Economic Development

Western Reserve Port Authority Plans Its Future

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A draft strategic plan prepared for the Western Reserve Port Authority provides a good starting point as the body plots its future, the chairman of the committee reviewing the document and the interim executive director of the port authority say.

The port authority board of directors and staff met more than an hour Tuesday morning, mostly behind closed doors, to discuss the plan prepared by the Council of Development Finance Agencies.

The first recommendation regarding changes to the plan, offered by David Mosure, chairman of the strategic planning committee, was to rename the document. “It’s more of a management plan than a strategic plan,” he remarked.

Although Council of Development was contracted to put together a strategic plan about 1½ years ago, the consultants soon realized that they were writing more of a management plan “that they feel we should follow to get to the ultimate goal, which is having as strong a port authority as we can possibly have,” said John Moliterno, interim executive director.

“It’s a very good road map to get us to where we want to be as a port authority,” he said.

“I consider this a guideline to what we need to do,” Mosure said. “The strategic plan itself will be developed by our board and our employees. That’s who it should be developed by and [the Council of Development] gave us good road map to start doing that.”

The draft plan “provides a framework for the ongoing operation and growth” of the port authority, says the executive summary. The recommendations “combine the input of development finance experts and the interests of stakeholder groups throughout the region.” The plan was developed through “an exhaustive process” that included interviews with stakeholders in government, business and nonprofit sectors as well as “significant input” from port authority board and staff.

The plan addresses four core strategic focus areas: governance and management, fiscal health, program and project management and partnership development.

Under governance and management, recommendations include developing or affirming the mission and vision statements of the port authority and empowering a single executive director for the organization, “fully empowered to set the direction, staff and budgets for both the airport and economic development activities conducted by WRPA.”

The port authority was established in 1992 by Mahoning and Trumbull counties to take over operations of what is now the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. In 2009, its economic development arm was established to benefit from the port authority’s economic development powers and tools.

The plan also calls for hiring and training economic development staff to operate its financing tools.

“WRPA’s current economic development staff” – headed by Sarah Lown, senior economic development manager – “is currently over-capacity,” the draft plan states. “Grant management, brownfields activities, abatement and zone management, as well as project management, is a significant amount of work for current staff. The organization needs to hire additional staff soon to alleviate this pressure and enable more staff time for project origination work.” More staff will be needed as the port authority expands its development finance activities.

However, the draft plan also states that a desire expressed by “many stakeholders,” including board members of the port authority, to have economic development staff become more engaged in business recruitment and retention “may be misplaced” because the region has a “strong” chamber of commerce filling this role.”

Under personnel and management, the proposal calls for a policy on who can speak to the press on behalf of the board and when, annual reviews of providers of contracted services, and clarification of existing conflict of interest policies, an issue that increasingly has come up with the board.

Other provisions of the proposal are advocating for the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, which shares facilities with the airport; developing new development finance programs to generate additional fee revenue, such as a revolving loan fund or credit enhancement program; increasing marketing for its current development finance tools and programs; pursuing federal grants for economic development activities; and developing a formal plan to market the region and the airport to increase commercial activity.

The draft calls for maintaining and improving relationships with nearby entities such as municipal governments, the air base and its supporters, brownfield activity partners, and the Ohio Development Services Agency and JobsOhio/Team NEO. In addition, it should document its partnership with the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, collaborate with Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp. and explore a partnership with the Development Finance Authority of Summit County.

“It’s extensive, actually,” Mosure said of the draft plan. “It pretty much covers the gamut on how our port authority should be effective in the future.”

Moliterno will relay the committee members’ comments and recommended changes to the consultants, who will incorporate the revisions. The committee will meet again March 17 to review the revised proposal. The port authority board as a whole holds its regular monthly meeting this morning, but no action related to the draft plan is expected.

“This committee is going to be meeting monthly and talk about all the issues that have been recommended in the report. We’ve made a couple of changes to it today,” Mosure said. He expects the committee to formally approve recommending the document, with the revisions, to the full board “and then we can move forward with the recommendations [the consultants have] made.”

At next month’s meeting, the board will begin establishing priorities, he said.

Nothing has been established about hiring a permanent executive director, he said. Moliterno, a former member of he port authority board former president of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, was hired as interim executive director last year.

“We’re watching John’s performance and we’re going to play it by ear and see what we do from there,” Mosure said. “But currently everything’s working just fine in my opinion.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.