As soon as you enter the office of this city's mayor, J. Phillip Richley bounds out of his chair and offers you several green and white buttons proclaiming that Youngstown is "Alive and Well."

The words are underlined twice and punctuated with an exclamation point.

In the last six months, Mayor Richley by his count, has thrust some 5,000 of the buttons upon a variety of arched-eyebrow skeptics government officials, business prospects and visiting press.

"We suffered a tragic blow," he says, referring to the largest steel shutdown in recent history, which came in the fall, when Youngstown Sheet Works here. "But the area has absorbed the blow."

"The unemployment rate in the Mahoning Valley [the Youngstown area]120:is now 6.5 percent. A year ago it was 7.5 percent, and all it peaked last April at 9 percent. Retail sales for the first nine months of this year are up 5 per cent over the last year, construction is up 24 percent, bank deposits 8 or 9 percent," Rickley said.

"As Mark Twain said, the story of our demise has been greatly exaggerated, and we don't want people crying over us."

Other experts, while they dispute Richley's interpretation of some figures, agree that the calamitous ripple effects predicted last year simply have not happened.

Many of those who lost their steel jobs found other work. Additional jobs that might have been affected by the closure are still there. No other major industry folded.

But these experts say the danger is not over, that the side effects may yet be felt. This steel community is still in deep trouble, they say.

Steve Redburn, director of urban studies at Youngstown State University, said, "The whole effect of the economic crisis has been delayed" because of the benefits that the laid-off workers have been receiving.

"For most of them those benefits will have run out by the end of the year, and I think there will be significant hardships - financial and emotional - this winter."

Redburn noted that the jobless rate for Mahoning County - 7.2 percent in September - is more than 1 percentage point higher than the national rate and more than 2 points higher than the Ohio rate. (The rate for the county is more significant than that of the entire valley, which includes another county far less affected by the closure.)

He concluded in a report on the impact of the shutdown that "this is the most economically depressed metropolitan area in the state and that its employment situation relative to the state and the nation is noticeably worse than prior to the closing."

Another factor aiding Youngstown is that in the last few months the nation's economy generally "has been mildly up," says Washington economist Gar Alperovitz. "That has provided a cushion. If we have a recession next year, that could hurt the marginal business in Youngstown."

Alperovitz' research firm, the National Center for Economic Alternatives, has predicted that over the next several years the Youngstown area will lose 3,600 jobs in addition to those lost in the closure. An Ohio-based research firm, the Battelle Institute, has predicted an additional job loss of 11,000.

In human terms the impact of the shutdown that "this is the most economically depressed metropolitan area in the state and that its employment situation relative to the state and the nation is noticeably worse than prior to the closing."

Another factor aiding Youngstown is that in the last few months the nation's economy generally "has been mildly up," says Washington economist Gar Alperovitz. "That has provided a cushion. If we have a recession next year, that could hurt the marginal business in Youngstown."

Alperovitz' research firm, the National Center for Economic Alternatives, has predicted that over the next several years Youngstown area will lose 3,600 jobs in addition to those lost in the closure. An Ohio-based research firm, the Battelle Institute, has predicted an additional job loss of 11,000.

In human terms the impact of the shutdowns is hard to measure.

The big picture is probably best provided by Anthony Fortunato, district manager of the Ohio Bureau of Employment Statistics. He reports that permanent Sheet and Tube lay-offs now total 4,650. Of those dropped, 1200 took early retirement and 2,000 got other jobs, 400 to 500 in other parts of the country.

"Around 1,300 to 1,400 are still looking for work," Fortunato said. "Of those receiving benefits, some 3,200 will have exhausted all of them by the end of December."

About 100 have already applied for welfare.

The little picture comes from individuals.

Bob Planey, who lost the job he held for 11 years at Sheet and Tube as a roll turner, found work in May at Commercial Shearing Inc., a steel fabricating plant that makes hydraulic equipment. Planey now runs three machines at once and each day turns out some 300 main gears for hydraulic pumps.

With bonuses he makes $335 a week, down from the $370 he used to make at Sheet and Tube. His wife, Pam, also went to work as a bank teller and brings home about $500 a month.

Chuch Windsor is less fortunate. He is 41, and has not found a steady job since being laid off as a Sheet and Tube carpenter last fall.

"I've sent out hundreds of resumes to become a sales representative," he says, "and mostly I don't work 12 weeks this summer because Sheet and Tube called be back. But I was let go again. I was there almost 22 years, and it all went down the drain.You might say I'm bitter."

Because of his seniority and the recall to work. Windsor will keep most of his benefits two more years. His wife, Kay, has gone back to work as a nurse. They and their four children do not want to leave the area, but Windsor says they will if he cannot find work by next summer.

Jay Koutsourais, vice president of the campbell Work's Local 1418, has been a steelworker 22 years. He, too, was laid off, then recalled. "But I went from Class 12 pay, which means I got $120 less per day period, and now I'm laid off again."

David Roberts, 27, had been stuck in something I didn't like." Roberts has started a business with a friend, mailing sales promotion coupons offer discounts on various goods and services, and Roberts says, "I'm making more than I made at the millclose to $500 a week."

Ed Mann, president of Steelworkers Local 1462 at Sheet and Tube's Brier Hill plant, recalls that one Campbell worker committed suicide after being laid off last year. "He was worried about his future," Mann said. "His pension was not going to be enough."

Mann said his men at Brier Hill fear that a planned merger between the Lykes Corp., which owns Sheet and Tube, and LTV Corp., which owns the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., will mean the end of their jobs. LTV officials have indicated they will close the plant next year.

Mayor Richley, for all his optimism, is concerned about the potential loss of Brier Hill. "It would cost us $700,000 in income tax revenues and $200,000 to $300,000 in property taxes," he said.

Most of the area's officials are concentrating on efforts to attract new, diversified industry and expand the businesses that are there now. Religious leaders are banking on a plan to reopen the closed Campbell Works as a worker-and-community-owned company, but that plan would cost $525 million and require $300 million in federal loan guarantees. Few business leaders here say they think the Carter administration will make that kind of commitment.

While the area has not lost another major industry this year, neither has it gained one. Richley has started an economic development cooperation to engender more business, but industrialists in other parts of the country are withholding decisions until they can see how the economy is going.

Meanwhile, according to Weston O. Johnstone, executive vice president of the Youngstown Area Chamber oc Commerce, "Things aren't as bad as we thought they'd be."

But Williams Sullivan Jr., president of the Western Reserve Economic Development Agency, a government funded organization, asks, "How do you measure what might have been? The economy of the area is less sound today than before the closing. Buildings where steel was once made are now idle. A lot of people who used to make steel now do nothing. Should we just accept that?"