Economic Development

Architect Selected for Valley Innovation Center

CANFIELD, Ohio – Youngstown State University has identified a Toldeo-based architect to spearhead development of its new Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center downtown – but there might be a slight snag.

“We don’t know how big of a building to tell them to build,” Mike Hripko, YSU’s associate vice president of research, told members of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Association on Friday. “We think we’re on the verge of some significant increases in our budget.”

That could possibly mean doubling the size of the project, Hripko hinted, noting he would know more in about a month. “We’re working on putting the building parameters together. As soon as we hear good news, we’ll share it with you.”

YSU selected the architectural and engineering firm SSOE Group of Toledo after a nationwide search, Hripko said. The company has significant experience in designing major manufacturing complexes, including half of the automotive assembly plants built in the United States over the last 20 years, he said.

“They have a good handle on what it takes to build a contemporary advanced manufacturing facility,” Hripko told the coalition.

Last year YSU purchased the former Mahoning County misdemeanant jail building at Commerce Street and Fifth Avenue downtown for $525,000. That building will serve as an starting point for the Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center, which will house advanced manufacturing equipment and other resources available to college students, entrepreneurs, engineers and others.

The objective is to create a collaborative environment to boost innovation in manufacturing and workforce development. The center has engaged as partners America Makes, the Youngstown Business Incubator, Eastern Gateway Community College and the area’s career and technical schools.

Hripko said YSU plans to ask the state of Ohio for $7 million in the 2018 biennial budget to support the second phase of the downtown center. Should the state fully fund YSU’s request, it would bring the total amount raised for the project to $13 million,.

The project received $3 million in the state’s 2016 budget, and last year was awarded a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. Another $1 million grant was procured through the Appalachian Regional Commission, Hripko said.

Moreover, funding for the Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center is a priority in YSU’s $100 million capital campaign, “We See Tomorrow,” Hripko said. Initially, YSU said it hoped to raise $14 million in addition to the $6 million it now has in hand for the project.

“There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work,” Hripko told members. “We’re making progress.”

The Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition was formed seven years ago to address the skills gap in the region’s workforce. The organization — composed of area manufacturers, training agencies, universities and career and technical schools — has helped organize new apprenticeship programs and establish common curricula designed to train the workforce in the technical demands of today’s manufacturing.

The coalition plans to concentrate this year on outreach and marketing programs to attract more manufacturers and encourage younger people to pursue industrial jobs, says Jessica Borza, the MVMC’s executive director.

“We want to focus on bringing more manufacturers to the table,” she said, while engaging other sectors of the manufacturing economy where the organization might be under-represented.

Borza added MVMC is going to place a greater emphasis on increasing enrollment in training programs to develop a workforce pipeline to industry.

“The manufacturing workforce is important to everyone on the community – if not just for the economic vitality of the region, let alone the specific business needs of our manufacturers,” she said.

Pictured at top: Rendering of what the center’s interior could look like.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.