A listing of the League's
Business Alliance Vendors
Sean Safford, Assistant Professor of Organizations
University of Chicago, School of Business
Sean Safford presented an overview of his studies that contrast very
similar places facing very similar challenges, and identifies why some
succeed while others fail to thrive. In both studies, the importance
of civic/social connections in supporting traditional business/economic
networks were identified as critical to economic turnaround.
Youngstown v. Allentown
Both Youngstown, Ohio, and Allentown, Pennsylvania, enjoyed prosperity
during the heavy manufacturing boom, but then suffered a catastrophic
demise of their economies.
Allentown reemerged and today boasts many “sunrise” industries
that promise a thriving economy in the knowledge-based world. In
contrast, Youngstown continues to struggle to convert its “sunset” industries
to more sustainable businesses.
Why? According to, Sean, in Allentown the “community” got
the right people together quickly and acted decisively to shift their
economic path. This feat was made possible in part due to the strong
civic/social connections within the community.
Unlikely venues like the Boy Scouts board, college/university groups,
and other arts and cultural organizations provided Allentown the bridges
it desperately needed to connect people during the economic crisis. When
big business declined, the business/economic networks crumbled. But
in Allentown, their strong civic/social networks allowed them to recreate
those connections; this network served as the “back-up” plan
when economic connections were decimated.
In Allentown, the present-day economic leaders are actively involved
in civic networks while those in Youngstown are less engaged.
Akron v. Rochester
Both Akron, Ohio, and Rochester,
New York, turned to their prominent universities to assume a leadership
role in times of economic turmoil. Rochester
succeeded by employing a “forum” approach in which the university
did not assume leadership within the community. Rather,
it served in a broker’s role that encouraged dialogue among key
people. The author likened this to being the “host of the
party” which allowed the university to facilitate a reworking of
the social fabric in Rochester. The new paradigm includes different
groups that had not previously communicated or networked, which has proven
the building block for business growth and success.
In contrast, Akron leaned on its university to take on the primary leadership
role, which did not promote the new networks and relationships that were
needed to make a critical shift. This was referred to as being
the “life of the party” and involved too much reliance on
the university and more of the same type of networking that was already
Communities count when it comes to economic turnaround. Critical
civic/social connections are made possible through strong community
Closed networks don’t work; if the same people participate
in all the same networks, your opportunities are limited.
Create and support civic and social networks within the community;
they translate into economic and business connections.
Encourage economic and business leaders to be actively and deeply
engaged in civic/social networks.
Be the “host of the party” instead of the “life
of the party;” the life of the party wants to be at the center
of the action and command attention; instead serve as a gracious
host: introduce the right people to one another, help them make connections,
and encourage them to get to know each other!