The term “Rust Belt” means different things to different people.
For those who remember when GATX, Sharon Steel and Westinghouse shut down, it’s a reminder of a very difficult time, and the collapse of a way of life.
But, for many young people, “They sort of see the more romanticized view of our heritage,” said Sherris Moreira, executive director of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce. “They don’t have the shame that went with it when the places closed down.”
In organizing “The Rising Rust Belt: A Regional Revitalization Economic Summit,” set for Oct. 6 and 7 at the Park Inn in West Middlesex, Moreira and her counterparts at the Youngstown-Warren and Lawrence County chambers decided to own the term.
“We’re scrappy, but we’re strong, and we are survivors,” she said.
promoThose survival techniques will form the backbone of the summit, she said.
“There’s innovation and ways that we have figured stuff out that is different than places that have a lot more resources and a lot more people,” Moreira said. “Instead of seeing that as a negative, let’s look at those survival skills as a positive.”
The summit costs $40 for participants, while vendors are charged $200 or $250. Participants get a tour of the former Westinghouse plant and the Hope Center for Arts and Technology, both in Sharon, on Oct. 6, followed by a mixer at the Park Inn.
On Oct. 7, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman gives the opening address at 8:30 a.m. during breakfast, and Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has been invited to give a lunch presentation.
After the speeches, participants will attend breakout sessions that will address subjects such as the region’s economics, health care, community revitalization, higher education, skilled trades, succession planning and the food and beverage economy. Speakers from Ohio and Pennsylvania will talk about things that have worked and not worked, what needs to be done and trends in various facets of the local economy.
The second day concludes with a pitch competition at the eCenter@LindenPointe, the technical business incubator in Hermitage, featuring local businesses such as Purpose: The Therapeutic Subscription Box and Start-Up CTO.
The summit grew from the outside perspectives of the executive directors of the chambers, all of whom have less than three years’ experience in their positions, Moreira said.
“We come in here with some different viewpoints about the area,” she said. “We see more of the positives than maybe sometimes are seen when you’ve lived here for years. We see some of the opportunities.”
While each state imposes a different set of rules governing business, “our heritage is very similar and our challenges are very similar,” Moreira said. “If there are similar challenges, then there has to be some similar solutions.”
Moreira said she hopes the summit has appeal from Pittsburgh to Cleveland and Erie to Akron, but is equally relevant to the business folks who are right here in town.
“You’re gonna get some really stellar speakers in your own back yard.” she said. “The cost of the ticket is very reasonable, it includes breakfast and lunch. You get to hear the lieutenant governors of both Pa. and Ohio. It’s also the opportunity to network with other businesses, other communities, other leaders. We have a lot of innovation going on within 10 minutes’ drive of all of us.”
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