If you haven't already read this tremendous piece on Youngstown and the city's ambitious and effective growth in the tech sector, all amidst the decay and struggle of the former great Rust Belt city, you should do so immediately. Inspiring, complex, moving — it's all these things. And we could stand to learn a little from our neighbors to the east.
A short excerpt below, but it doesn't nearly do justice to the full story, which, like I said, you should read immediately.
But how do you build businesses in a city that revels in its dysfunctionality?
When Jim Cossler first came to his job, from Youngstown's chamber of commerce, the Business Incubator hosted just three start-ups — a digital printing company, a manufacturer of wooden rocking horses, and an outfit that wanted to place printers for travelers' use at airport check-in areas. In 2002, the state legislature established funding for the development of technology businesses in Ohio, and Cossler had an insight that would help spawn Turning Technologies: "Software companies are easy to start. Pretty much all you need is a server and some computers. And if we have a bunch of tech companies here, we can build synergy."
That year, Turning began at the incubator. CEO Mike Broderick is still grateful for the jump-start Cossler gave him. "We probably got $250,000 or $300,000 worth of help from the incubator," Broderick says. "We didn't have to worry about infrastructure. We could focus on the product — and that accelerated the process. Jim Cossler has a Rolodex of thousands of people, and he made introductions for us. We've been very cognizant of that."
In 2007, when Turning needed to expand, it considered moving its headquarters to the suburbs of Youngstown. The city imposes a 2.75 percent income tax on everyone who works within its boundaries, and parking downtown can be a hassle for Turning's largely suburban work force. "But we took an informal poll, and 95 percent of our workers said they liked working downtown," says Broderick. "There's an energy, a hope."
Now Cossler is trying to create Youngstown's next Turning. In a struggling city, he is a sort of kingmaker.