YSU researcher explores Youngstown economic recovery

Frank Akpadock is an employee of Youngstown State University who just wrote a new book about Youngstown and its economic recovery.

Frank Akpadock

“The doomsayers are wrong — Youngstown has life; and continues to grow as a dynamic entity in the face of all odds.”

This is the optimistic view of Frank Akpadock’s new book, City in Transition: Strategies for Economic Regeneration of Inner-City Communities–The Case of Youngstown, Ohio.

Akpadock is a senior research associate in YSU’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies.

His 376-page book chronicles Youngstown’s evolution, its politics and the policies that helped drive a major, steel-producing city. The book also examines the resultant economic devastation and population loss after the steel mills shut down in the early 1970s to early 1980s, and the steps taken since then to the present, to achieve economic recovery as a downsized, post-industrial 21st-century city.

The core premise is simple: Manufacturing is the driver of any community’s economy as a growth pole; without it comes attrition and demise.

“Modern business leaders realize Youngstown is a future boomtown,” says Akpadock, who admits he was not terribly impressed when he first saw Youngstown when he arrived 20 years ago as a freshly minted Ph.D. graduate.

“I came here and saw the downtown and the sublime nature of its skyline,” laughs Akpadock. “I said, ‘I’m going to be here a very short time!’”

Akpadock warmed up to Youngstown’s economic challenges, and he was determined to help any way that he could in the growth of private and public industrial sectors.

“I fell in love because of the challenges the city faced,” he said. “I determined to do whatever I could to help with its revitalization.”

One of his first projects came at the request of former U.S. Representative Jim Traficant and then Mayor Pat Ungaro, who requested that YSU study the economic impact of what was then termed “the city’s white elephant” – the Youngstown Municipal Airport.

“I was assigned the study and upon completion, was able to show that the airport contributed $31 million annually in revenue to the region,” he said. “Everyone was shocked.”

In response, the Western Reserve Port Authority was created, and the facility’s name was changed to Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport.

In the book, Akpadock credits Youngstown’s mayors and other stakeholders for the city’s turnaround, citing inventive programs such as Ungaro’s Brownfield Reclamation Project, which cleaned up unsightly steel slag dumps so that the land could be reclaimed for use as new industrial parks. Projects like this, he said, laid the foundation of the city’s economic revival, allowing subsequent mayors, George McKelvey and Jay Williams, a greater measure of success as they developed the city’s acclaimed Youngstown 2010 Comprehensive Plan.

“Ungaro was the first mayor to bring about collaboration between the city and our university during President Leslie Cochran’s administration; as the mayor saw YSU’s intellectual resources and the potential of the university and the city coming together. The rest they say is history.”

Akpadock believes the city and YSU share a common future — growth.

“With good leadership, Youngstown will realize its full potential,” he said. “As long as YSU is linked with the city, they will continue to grow together.” In addition, Akpadock characterizes the Youngstown Business incubator as the crown jewel of Youngstown’s economic regeneration through its fiscal and economic impacts on the city and the Mahoning Valley region.

Born in Nigeria, Akpadock came to the United States at age 19 to attend California State University Fresno, where he received both his bachelor’s degree in Geology, and a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning. He received another master’s degree in Urban Studies from Portland State University in 1989, and in 1990 he earned a doctorate in Regional Science from Texas A&M University, College Station.