For years the city spent time casting around for the next big company to come and save it, hoping that it could regain its former glory.

But new leaders like Mayor Williams have decided on a new way forward, with a strategy called Plan 2010.

“We have accepted that this is a smaller city and have embraced that,” said James Cossler, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator, which has focused on bringing in business-to-business software companies and currently has 28 firms in its portfolio.

Crossley said that the incubator has already encouraged many younger former residents, who have been leaving for decades to look for work, to come home again.

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The new plan also involves painful decisions for a city that has some 4,500 vacant homes and neighborhoods that have been coming apart at the seams for years. With limited resources to cover fewer residents, the city’s leadership and other have come to the conclusion that some neighborhoods simply don’t have enough people left to remain viable.

“We are aiming to focus on the neighborhoods that can be saved,” said Phil Kidd, a community organizer at the nonprofit group Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative. “But we have to accept the fact that we are going to have to wind down some neighborhoods gracefully.”

The MVOC is trying to organize residents to form into groups and drive much of the change themselves because the city cannot afford to do everything itself.

“We’re all in this together, so we’re going to have fix our problems together,” Kidd said.

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Critics of the plan say the city is pinning all of its hopes on the business incubator and will therefore expose itself to the risk of being dependent on just one industry again, eventually dooming itself to a fresh “Black Monday.”

“We’re not putting all of our eggs in one basket,” Williams said. “We are trying to diversify our economy and are looking for other businesses to come here.”

As it happens, French steel company V&M Star Steel has also announced that it will invest $1 billion on expanding its operations here.

Congressman Tim Ryan, 36, said one of the benefits of having new, younger leadership is that people like him did not grow up during the heyday of the steel industry here.

“We don’t remember what Youngstown was like when the steel mills were here,” he said. “For us this is a blank canvas.”

Ryan said that with the business incubator and the steel expansion project, Youngstown could be on the front line of a U.S. economic revival.

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“We could lead the recovery,” he said.

But state representative Robert Hagan is more cautious about how soon Youngstown will recover.

“The changes we’re going through are going to involve pain and shared sacrifice,” he said. “The city will be better off at the end of the process. But we’re not there yet.”

Photos by Brian Snyder

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