Keep local talent local

I always say we need to focus on curtailing the Mahoning Valley’s greatest export: talented young people. Well, today this topic was really brought home for me. I met no less than 15 people who saw my Warren, Ohio, shirt and said “Warren, that’s awesome! I’m from (insert town in the Mahoning Valley), but I live in (insert metro name) now.”

The Consumer Electronics Show is absolutely a convergence of people keyed into the most up and coming technologies in the world. These Valley natives developed a passion for technology while growing up along U.S. Route 422, but could not find challenging and rewarding careers at home. This exodus is something that needs to be dealt with.

What am I learning at the electronics show that can help us retain our young people?

1. Don’t be afraid to invest in making your workspace look good. A lot of people make decisions with gut reactions and not with quantifiable data. Our young people are no different. If you are not going to modernize your company’s floor plan, how is someone new not going to think that you won’t invest in them?

2. Invest in early stage companies. We need to get this figured out in the Valley. There is plenty of capital we are giving to our agents to make blind investments into the coasts. We need to focus on keeping a portion of it local.

3. Let young people lead and let them make mistakes. Whether it’s project ownership, civic leadership, or letting go of some of your responsibilities to someone with less experience, but a different and diverse viewpoint, these actions can go a long way. We do not have the luxury of making young people “put in their time” anymore. We need to throw them in the water John Wayne-style and get swimming together.

BRITE Energy Innovators will be taking these three recommendations to heart.

Our space on Courthouse Square is already fantastic, but there are a few things we would like to do to make our co-working space better for freelancers and startups. We’ve got our wish list together and are chipping away at it monthly to improve the amenities talented young people need.

For investing in early stage companies, we need to come together as a community to educate investors on what IMPACT investing can really mean for our Valley. We have made some progress in this space with Valley Growth Ventures, but we need to do more to informally engage with people that could be considered Angel Investors. I believe Youngstown Business Incubator and BRITE are in a perfect position to do this together, and there’s no better time than now.

For leadership development, we have become quite aggressive with getting the best and brightest interns we can to spend time at BRITE. In fact, we have already turned one of those experiences into a full-time position. We couldn’t be happier with that outcome, but we need to do more at scale. I am also quite proud of our board. They took a chance on making a 35-year-old the CEO of the organization and through that, have practiced what they preach on how to engage talented young people.

The electronics show part of my trip is starting to wrap up. I have had some very good conversations with companies like Goodyear, GM, LG Chem and others that want to be part of the Valley. Today, I head out for Los Angeles. There, I will meet with Warren’s own Angelo Kafantaris, CEO of Hyperion Motors, and Matt Peterson, CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, about some legislation we proposed together to help bring federal dollars to energy incubators. I think we will be greatly exceeding our return on investment for our organization and our community on this trip and I can’t wait to share the rest of it with you.

Rick Stockburger, president and CEO of BRITE Energy Innovators of Warren, is attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. He is writing on his goals and experiences there; a trip taken to promote BRITE, Warren and make connections to put the Mahoning Valley at the forefront of energy storage technology and electric vehicles. For more from Stockburger, go to BRITE’s website at www.brite.org.


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