The Dreamer: Youngstown, Ohio
Sure, Youngstown may not have the economic firepower of other cities on this list, but it has one important commodity in spades: hope. This rust belt burnout hit the skids in the late '70s and early '80s when the steel industry packed it in, cutting 30,000 jobs and leaving the town synonymous with hard times (listen to Bruce Springsteen's "Youngstown" for details). But in the last decade, something special has happened in this northeast Ohio city. Jim Cossler and his innovative Youngstown Business Incubator, which offers fledgling B2B software companies mentors, networking and services like office space and bandwidth for free or at a deferred cost, are taking Youngstown's business future into their own hands. The incubator concept was revolutionary enough to help ignite a renaissance in this small city. "Youngstown fell so far, traditional community leaders threw up their hands and told the younger generation, 'You guys try,'" Cossler says. "The new generation is envisioning things we wouldn't have talked about 10 years ago." Cossler points to the work of the area's dynamic congressman and energetic young mayor as examples. "They said, 'Let's clean the slate and start over again,'" he says. "There's a radical transformation going on here right now."
You wouldn't expect one of the seven fastest growing tech companies in the country to be located in Youngstown, but founder Mike Broderick thinks it makes perfect sense. "I've found Youngstown to be a brilliant place for a startup," says the area native, whose 134-employee Turning Technologies, which makes the audience response systems used in college lectures, corporate events and even game shows, launched in 2001. "I believe in most places we wouldn't have been able to expand with the speed we did," Broderick says. "The affordability here really helped fuel our growth." Youngstown's lower-than-average rent and taxes mean dollars stretch further than they would in Silicon Valley. Turning Technologies' early growth--fast-tracked by the Youngstown Business Incubator, which nurtured the company until it spun off into its current facility--meant startup costs were minimal. What's more, because he's based in Youngstown, Broderick has outsized clout. "In most markets, I'd just be running another small company," he says. "But here, I can dial the congressman or mayor when I'm having problems and they'll take my call. That gives you the ability to accomplish a lot of things."
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.