Banking & Finance

Johnson, Ryan Tell Talmer Clients How They Work Together

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CANFIELD, Ohio — The two representatives to Congress from the Mahoning Valley often disagree, but their ability to cooperate on issues of local importance impressed their audience Friday morning.

U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Bill Johnson appeared together at a meeting hosted by Talmer Bank and Trust at Tippecanoe Country Club here. The purpose was to give Talmer clients and the  “center of influence that work with us,” such as attorneys and accountants, “upfront access to our two local congressmen,” said Mark Wenick, Mahoning Valley Region president for Talmer.

“Based upon the comments that we got afterwards, they were very well received,” Wenick said. “The thing that I heard most is that it was good to see that these two gentlemen work together. While they may not agree on all the issues, we certainly do feel comfortable about how they agree on the things that are important to the Valley.”

The meeting was closed to the press but some of those who attended were interviewed following the event.

The two congressmen are “very aware of the potential gains” for the local economy of the oil and gas industry, said Shelley Odille, president of Paige & Byrnes Insurance in Warren. When they differ, they appear to have an open dialogue with each other, she remarked.

“You hear so much about the Republicans and the Democrats not agreeing [and] not talking,” Odille said. “I really had new optimism with how much they are working together, especially these two gentlemen.”

“Bill and I have developed a good friendship and he’s a good guy,” Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said. “I have a lot of Republican friends that I disagree with but you find out what you can work on together. With Bill Johnson, it’s liquid natural gas and it’s the energy industry. … People are capable of having some real deep disagreements on political issues but are able to set that aside and work together.”

Ryan and Johnson, R-6 Ohio, co-founded and are co-chairmen of the Liquid Natural Gas Export Working Group in the House.

“We have what many experts believe are some of the world’s largest reserves of liquid natural gas, more than we can consume ourselves, and it has tremendous economic benefits,” Johnson said.

“It has tremendous geopolitical implications as well,” he added. With Russia’s recent threat to cut off the gas supply to the Ukraine and its other European neighbors, “those countries would love to come to us as a source for their energy and we would love to be able to do that,” he said. “And if we were able to do that, we’d be having a very different conversation with Vladimir Putin and the Russians.”

During the program, the two congressmen discussed a range of other issues, not all of which they agreed on. Among them were taxes, regulation and creating “an environment that empowers and encourages business owners to grow and to expand,” Johnson said.

“These bankers are the ones that lend to small businesses. But if small businesses can’t get past the regulatory and the tax burden and create projects [for which] they need financing, that hurts the bankers in a sense,” Johnson told The Business Journal. “Regulatory and tax reform are two of the big things that have to happen in Washington if we’re going to get our economy going again.”

Those attending the Talmer breakfast said they are concerned about gridlock in Washington and federal budget issues.

“What I’ve tried to express is we’re cutting our seed corn,” Ryan said. “We’re cutting our research-and-development budgets. We’re cutting our community development block grants, Pell grants, these things that lead to economic growth.”

The “big drivers” of the federal debt and deficits are Medicare and Medicaid, which can’t be addressed “until we get healthy as a country,” he continued.

“In the next five years, half the country is going to have either diabetes or prediabetes,” Ryan said. “That’s going to sink our health-care system, both on the public side and for the private sector. So we need to start figuring out how we’re going to be a healthier country.”

As was Odille and Wenick, Mike Pecchia, president of Valley Christian Schools in Youngstown, was impressed by the collaborative relationship the congressmen have developed.

“That was the best part. You could just see that those two really work together,” he remarked. “I think they’re friends, and that was great to see.”

Another issue a Talmer client in the trucking industry raised is getting more young people interested in trucking-related jobs, Wenick said. “I thought the responses were well thought out both by Tim and by Bill,” he said.

Talmer regularly hosts such events for its clients and, based on their responses, Wenick said his bank might try to host the two congressmen on an annual basis.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.