Tuesday, February 26, 2008

From the Super Bowl to the Streets? The Clayton Holmes Story

Instead of Lincoln Avenue this week, WYSU will air an interview by David Luscher with former pro-football player Clayton Holmes. Holmes won 3 Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, but late last year, ESPN.com reporter Jeff Pearlman discovered that Holmes was living on the street in Florence, South Carolina. This Wednesday at 7:30, David talks with Holmes about his experiences.

Lincoln Avenue will be back next week, with a conversation
with Bill Mullane about education in the Mahoning Valley.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Digging into the Past: YSU's New Archives

2008, as you may have heard, is YSU’s centennial. As part of the celebration, the University has opened an archive of materials documenting the institution’s history. This week on Lincoln Avenue, I’m talking with Maag Library Director Paul Kobulnicky about why the archive matters and how it works.

An archive of YSU history might sound like something that would be of interest only to people who are into, say, football trivia. But along with old photographs of Pete and Penny, the archive includes a wide array of documents that help us not only remember but also gain fresh insight on the history of this institution and this community. Old school newspapers can remind us of controversies and campus issues from earlier eras, while documents from University offices can provide insight into how the institution developed. That documentation is useful not only to historians but also for official reasons. Indeed, as Kobulnicky explains, public institutions are required to keep certain kinds of records. Thinking about the archive in those terms reminds us of the multiple roles that the University plays in the community – as the site of a common experience for many alumni and students, as a public institution that includes serving the community in its mission, as one of the largest employers in the Valley, and so on.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with YSU’s archives in several ways over the years, from digging through piles of books in the old rare books collection (which has been replaced, happily, by a very well-organized reading room where you can still access things like old maps of residential neighborhoods) to working with the archives staff to build a new collection of family history papers reflecting the ethnic history of the community. I’m a geek, so these things interest me, but even if you’re not the least bit geeky, you might find something in the YSU archives that will bring back memories or let you see this community and this university in a new way. I encourage you to explore what’s available – much of it online.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Getting Work and Workers Together: Harder Than It Sounds

In all the talk about economic development, I keep wondering about the prospects for the majority of the Mahoning Valley’s workers – those who don’t have college degrees and who don’t, at least on first glance, seem to stand to gain from the development of the local technology sector. In an effort to find out where they stand in the local economy, I’m talking this week with Bert Cene, director of the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association. They’re the pipeline for federal funds aimed at preparing workers to fill the jobs available in the local economy.

MCTA works with both businesses and individuals, trying to match the workforce needs of area companies with the skills of local workers. But there’s a mismatch between the two sides. In our interview, Cene describes a local jobs fair, where employers came looking to fill about 2000 jobs and more than 5000 people showed up looking for work – but the employers still couldn’t find enough people with the right skills to fill all 2000 slots. What’s wrong?

On the one hand, local businesses could do a better job of working with organizations like MCTA to identify their hiring needs. On the other hand, more area workers have to be prepared on a basic level with skills like just showing up on reliably. At the same time, many workers have been displaced from jobs that paid well, and the positions that are available today offer lower wages. Cene suggests that many workers today shy away from factory jobs, preferring the clean, safe, and relative quiet of retail and service industry work.

But the big picture, which I found somewhat surprising, is that, at least according to Cene, employers in our area are looking for good workers but can’t find them. There are jobs available, and, Cene says, that as new industries develop, organizations like MCTA can help provide appropriately-trained workers, as long as business can identify what they need.

At the same time, educational institutions have to provide the right kind of training opportunities. Cene says that he’d like to see YSU offer more flexible programs geared to fill the needs of area businesses. That may be one of the advantages of the proposed community college. We’ll talk about that in a few weeks, when former state Senator Harry Meshel joins me to discuss YSU’s future. Stay tuned.

And if you're interested in work in the Mahoning Valley, visit the Worker Portraits website -- a collection of stories about real jobs in our community.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Funding Change in the Valley

Youngstown has many good non-profit organizations, and several key local foundations regularly help to support their work. But until now, those efforts have not been well-coordinated, nor have non-profit leaders had many opportunities for professional development and networking. The Raymond John Wean Foundation is stepping in to fill that void, as part of a new initiative on “capacity building” – that’s non-profit jargon for critical self-reflection, strategic planning, and deliberate, intentional efforts to develop an organization’s ability to make a difference and strengthen its day-to-day operations.

This week on Lincoln Avenue, I’m talking with the Wean Foundation’s still-fairly-new President, Joel Ratner, about the Foundation’s new directions, including a series of programs aimed at helping area non-profits work better and work together. Starting with a community summit last fall and continuing with a very well-attended set of workshops on strategic planning in January, Wean is providing training, opportunities for networking, and grants to support capacity building, all aimed at helping organizations serve the local community better.

This includes getting people working together. Those who have read the MIT working paper, “Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown,” understand that one of this community’s challenges, historically and still today, is that those who want to solve problems don’t always work well together. Just getting non-profit leaders together to discuss the planning issues that we all face is a step in the right direction. As someone who directs a center at YSU (the Center for Working-Class Studies), which functions as a hybrid academic unit and non-profit group, I’m grateful to Wean for the opportunity to learn not only about how my center can work better but also about the efforts of and issues facing other area organizations.

The other half of Wean’s new strategy is a focus on neighborhoods through small grants of $500 to $5000 to small local groups, especially neighborhood organizations that want to pursue concrete projects to improve their community. This project is still getting organized; the Foundation is establishing two community review boards, one for Youngstown and one for Warren, who will evaluate applications for these small grants. This approach goes hand-in-hand with the neighborhood focus of Youngstown 2010, putting resources in the hands of ordinary people. It also works as another form of capacity building, helping people develop the skills and experience to become community leaders.

Talking with Joel Ratner was inspiring to me, and what I’ve heard at Wean Foundation events this year suggests that they are working strategically both within the Foundation and with area organizations. I look forward to following the progress of these initiatives.