Economic Development

Franklin Extols Progress in State of City Speech

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WARREN, Ohio – Efforts to bring business back to Warren after years of decline, improve the city’s ailing infrastructure, upgrade city buildings and revitalize downtown are beginning to pay off, Mayor Doug Franklin told the audience at today’s Good Morning Warren breakfast.

Franklin admitted he has a problem when he was writing the State of the City address he delivered this morning. The issue wasn’t what he would fill his allotted 20 minutes with, but rather how he could manage to fit all the things he had to be proud of into his limited time frame at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber event.

“My favorite thing to talk about is the city of Warren,” the mayor declared.

“We’re diversifying our economy big time. We’re not giving up on manufacturing but we understand we can’t put all our eggs in one basket. That’s why we’re focusing on new technologies and new companies,” Franklin said following the speech.

Laird Technologies’ move to the city last year spurred a flurry of activity that has helped the city. “Laird has been a huge success in rebranding our city and what we’re known for. They get us away a bit from those traditional manufacturing jobs that left,” he said.

In the coming weeks, the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center will open in downtown Warren as home to two companies its first day: Helios, a 3-D printing company, and Sky Wind Harvest, a vertical wind turbine research and development company. Two more companies, he added, are in the pipeline.

TBEIC also acquired the former RG Steel building.

“We’re lucky to have to in our building inventory the RG Steel building for TBEIC, which is 56,000 square feet. That will give us new equipment inventory space and that’s something that’s very important for TBEIC,” Franklin said.

Also announced were three new community initiatives that will start later this year: Bridge the Gap, which will put students in contact with police officer on a regular basis; a series of online videos promoting the city; and Neighborhood Blitz.

“I always talk to other mayors at conferences and [Neighborhood Blitz] seemed like something that would fit into our tools [that we have] to clean up our neighborhoods. We talked to our officials, looked at the program and developed our own strategy,” Franklin said. “We’re going to do streetscaping, code enforcement and take care of crime hotspots. We’ll take all of our resources from all of our departments and move into one neighborhood at a time to address those issues.”

Funding for the Blitz program will be taken from departments’ existing budgets, he noted.

“There won’t be any new funding for this. We’ll of course go after grants and other outside funding, but we won’t be taking away from anything else,” Franklin said.

The mayor pointed out the city’s various attractions are being used more than ever and are in the best condition they’ve ever been.

“Every year the entertainment at the amphitheater gets bigger and better, drawing bigger and better crowds. The bike trail is open all the way to Ashtabula and the trail ends at North River Road and Youngstown Road. Old Avalon Golf Course repined under new management and with no city subsidies,” Franklin said. “The city has seen an increase in the use of our parks over the past 10 years and we continue to make improvements.”

Also speaking at the event was Matt Martin, executive director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, who gave an update on the group’s approach to vacant buildings and lots.

Last year, the group sold 92 renovated homes for a total of $550,000 and added the adopt-a-home model, where homes are renovated and brought up to code and then sold at prices the neighborhood can support.

“For example, last year we renovated a property on Vine Street with $25,000 in donations. The actual purchase price was $24,500,” Martin said. “So we didn’t quite break even, but we nonetheless have an outstanding property that moves the neighborhood forward.”

The group’s Lots of Love program, which kicked off last year, has been a large success, Martin added. City residents can submit applications outlining their ideas for reusing vacant lots. Many of them have been turned into community gardens or small parks.

“To help develop those ideas and implement them, we hosted a series of workshops and brought resources in to help,” Martin said.

Among those coming to assist the program over the past couple of years were groups from Kent State University, Parsons The New School for Design and Mansfield Frazier, founder of the Chateau Hough winery in Cleveland. Grapes for the winery are grown in the city by parolees.

TNP has repurposed lots through the side lots program, which gives those living in homes adjacent to recently demolished houses a chance to purchase the cleared lot for $500.

“We can’t give the lot away, so we do have to charge that $500,” Martin explained. “But we do give them a $500 gift card so they can buy things like lawnmowers or plants to take care of the lot.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.