Youngstown, Ohio: Shrugging Off Its Rust Belt Reputation
During the President’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday, he highlighted the advancements made in Youngstown, Ohio with the first manufacturing innovation institute, a government funded pilot program working to transform the U.S. manufacturing sector and yield significant advancements throughout the industry.
Obama said: “There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. 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 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There's no reason this can't happen in other towns."
Inc. has had an eye on Youngstown since 2010, when we wrote about a private program invigorating the city through technology innovation.
We ask Paul Cusson, chairman and founder of Inc. 5000 company Northern States Metals, a full service aluminum extrusion and extruded products company with locations in West Hartford, Connecticut and Youngstown, Ohio, to offer his thoughts on the pilot program and the reinvention of Youngstown. Here's what he had to say.
A Proud Moment
About two years ago, I was a delegate on a business mission to Israel that the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber led. As I looked around at our delegation, I was struck by how far Youngstown had risen from the depths of its Rust Belt reputation. Here in one room were the forward thinking mayors of Youngstown and Warren, aggressive business owners who were thinking about the next generation of technology to be used in their companies, Youngstown State’s STEM college leadership, and members of the Regional Chamber, who consistently reach out to the rest of the world for investment into Youngstown. Even though they were from a small midwest city, they could go toe-to-toe with the best of Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Austin.
So it didn’t surprise me when I heard the news that President Obama last year selected Youngstown to be the first additive manufacturing research center in the whole country--the program that he called attention to in his State of the Union Address this week. The center is called NAMII, for the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and is housed in the already successful Youngstown Business Incubator.
A Catalyst For Change
The goal of NAMII is to take the technology commonly known as 3D printing, and to scale it up to be used in high-end industrial applications. 3D Printing could revolutionize the world: a person could have a custom replacement hip made that would perfectly fit their frame (and it could be half the cost of today’s off-the-shelf product). And a submarine could potentially have one 3D printer that can make every replacement part it needs to have while at sea, saving time and money.
And even for my company Northern States Metals (with our core Solar FlexRack line), 3D printing can mean that our ability to fit out solar farm developments would be even cheaper than the cost-saving technology we use today, which can increase the commercialization of clean technology.
Youngstown companies will be the early adopters of additive manufacturing, with such research in its backyard. Youngstown won this opportunity because the application team that was put together, comprised of many of the universities and companies in the TechBelt region from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, already had a great track record of successful collaboration. And it showed.
When my wife and I invested in Youngstown nearly 30 years ago, we hadn’t realized that we were investing in a city that would eventually leapfrog the rust and be a leader in America’s manufacturing future. But after seeing firsthand
the character of the people of this city, it shouldn’t have surprised us at all.