Awards & Events

Regional Chamber Honors Pelini at Annual Meeting

BOARDMAN, Ohio – As former University of Nebraska head coach Mark “Bo” Pelini sat down last year with his wife to decide what was next for their family, “at the end of the day it was not as much where do I want to work but where do I want my kids to live,” he recalled.

“That made it an easy choice,” Pelini, now head coach at Youngstown State University, told the audience at the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber’s annual meeting Thursday. The Cardinal Mooney High School graduate, who was named YSU’s new head coach last December, was presented the William G. Lyden Spirit of the Valley Award yesterday.

Pelini was one of three individuals the Regional Chamber recognized at the luncheon meeting. Also recognized were Alan Wenger, who received the Don Cagigas Spirit of the Chamber Award, and state Rep. Sean O’Brien, who received the Chairwoman’s Political Achievement Award.

“You have to live away from the area for a while to really appreciate what Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley is,” Pelini, who grew up in Boardman, said. “I’ve lived coast to coast; I’ve lived east, west, south. I’ve been all over the country, fortunately and unfortunately, but you come to appreciate what you were exposed to growing up and how fortunate I was in my childhood.”

The great successes enjoyed by coaches produced by the Mahoning Valley isn’t because “somebody waived a magic wand and they understood football better than a lot of other people” but comes down to work ethic, discipline, “doing things the right way” and” the will to compete on a daily basis,” he said. “That’s ingrained with you,” he said.

“That’s what I’m going to try to bring to you as head football coach at Youngstown State,” he pledged. “We’re going to work day and night to try to give you the product that you deserve.”

Wenger, an attorney with the law firm of Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell Ltd. who specializes in oil and gas issues, was recognized for his involvement with the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment. The coalition of business, labor and community leaders was formed by the Regional Chamber to counter the arguments made by supporters of Youngstown charter amendments to curtail oil and gas development in the city.

Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell encourages its lawyers to be involved in issues and causes, and to educate the public. “We have attempted to do that for land owners during the recent oil and gas rush,” he said.

People tend to listen to views they agree with and “lend a deaf ear” to the ones they don’t, he said. “We tend to see anything we agree with to be true and denigrate and dismiss anything else, and nowhere is that more evident than in the oil and gas fracking debate,” he remarked. “The debate has raised undeniable truths and concerns that all sides need to consider and address, and not just dismiss and ridicule and deny. There remain many things that are unknown and neither side of the debate has a lock on the truth.”

While the charter amendment – which was rejected by Youngstown voters four times — was ill-founded, he continued, he respects the “heartfelt concerns” of its proponents “and we cannot deny that some of the concerns that they have been advancing have been proven to be very legitimate.”

O’Brien, D-63 Bazetta, in his second term in the Ohio House of Representatives, stressed looking at “what’s right and wrong” when evaluating issues rather than partisanship. During his first term in office there was “a lot of partisanship” in Columbus “but we’ve started to see changes,” he said.

“I used to get teased a lot because I have a good relationship with the governor,” he said. Now his Democratic colleagues come up to him to ask how they can be more bipartisan. The new Ohio House Speaker, Cliff Rosenberger, “has really reached out and we’re starting to see a lot more bipartisanship.”

He also expressed his appreciation to the chamber and its president and CEO, Tom Humphries, for the relationships they have forged in Columbus. “Those relationships, and what Tom has been able to do, have really been helpful and have been helpful for the Valley. We’ve been able to give our Valley a strong, strong voice in Columbus,” he said.

During his remarks, Humphries shared several initiatives the chamber is embarking on this year, including efforts to improve the quality of the available pool of workers locally and the quality of those seeking elected office in the Mahoning Valley.

The chamber recently added a manager of education and workforce development, Nick Santucci, who will initially focus on working with the Youngstown and Warren school districts, Humphries said. The two districts represent about 30% each of the students in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. “That’s 30% of hour human capital in school districts that are challenged,” he said. “They need to be addressed.”

More companies are encountering difficulties in finding qualified workers, he said. Part of the chamber’s approach to addressing that involves doing an inventory of the existing jobs in the region to share that information with the people who train the workforce as well as with the population to let them know what jobs are available. The chamber also will work with OhioMeansJobs to do skill tests, drug tests and background checks before job candidates are referred to employers so they have a better success rate.

The chamber also is working with the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties in Mahoning and Trumbull counties “to try to find more qualified political leadership,” he said. The chamber is looking at integrity, qualifications, skill level and track records.

Additionally, the chamber presented an award to Pete Asimakopoulos, Youngstown market president for First National Bank of Pennsylvania, who will complete 10 years of service on the chamber’s board this year and recently served as its chairman.

“This is the finest chamber that I’ve come across,” Asimakopoulos, accepting the award, said. “The staff does a phenomenal job in terms of member services, governmental affairs and economic development.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.