Economic Development

With $200,000 to Allocate, Youngstown Initiative Is Back

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown Initiative Committee is back in business.

Able to recommend funds for the first time since last July, on Friday the committee supported performance grants of more than $33,000 to two companies. It also deferred action on two other items, one involving former 1st Ward councilman Artis Gillam, whose wife, the current 1st Ward councilman, serves on the committee.

The Youngstown Initiative provides financial incentives to start, expand or relocate in Youngstown. “The program serves as a venue for us to provide support for small businesses,” said T. Sharon Woodberry, city director of community planning and economic development.

This year, City Council allocated $200,000 for the Youngstown Initiative, Woodberry said. That compares to $350,000 set aside for the program in 2014. The program exhausted its funds in July last year.

The committee recommended a grant not to exceed $27,232.49 to 3 Brothers Automotive Repairs LLC and one for $6,141.62 to KBC Kidz LLC. The Board of Control must approve the grants.

Both grants received waivers from Small Business Administration loan requirements because they are privately funded rather than a commercial bank.

Under a land contract, 3 Brothers, a startup Mohammad Choudhri owns, is acquiring the former Flynn’s Tire building at 655 Mahoning Ave., to operate an automotive repair shop. Project cost is $136,637.42. Choudhri’s father is providing the balance of the financing, he said. Initiative funds would be used for equipment and startup capital.

The project would create one part-time and five full-time positions over three years, said Tom DeAngelo, economic development coordinator. The business plans to open this fall.

In Choudhri’s background are his training as an automotive technician and 1½ years of experience at Knucklebuster Automotive in Struthers. The last six years he has worked at the Boardman Home Depot, where learned customer service, he said.

Choudhri recognized one committee member, Annie Gillam, as a customer at Knucklebuster’s.

That recognition prompted an inquiry from the chairman, finance director David Bozanich: “Did she ask a lot of questions?”

Those in the room laughed.

Choudhri also plans to seek funds from the city’s façade program. He is getting estimates for paint and fencing, he reported. Initiative funds were approved contingent upon submission of an acceptable façade and landscaping plan, which was requested because the business is at one of the major gateways into downtown Youngstown.

The grant approved for KBD Kidz, a party planning business operating out of the Oak Hill Collaborative, would help the business pay for equipment, costumes and decorations. The company plans to add seven full-time positions over three years and eventually relocate to its own building.

KBD Kidz, which started two years ago, plans to grow through parties with themes based upon “Red Carpet” and “Frozen,” said owner Keyonna Trevathan. Her company would purchase equipment such as bounce houses and a dunk tank as part of the $61,400 project.

KBC Kidz had appeared before the committee last July to allow committee members to review its application and only to ask questions because Initiative funds were exhausted.

Under old business, the committee – minus Gillam, who left the meeting – discussed the $39,599 grant approved in April 2013 for Artis’ Tender Love & Care, a residential treatment center for adolescent females launched by Gillam’s husband.

The grant had been approved contingent upon Artis Gillam securing financing for the project, which he had not done 25 months ago.

Since then, the scope of the project changed with the business moving from the original site on North Lakewood Avenue to 2003 McCartney Road, which increased the cost by $40,000 to $240,000. Artis Gillam, absent from the meeting, did not seek an increase in the grant.

In the meantime, the committee sought clarification of whether the grant was appropriate given that Artis and Annie Gillam are married to each other, and Artis also holds a seat on the Mahoning County Board of Health.

Law Director Martin Hume, an Initiative member, reported that Mr. Gillam had resigned from the health board. In addition, under the Ohio ethics code, an individual is “not presumed to have an interest” in the business of a spouse, thereby presenting no conflict in awarding the grant.

While not illegal, Hume said he didn’t feel it appropriate to award the grant and moved for denial. “My personal opinion is we would have a higher standard,” he said.

Although expressing similar concerns, Woodberry moved for approval, saying it would stimulate development in a community that’s seen little investment. Bozanich moved to table the matter to allow further consideration. Bozanich’s motion carried.

A façade application by Fight Channel LLC, 2930 Market St., was also deferred because no one from the company attended Friday’s meeting.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.