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From Rust Belt to Tech Belt

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Published: Fri, June 20, 2008 @ 7:47 p.m.

YOUNGSTOWN — People from different backgrounds, professions and lifestyles made a pact today to create a stronger, more innovative and more prosperous Great Lakes region.

Cleveland + Pittsburgh + Youngstown Regional Learning Network met for the first time at the Youngstown Club on East Federal Street to discuss similarities and differences, assets and downfalls, and problems and solutions in hopes of creating a memorable past and a stronger future for this region.

Bobbi Reichtell, senior vice president for programs at Neighborhood Progress in Cleveland, opened the conference, stating that its purpose is to build a healthy, sustainable region. The area has been hit hard by job loss, foreclosures, poor education and the energy crisis, but by forming a partnership and an idea exchange, the area can overcome these obstacle, he said.

“We need a collaborative approach to solve problems,” Reichtell said. “I believe the resilient community of the future will be built on shared trust and collaboration.”

Keynote speaker John Austin addressed the group on leveraging the assets and confronting the challenges of the Great Lakes region. Austin, executive director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, described how this area can successfully transform from the “Rust Belt” to the “Tech Belt.”

“There's nothing we can't accomplish with the energy in this room,” Austin said. “[We need to be] looking at our whole shared story about our economy and what we can do about it.”

Austin reinforced the fact that our region has a strong history in manufacturing, particularly in automobiles and steel, and reminded the room to embrace that history, while setting their sights on the future.

“We are manufacturers, we have to appreciate what manufacturing is going through,” Austin said. “It's still important to our economy. This is real, this is hard and this is one of our unique challenges.”

It is important for young people in this area to focus their energies on being innovative in different areas, particularly in areas involving economic stability, urban revitalization and environmental sustainability.

“The new economy is driven by innovation,” Austin said. “Young people want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Other subjects, such as data-driven decision-making, economic development strategies, and networking and blogging for change, were discussed in smaller groups during innovative sessions.

The group hopes to meet regularly in hopes of rebuilding the region and capitalizing on the assets.

For more information, visit GreenCityBlueLake's Web site.

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