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article imageMayor Williams Tip of the Spear in Youngstown, OH Revitalization Special

By Christopher Wager     Jul 29, 2010 in Business
Youngstown - Youngstown, Ohio, like so many other boom towns in America, contributed its success to the countries hunger for quality steel. Mayor Jay Williams spoke about Youngstown's successes and challenges.
Youngstown gained the rank of the third largest steel producer in the country hitting its high watermark during the 1970's. As steel production grew so did the city's population and infrastructure until the day that will live in Ohio history forever: September 19, 1977. The day the last of the steel production at the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company closed for good putting 5,000 workers out of a job. The once "too big to fail" steel giant had succumbed to what one can only guess were rising operational costs and foreign steel competition.
Furthermore, with the city's entire local economy centered on the production of steel, Youngstown went into a tailspin unable to stop the free fall into poverty, crime, and drugs. For the next twenty years, the country as well as many of the residents had surrendered to the ideology that Youngstown was lost, a mere shadow of its former self with large industries other than service and retail moving into the Valley. Youngstown had little hope for recovery.
What Youngstown needed was a plan of recovery, a strategy to inspire those who had lost hope in the city. Reaching out across generations and bringing the residents together for the common good of the city, the neighborhoods, and families. More importantly, a person to spearhead the effort.
"The residents have been mourning the loss of the steel mills for some twenty years; the time for mourning is over." Mayor Jay Williams said in a recent interview in his modestly furnished but tasteful office.
One might have expected his office to be a bit more....reflective of the position, however, the mayor's choice in decor reflected the tastes of someone who is more interested in doing the city's business than impressing. Williams, a native of Youngstown, graduate of the local university, and second term mayor brings to the table experience in the banking industry which gives him a unique perspective on the realities of trying to run a city in today's economic climate.
This in turn led me to the next question. How is the city specifically able to continue to move in the direction of progress in spite of the economic conditions of the country? The mayor enthusiastically answered in two parts. "I have met with other city officials from around the country and listened as they talked about budget cuts and how difficult it was becoming." the mayor continued, "However, Youngstown, probably is better equipped to survive these times as the city has been operating at this difficult level for many years."
In addition to his banking experience, Mayor Williams spent time as the Director of the Youngstown Community Development Agency where he and others conceived the plan to transform Youngstown into a thriving community and beacon for new businesses once again.
The mayor's plan "Youngstown 2010" is centered on the reduction of the city as a whole by removing unoccupied structures to make way for green spaces. What were once cluttered vacant lots will be transformed into city gardens. As I spoke with the mayor about his plan, he convinced me with his contagious enthusiasm and how he has been able to recruit the help of neighborhood committees and organizations in the effort. The mayor, as well as his plan, has been honored with many prestigious awards and is being accepted by other cities and countries around the world as the model of standard for doing what had once been thought impossible. The shrinking of a city while improving the quality of life for all.
Besides the plan to redefine the topography of the city, the mayor shared with me the progress they have made in the one area in the city where, because of the invasion of strip malls and shopping centers, have all but been forgotten: Main Street - Downtown. Youngstown has always had something to offer folks of many different tastes in the heart of the city. Nonetheless, today the officials of Youngstown with the cooperation of downtown merchants are making it even more attractive for folks to come and enjoy the day or evening. The mayor shared with me the success of the recent jazz concert attracting some of the biggest names in the business, as he put it, "It was a night to remember." There is also the downtown farmer's market offering fresh produce to residents in the area, the theater, fine art at the Butler Institute of Art, a hockey team, and plenty of parking.
The mayor shared his and city official's labors to perpetuate the growth of new business in the area. One could hardly speak of new business growth in Youngstown without mentioning the Youngstown Business Incubator, which surprisingly is centered on helping technology based businesses get a leg up. Youngstown is quickly becoming a technology center to do business. This is a tribute to the hard work and effort of the people of Youngstown. Mayor Williams added the expansion of Youngstown State University with a building for a new business school due to open in September 2010.
When the interview conversation turned to the subject of business the mayor took on an air of seriousness. I was no longer talking to the man who had only moments before had been smiling as we talked about jazz concerts and farm markets. I was now talking to the man who was absolute about the business of the city. The mayor discussed from a formal posture the details of doing what many of his as he put it,"critics" and supporters thought to be impossible, expand steel in Youngstown. The company the mayor is referring to is V and M Star Steel which is in the midst of breaking ground on $650 million addition attracting attention from Washington with a visit from the President of the United States in May. During his visit, the president did not miss the opportunity to use the expansion as proof his stimulus package was working to kick start the economy. What this expansion means to the Mahoning Valley is 350 jobs that the company has already begun taking applications for.
Mayor Williams gave his time generously as he continued to explain other job opportunities that were about to become reality from companies looking to make Youngstown their home. However, the mayor was candid about other challenges Youngstown faces such as stressing the importance of education. Jay Williams has proved to be the mayor of the people.
More about Youngstown ohio, America, Steel, Youngstown state university, Mayor jay williams
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