Can entrepreneurs revive the Rust Belt?

Anita Campbell has a good post about how the Youngstown Business Incubator is nurturing a cluster of software start-ups in the Rust Belt city. The incubator was featured in an NPR story yesterday, about how the burgeoning tech sector there is helping to revive the town — the intangible boost to Youngstown’s image is as important or more than the 300 jobs the new companies provide. To be sure, the business incubator is a salve, not a cure, for Youngstown’s ailment. The city still has 15 percent unemployment (according to ZoomProspector).

Youngtown’s situation is particularly interesting in light of this Atlantic cover story by Richard Florida about how the economic crisis will reshape America’s geography. Here’s Florida’s grim take on what will happen to Rust Belt cities like Youngstown:

Sadly and unjustly, the places likely to suffer most from the crash—especially in the long run—are the ones least associated with high finance. While the crisis may have begun in New York, it will likely find its fullest bloom in the interior of the country—in older, manufacturing regions whose heydays are long past and in newer, shallow-rooted Sun Belt communities whose recent booms have been fueled in part by real-estate speculation, overdevelopment, and fictitious housing wealth. These typically less affluent places are likely to become less wealthy still in the coming years, and will continue to struggle long after the mega-regional hubs and creative cities have put the crisis behind them.

Can initiatives to nurture entrepreneurs, particularly in high-growth industries like like the software firms Youngstown’s incubator targets, save these areas? It’s not clear. The economic challenges in post-industrial cities have been tough for decades. In this crisis, they’re tremendous.

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