SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER
A new initiative by Franciscan University’s Young Americans for Freedom club (YAF) hopes to revitalize Steubenville’s economy by skipping the big chain stores and spending money at local small businesses.
It is called the Steubenville Stimulus Project and it’s the results of hours of hard work from YAF club president Tommy Valentine as well as several other members of the YAF leadership team. Valentine said that by encouraging students to go to small and locally owned businesses with their money, the university can continue to help Steubenville climb out of the depressed economy it has been in since the steel mills closed.
The philosophy behind the initiative is based in YAF’s beliefs in free market principles. Valentine said this that means that “You choose where you shop and where your money goes.”
Valentine said, “We think that we have the power in our wallets to bring economic change, which can also lead to cultural change.”
Valentine says that university students spend five million dollars per semester in the Steubenville and the surrounding areas, such as Weirton and Robinson. And while that might seem like it is already boosting the economy, the opposite is true, said Valentine. Most of the money is going to big chain stores like Walmart and Dominos, whose profits are often realized outside of Steubenville to pad the wallets of shareholders and to create new locations.
“The people of Steubenville are very strong and resilient, and they have done several things to help improve the community,” said Valentine. “But some of the big chain stores that were anchors at the Fort Steuben Mall for a long time closed last year and took several jobs with them. This decreases the number of people who go to the mall, which in turn hurts the other small businesses in the mall.”
The big chain stores Valentine refers to would be Macy’s and Sears, both of which closed their doors in Steubenville within the last year, taking more than 100 jobs along with them. The problem, Valentine said, is that the big corporations don’t care about the impact that these closures will have on a city the size of Steubenville.
“An executive sitting on Wall Street doesn’t particularly care about the impact on a cashier from Macy’s,” said Valentine.
Valentine is quick to clarify that while it isn’t wrong for corporation to be seeking profit, as that is what the free market is for, he also believes that by supporting businesses like Theo Yianni’s Greek Restaurant, students are more directly helping Steubenville families pay their bills and send their kids to school. Valentine said he estimates that if students begin to explore the small business options that Steubenville has, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be more directly
pouring into Steubenville.
In addition to helping boost the economy, Valentine said he also expects that the initiative will bring cultural change to how university students and members of the community interact, which doesn’t happen too often.
“Most of the time, the most the people see of university students is when we’re in the checkout line at Kroger,” said Valentine. “Unfortunately, many people in Steubenville don’t really interact with the university unless they are in need and are able to benefit from some of the great ministries we provide or if they are part of the Catholic community in Steubenville.”
Valentine said he hopes that, upon taking advantage of this initiative, university students will be able to get to know the people of the city better and interact with them where they are, a sentiment echoed by councilwoman-at-large Kimberly Hahn. Hahn views this project as a, “wonderful effort on the part of university students to see the value in supporting the economy of Steubenville.”
Hahn, who was elected to her post in 2015, said that all throughout her campaign, people would come up to her and say that they didn’t know what state the city would be in if it weren’t for the universities existence.
“The relationship between the university and the city is very much a symbiotic one,” said Hahn. “The city enabled the university to come and develop and the university has helped maintain the city, and it is with that in mind that we can move forward, collaborating together as a whole.”
Hahn added that while many people don’t know what to do in Steubenville, the reality is that more could happen if interest is expressed. Because of this, she hopes to hold a town hall with university students to see what sort of things they would be interested in and how they can work together to achieve that.
The Steubenville Stimulus Project is currently available online at www.franciscanyaf.com/stimulus/ and paper copies of the initiative will be distributed on campus later in the school year.