Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of stories derived from Rising Rust Belt: A Regional Revitalization Economic Summit, which was held Oct. 7 and presented by the Shenango Valley, Youngstown-Warren and Lawrence County chambers of commerce.
By JUDI SWOGGER
NEWS On the Green
In a region working to find its footing after years of setbacks, what is the first step to bringing the neighborhoods within it back to life? That question was asked of the experts in the Neighborhood Revitalization Best Practices session. On the one hand, the answer is easy: development. But, then, that’s where it gets hard.
Jim Gagliano, executive director of the Lawrence County Land Bank in New Castle, advocated for community development — activities that improve the quality of life in a community.
“The ability to have entertainment close by is the problem in trying to attract professionals to live in New Castle or Lawrence County,” he said. “They want something in the community.”
To the contrary, Matt Martin, executive director of the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership in Warren, gave the nod to economic development – the attraction and retention of business — as the ultimate first step.
“We can tear down houses, clean up the parks and neighborhoods, but, at the end of the day, people have to have jobs,” Martin said.
For some, it boiled down to a “chicken or the egg” kind of question that seemed as pointless a distinction as the “if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound” question.
You can’t have one without the other, said Lawrence County Planning and Community Development Director Amy McKinney, New Castle. “It has to go hand-in-hand.”
Farrell City Manager Mike Ceci called the choice between the two options “a double-edged sword.”
“If you don’t make it a place where people want to live, they’ll go anywhere they want,” he said.
All five members of the panel could agree on one thing, though: cooperation is key.
“Find your group of people that are going to work well together,” McKinney said. “That’s so very important.”
“Get to know all the people in your region,” said Ian Beniston, executive director of Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., who also touted the importance of using data to evaluate where a community is and where it is going.
“I use data to inform, communicate and generate confidence, and to evaluate,” he said. “If we’re not using data and using the available resources to target it, we’re not doing our job.”
Gagliano urged community leaders to “Educate your partners and be educated by them; keep an open mind. No one entity can do this on its own.”
“All of our most successful programs, we stole from other organizations,” Martin said. “Communicate with your community, continually acknowledging your residents as your #1 partner.”
Ceci touted vision.
“Revitalization within a community is not just one thing,” he said. “Challenge yourself and ask yourself ‘What can we be?’”