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Revisited

From Rust Belt to Tech Belt: US city of Youngstown set on reinventing itself

The US city of Youngstown, in the state of Ohio, once symbolised the glory days of the "Steel Belt", an industrial area in the northeast. For decades, the US steel industry put the city on the map and allowed its inhabitants to prosper. But from the 1970s, everything changed. With factory closures, unemployment, poverty and a rise in crime, drugs and alcoholism... the city hit rock bottom and the steel turned to rust. Today, Youngstown is determined to reinvent itself, as our reporter found out.

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The US city of Youngstown is perhaps best known for the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name. It tells of the rise and fall of this former American industrial stronghold, a victim of deindustrialisation. Since the 1970s, the city has lost two-thirds of its population and thousands of jobs. Many industrial sites and houses have been abandoned.

But today, some of these empty buildings are being bought up in order to be transformed. The Youngstown Business Incubator, which helps start-ups, is one of them. Inside, 40 years of assembly-line work has been replaced by 3D printers that contribute to highly sophisticated industrial projects.

We discover another site that is resisting and hiring staff: a French company, Vallourec, specialised in the manufacturing of steel tubes. It relies heavily on the exploitation of oil and shale gas.

For a long time, most of the residents of Youngstown voted for the Democratic Party. But that all changed in the last election, when many voters turned to Trump, seduced by the candidate’s anti-globalisation message. Seventy-year-old Connie Spagnola, from Youngstown, is one of them. She organises a monthly prayer group for the president so that he can fulfill all of his promises and make Youngstown great again.

In its own way, the Neil Kennedy Recovery Center also contributes to the city’s revival. This medical institute is fighting one of the plagues of the city: opioids. When steel left, heroin arrived... The challenge today is to get rid of it again and replace it with jobs.

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