What is $286 million?

The Vindicator rolled out a story last week that puzzled a bunch of us. “Stunned” might be a better word.

In 2016, 6,384 fewer people lived in our five-county Youngstown region than the year before.

While such a result has been common for us since the metro area peaked in 1970 at 665,000 people, the 2016 drop was the single largest population drop in the past six years.

The drop could be said another way: City of Canfield, most of you can leave now. Or Hubbard? Your homes are closed. Or fill the Covelli Centre for a concert, and when finished, say “All of you must leave the Mahoning Valley now.”

That’s a cute way to measure the loss of 6,384 people in one year looks like.

The reality, though, of that population loss is this:


That’s the roundabout spending currently not happening in Mahoningville – the name I’ll apply to the commingled lands of Lawrence, Mercer, Trumbull, Columbiana and Mahoning counties if we acted as one region.

Each day this week in Mahoningville, $783,920 less will be spent. Each day. That’s what $286 million breaks down to.

People are an economy.

On average, each of us is a $44,820 annual economic engine wherever we live – per the experts who measure all that we do.

We purchase food. We buy gas for cars. We need health care. We wear clothes. We get educated. We have activities such as bocce and golf and reading. We require housing and electricity and plumbing and more.

And annually, it amounts to $44,820 per person being spent. It is no longer being spent here by 6,384 people.

The reality of losing all these people is that not everyone just up and left the region like some 21st century Oregon Trail of coffee or craft-beer buffs looking for better lattes or IPAs.

Many people died. Fewer people were born. So there’s that.

And those who did leave did not necessarily leave because they wanted to. Many had to.

We are all only here today because of work. Period. No one here in Mahoningville is indigenous.

While many current residents were born here and did not, per se, come here for work, their grandparents and great-grandparents did.

Mahoningville was not born as a land of 665,000 people – and then Dan and James Heaton built a blast furnace there upon the shore, and then they made the cannonballs that helped the Union win the war.

(I’m karaoke-functional with Bruce’s song.)

To be clear, the Heatons built one furnace.

They then built another and another – and each of those furnaces needed more and more workers. And then more furnaces came. And more workers. And when those companies and workers needed related services, more people came and were employed.

It was then the metro area became 665,000 people. Today, we are 550,000-ish folks.

So there once were few people here; then jobs were created; then people came and stayed.

Nothing else wrong happened to us – except that not enough job makers like the Heaton boys have come here or been born here.

That’s what makes the cool news of the week even more special.

Against the news of 6,384 fewer people, Valley son Mitchell Joseph last week updated Youngstown officials and residents on his plan to bring 270 new jobs to the city’s East Side.

He then baited the packed hall at Stambaugh Auditorium with plans for more 2017 announcements that will please the city.

That’s promising.

There’s nothing wrong with the Valley – except for the need to generate new jobs.

To make us livable, we don’t need more bistros or brew pubs. We don’t need an Ikea. We don’t need a hotel.

I mean, those would be nice. But we need jobs. Period.

Being that we are all these different small towns and small developers, we have this recurring battle.

Office space in the suburbs lures office rentals from the city. New dining in the city lures dining from the suburbs. Bigger firms pick up smaller competitors.

I guess that’s why I like “Mahoningville” – a utopian view that we’re all one place and where a gain is to create a new deck, not just shuffle the deck.

The Heatons created. Mitchell Joseph is creating. More of our leadership needs to walk the talk of creating.

There is a lot of motivation in $286 million.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.