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State Of The Union Boosts Youngstown's Story Of Economic Turnaround


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

Youngstown, Ohio is an old steel town that has spent decades trying to come back after its mills closed. In recent years, Youngstown has turned to research for high-tech manufacturing as a way to help area businesses grow and adapt. The city is still far from writing a story of economic redemption but people there say they feel the beginnings of a turnaround. This week, that effort got a boost from President Obama in his State of the Union Address.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has the story.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Ohio is a perpetual battleground state and the Youngstown area is an important base for Democrats. So, people here will tell you they're never completely surprised when a politician mentions their city.

Still, this was the State of the Union Address.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that...

GONYEA: Three-D printing is a way to create complex objects that previously would have had to have been molded or drilled out, or made through any number of other manufacturing methods. The process is at the center of a new manufacturing research lab in Youngstown.

We're still on the ground floor here?

RALPH RESNICK: This is the ground floor. This was an abandoned warehouse.

GONYEA: In a downtown marred by signs of struggle and hard-times. But inside the lab looks like a trendy loft space with floor to ceiling windows.

RESNICK: Manufacturing is still looked upon as dark, dirty, dangerous. Advanced manufacturing today is not that way.

GONYEA: This lab in Youngstown is developing techniques factories in the region and elsewhere will use. It's not a factory itself with lots of jobs, but Resnick and other predict job growth in the region because of it, and the businesses that tap into it.

There is a spot not far from downtown that's popular with everyone from blue-collar workers to university employees to local business owners. The place is the Royal Oaks Bar.

LOUIE KENNEDY: This is the oldest bar in Youngstown, as far as a continuous bar that opened the day after Prohibition.

GONYEA: That's Louie Kennedy, the owner. His reaction to the president this week?

KENNEDY: I do love it when people drop Youngstown bombs. You know, 'cause you just never know when somebody's going to drop Youngstown. I'll be honest, when you live here you just kind of think the rest of the world forgot about you.


GONYEA: Fifty-six-year old college Professor Vernon Haynes is seated next to Kennedy. He says the research being done in Youngstown is a positive step for city, even if it not yet something that the average person here has any real connection to.

VERNON HAYNES: I think most people around here are unaware of what's going on. There may be the occasional article in the local paper. But beyond that, there are a lot of things going on below the radar here that are the positive things going on in Youngstown.

GONYEA: That was echoed by 35-year-old Joe Shelby, a union carpenter.

JOE SHELBY: I think the things that are going on with the start-up businesses downtown are wonderful. You know, and there is stuff happening. I personally don't know anybody who's working for these companies but I read about it all the time.

GONYEA: Which gets us to those questions about jobs: how many, who'll get them and what they'll pay. The 50,000 lost steel jobs aren't coming back to Youngstown. But the notion of something new being created here offsets the uncertainty, especially with the talk around town - and even from the White House - finally being about what's possible rather than what's gone.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Youngstown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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