Economic Development

2020 Brings Diverse Economic Development Agendas

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Planning initiatives, infrastructure upgrades and development of new industrial properties are on the agendas of public and private economic development agencies in the five-county region. 

From shepherding potential projects to the finish line, implementing a new revolving loan fund for small business, and landing an aerospace component manufacturer in Mercer County, 2020 is a year full of possibilities.

What follows is a rundown of what’s on tap:

Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber 

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber is managing pending investment opportunities of $1.6 billion that could result in 945 new jobs, estimates Sarah Boyarko, chief operating officer. That includes 18 local expansion projects and three new business attractions. 

Announcements are expected in the next 12 to 24 months, she says.  

“We have a whole list of other opportunities that we would consider leads at this point but not yet solid economic development projects,” Boyarko says. “Once they start to move forward, they’ll be added to this list as well.” 

The $1.6 billion in potential investment that the chamber is managing does not include either General Motors Co.’s joint venture with LG Chem to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles in the Lordstown area or Lordstown Motors Corp.’s plans to build electric trucks at GM’s former Lordstown plant, though the chamber is gathering investment information for both projects, Boyarko says.  

“Once we get closer to the point of determining what resources can be available at the local and state level, then we’ll add those opportunities to this list,” Boyarko says.   

The chamber typically receives between 40 and 80 economic development inquiries annually, and in 2019 it vetted 48 new opportunities, she says. 

The chamber is serving as the lead agency for marketing the local census tracts designated under the new federal Opportunity Zone program, which allows investors to reduce their tax liability on capital gains by establishing funds for investing in projects in the qualified areas. The Mahoning Valley has 15 designated Opportunity Zone tracts. 

No one has moved forward to take advantage of the program, Boyarko says, but she sees a “definite value” in the prospectus of Opportunity Zone sites that the chamber produced. “We have worked hard to market that to local, regional and national developers as well as the consultant community.”    

Meanwhile, she is encouraged by initiatives announced by JobsOhio, the state’s private nonprofit economic development corporation, at the quarterly board of directors meeting held last month in Youngstown. Those initiatives include investments in increasing the inventory of available sites and in the talent needed to attract companies to Ohio.  

Penn-Northwest Development Corp.

Randy Seitz, Penn-Northwest Development Corp.’s president and CEO, says several economic development prospects are working with the Mercer County, Pa., organization, including a component manufacturer for the airline industry. That company, which is looking for 250,000 square feet of space, has identified potential sites in Grove City and Sharon and would employ in excess of 200 workers. 

“We’re very, very close to that project becoming a reality,” Seitz says.     

Another prospect in the early stages is an advanced manufacturing company that supplies the military. It has targeted a Greenville location, according to Seitz. 

Other companies Penn-Northwest is working with include a company that uses microwave technology to process landfill items such as plastics and rubber-based products into molecular components. This company is looking at the spec building at Greenville-Reynolds Industrial Park

“It looks like if they were to come into Mercer County, they would also be involved in the extraction of CBD oil from industrial hemp,” Seitz says. 

Another company that builds warehouses and fulfillment centers for the e-commerce industry is approaching the deadline to close on its proposed site, near Exit 15 on Interstate 80. 

Columbiana County Port Authority

A decision could be made during the second quarter on development of a new industrial park in Columbiana County, reports Penny Traina, CEO and executive director of the Columbiana County Port Authority. The port authority, which asked local government leaders to propose sites for the park, is now grading those sites.

“Obviously, what’s important is the topography and the land, available utilities and funding that would be available through our state, federal and local government partners,” Traina says. 

The petrochemical industry remains important to Columbiana County because of its placement on the Ohio River, she says. The port authority is in discussions with upstream and downstream companies, although details remain confidential. 

“A lot of our focus is in that plastics-chemical industry,” since the port authority’s Wellsville Intermodal Facility is the last deep-water port on the Ohio River. “More importantly, there are only two public ports on the Ohio River,” Traina points out.   

Working with the county economic development department, a series of events will roll out in 2020 that will explain the business-growth tools the two entities offer. Other sessions are designed to familiarize real estate agents with tax incentives to encourage commercial and residential development and to assess broadband needs in rural townships.

Eastgate Regional Council of Governments 

Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, is excited by the opportunities presented by the upcoming $26 million upgrade of Youngstown’s Fifth Avenue and connecting streets. Beyond the transportation improvements, the process of developing the proposal demonstrates what can be achieved by cooperation, he says.   

As part of the project, Eastgate and its local partners are looking at installing 5G wireless technology. “It’s an opportunity to rethink what we’re doing,” Kinnick says. “We said we’re going to be a smart city. We want to make sure we’re a smart city.”

The Smart2 – Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – Network is among the elements being incorporated into the updated Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS. 

Eastgate, which serves as the regional planning agency for Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties, is required to update the CEDS every three years. Through the effort of its director of planning, Joann Esenwein, it gathered a group of some 40 people to participate in that update process. 

“Essentially, it’s a reevaluation of some of the things we looked at three years ago,” Kinnick says. “We want to make it a bit more user-friendly.” 

As part of the process, five pillars of the existing plan were reduced to three: educational attainment and talent development; quality of life and community vitality; and economic competitiveness and innovation.  

“A lot has changed in three years in the Valley, especially losing GM and some other industries, so we’re trying to update everything,” Esenwein says.  

A draft of the plan should be ready soon, with approval expected in April, Kinnick says. “That will lay the foundation or the framework as we continue our quest for economic development in the region,” he says. 

Eastgate, in collaboration with the Cleveland State University Levin College of Urban Affairs, will also oversee an Economic Development Administration contract for economic recovery assistance and resiliency planning funded by a $600,000 grant awarded last summer. 

A collaborative that includes Youngstown State University’s Office of External Affairs, Government Relations and Economic Development, the YSU economics department and the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative will work with local economic partners and align closely with ongoing and emerging community strategies, Esenwein says. 

Initially established as a three-year contract, the intent is to get results in 2½ years or less, Kinnick says. “We’ll ask the team to report quarterly on their progress and make that public as we move forward,” he says. 

Check back tomorrow for a snapshot of projects in the City of Warren, as well as from the Western Reserve Port Authority and the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp.

Or read more in the January 2020 Edition

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.