If one were looking for the epitome of U.S. industrial decline, there would be no better fit than Youngstown, Ohio. Nowhere does the impact of three decades of off-shored steel, outsourced labor and faltering domestic production ring louder than in the gutted factories, the shuttered and rusting industrial parks and the abandoned lots that surround the once world-class industrial city.
Given that, the recent decision by Siemens (IW 1000/35) -- which maintains no offices, facilities or plants anywhere near the city -- to donate $440 million in state-of-the-art product lifecycle management (PLM) software and training to Youngstown State University might seem a little absurd. But that's because decline isn't the full story.
Youngstown may look like the poster city for the Rust Belt, but under the surface, it is emerging as the new model of manufacturing rebound -- one that is bringing new hope to the region and shaping the road to the resurgence for the rest of the country.
And it's not doing it with steel. In fact, it's not doing it with any of the dark, dirty and dangerous jobs the city is founded on. It's doing it with technology. And collaboration.
The Rise of the Tech Belt
"During the second world war, the Pittsburgh-Youngstown-Cleveland area was the largest steel-producing region in the world," recalls Siemens Corp. President and CEO and area native, Eric Spiegel. "But when that went offshore, it depleted the whole region. Things got pretty depressing."
But lately, he says, everything has started to change.
"I visited the city two years ago and no one was talking about a Rust Belt anymore," he explains. "Instead they were talking about transforming it into a 'tech belt' -- a high-tech hub that combines the strength of universities and manufacturers stretched from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to really reinvigorate the area."
And that word -- "hub" -- is the key point. Youngstown is at the center of a 150-mile corridor of some of the most innovative research institutions and manufacturers in the country. It contains some 3.9 million workers producing a combined GDP of over $250 billion, supplemented by the talents and resources of universities like Carnegie Mellon, Youngstown State and Case Western Reserve.
But that doesn't make a hub. What does is the dedicated band of local heroes led by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) that has been working for 10 years to pull those resources together and create a comprehensive, collaborative environment that can breed high tech innovation.
Rise of the Technology Hub
"We're at the center of a manufacturing mega-region on par with Beijing and Shanghai," Rep. Ryan says. "But to make it work, we needed to figure out how to connect -- at the local level -- all of the magnificent institutions and businesses and organizations we have here."
Work to that end over this past decade culminated in this year's announcement of a $30 million government investment for the creation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (NAMII) in downtown Youngstown, making the city the first official technology hub of the National Network of Manufacturing Initiative.
To Spiegel, this marked a break from the city's legendary fall and the rise of a newly vibrant -- and newly investable -- region. Hence the $440 million donation.
"With NAMII and the great engineering school at Youngstown State and the tech belt, this is beginning to look like an area that could really grow into something good for the region and for the country," he says. "We thought it was just natural to support the area, to support the workforce-training part of NAMII, the training of students and teachers on some of the world's most advanced software."
|Watch Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) tell the story of Youngstown's second coming at iw.com/namii.|
"Students all around the country are going to want to get in on this," Spiegel adds. "If you're an engineer and you want to get out in front with leading edge technology, this is going to be the place to go."