Economic Development

Mahoning County Developments Highlight Chamber Breakfast

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There’s plenty of private development happening across Mahoning County, as the guest speakers at the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber’s Good Morning Mahoning County breakfast note, but for government agencies, public funding is getting harder and harder to come by.

The loss of money from inheritance and tangible personal property taxes, along with the potential loss of the managed care organization tax, has forced the Mahoning County commissioners to get creative with funding public projects, Commissioner Dave Ditzler said at the breakfast.

The best-known example of that creativity is the tax increment financing for Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course, which is a 50% TIF district, providing funding for infrastructure projects around the county. Among the recent projects funded by it are the repaving of Meridian Road and sanitary system improvements.

“We’ve gotten almost $8 million in grants and $28 million in infrastructure improvement for the sanitary system, with a new water tower going up in Canfield,” Ditzler said. “All of that will help maintain the economy and increase the economic development in those areas to better serve new businesses coming to Mahoning County.”

Mill Creek MetroParks has developed three five-year plans to improve the park by bringing in new amenities and improving what already exists, the top responses from a public survey done last year.

The spending over the next 15 years is projected to total $29 million, not including money from what park director Aaron Young calls “third-party services.” In 2017 alone, he said, third-party funding is expected to reach $1.1 million, roughly a third of the budget. For 2018, the park has already secured $3.2 million in nonpublic funding, two-thirds of the budget.

“We have lofty goals and lofty aspirations, but we have the tools to reach them,” he said.

Just as much is happening in the private sector, as Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley’s JoAnn Stock and Youngstown State University’s Mike Hripko noted in their addresses. While YSU is a public institution, many of the nearby developments that benefit students are private projects.

Stock, the hospital’s director of development, noted that a 51,000-square-foot expansion at the Beeghly Campus is nearing completion and should open in July. The new building will house pediatric primary care, sports medicine and rehabilitation and bring all subspecialties under one roof.

The expansion was driven, Stock said, in part by the growing number of patients Akron Children’s sees locally. In 2016, all sites in the Mahoning Valley saw a combined 57,000 primary care patients; the Boardman emergency room alone treated 34,493 patients – up from just over 18,000 in 2008, when Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley opened.

That growth, in turn, has led to increasing the number of staff to more than 700 with $58 million in salary, up from 320 employees with $16.8 million in salary in 2008.

Since then, she added, the hospital has invested $82 million in improvements and, last year, provided $2.6 million in charity care to families who needed help paying for care.

At YSU, the new student housing developments around campus are privately funded. Last fall, the University Edge complex broke ground on its second phase, which includes a Barnes & Noble bookstore with a café and convenience store. One of the first on-campus private apartment buildings was the Flats at Wick near Wick Park, Hripko notes, and plans are in the works for The Enclave, another complex along Wick Avenue between Lincoln and Rayen avenues.

“Those are three developments growing and promoting more student residence on campus, which changes the dynamic of our community,” said Hripko, vice president for research at the university. “The more people we have in and around the downtown area, the more dynamic the area is. All of those residents need services, whether it’s groceries or dry cleaning. We expect retail and commercial and entertainment venues are all going to benefit.”

Part of what’s spurred such developments, he said during his speech, was the success of YSU and its students. He pointed to recent examples like the football team’s appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision National Championship game, the ethics bowl team finishing as the second-best team in the nation and the men’s basketball team winning on a buzzer-beater shot in the Horizon League tournament.

“That video was watched a million times on Twitter. That’s a million people who’ve now heard of Youngstown State University,” he said. “Whether our students are succeeding athletically or academically, we’re proud of our students. They’re on a national stage and they’re successful on that stage.”

On the academic front, incoming freshman have an average grade point average of 3.36, applications to the honors college are up 25%, attendance to orientation sessions is up 16% and the number of applications YSU receives is up 7.25%. The number of on-campus housing commitments is at a five-year high.

“I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of Youngstown State University,” Hripko said. “We’re successful and we have a good strategy for growth, for developing signature academic programs that attract the best students from around the area and around the world.”

And with the growth of the areas around Youngstown State and other community anchors, the Mahoning Valley is poised to continue its resurgence.

“Whether you look at the planned growth and improvements at Mill Creek Park [and] the contributions from an anchor institution like Akron Children’s Hospital, Youngstown State is pleased to be part of that,” Hripko said. “We’ve worked with the county commissioners and with the outstanding ideas they offer to us, it’s no wonder Youngstown and Mahoning County are seeing a resurgence today.”

Pictured: Youngstown State University’s Vice Preisident for Research Mike Hripko at the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber’s Good Morning, Mahoning County breakfast.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.