Commentary: A Region on the Rise

By Guy Coviello

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – I came across some stats recently that, put in the proper perspective, could give our region an economic advantage.

Columbus is the 33rd largest television media market in the U.S. In the 1950s, Youngstown was the 30th-largest media market in the U.S.

In the 1980s, Las Vegas was the 83rd largest television market in the U.S. Youngstown was 82nd.

Some say that if television markets were created today, Youngstown would not have one. After all, neither Akron nor Canton have TV markets – they are part of Cleveland.

But let’s not look at this from the perspective of how much we have shrunk or how much others have grown. Let’s look at this from the perspective that we have the infrastructure to be bigger and a mindset that already thinks that way.

That’s important because our economy is on an upswing.

During the five-year period of 2014 through 2018, in partnership with Team NEO, the Valley had 28 JobsOhio-supported development projects completed, resulting in 2,153 new jobs and $77 million in new payroll.

During the next five-year period (2019 through 2023), 38 JobsOhio-supported projects were completed (a 36% increase), 2,518 jobs were created (a 17% increase) and $114 million in new payroll was generated (a 48% increase).

We don’t see this slowing down any time soon.

In fact, this summer the Youngstown Air Reserve Station will receive new C-130 J-model aircraft and break ground on a new state-of-the-art fire station, further increasing the economic output of Trumbull County’s largest employer.

By the end of this year, Ultium Cells should pass the YARS as Trumbull County’s largest employer, the first time in many years that distinction will be held by a for-profit, tax-paying company. And this year we expect Kimberly-Clark to announce its intentions for the former BDM property in Trumbull County, one of our largest industrial sites.

As we grow, one advantage is that we have the infrastructure in place to accommodate growth. Our road system is underused. Our water system is under capacity. I’m not ignoring the disadvantages – aging infrastructure, brownfields and so forth present challenges. But those are outweighed by robust resources such as our big-city park systems, cultural treasures, Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, Youngstown State University and more vital amenities that don’t need to be built from scratch but are important to attract companies and the talent companies need.

More important, we still think big.

Commissioners from Mahoning and Trumbull counties are thinking big by financially seeding Valley Vision, a future-focused initiative to increase prosperity and improve the quality
of life as defined by a community-created set of metrics that will be transparently tracked on a community dashboard.

Our business leaders are thinking big by embracing Lake to River Economic Development, the seventh and final JobsOhio regional network partnership announced recently by Gov. Mike DeWine.

The Business Journal is thinking big by becoming a champion of population growth.

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber is thinking big by restructuring to expand strategic, transformational initiatives that condition the landscape for economic growth from Lake Erie to the Ohio River … restructuring so Lake to River Economic Development can succeed.

The TV market, a remnant of our bigger days, figured into the JobsOhio redesign. When Gov. DeWine delivered this game-changing announcement, he pointed out that Youngstown was the only TV market in Ohio that did not have a JobsOhio partnership.

There are other factors that figured into this decision. Youngstown-Warren has its own Combined Statistical Area, per the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. This designates workforce commute patterns, which for us comprise Columbiana, Mahoning, Trumbull and Mercer counties.

In Lake-to-River we are connected by routes 11 and 79, more remnants of our bigger days, when enormous amounts of iron ore were unloaded off Lake Erie, and massive amounts of coal were shipped out.

Youngstown-Warren has its own metropolitan statistical area that comprises Trumbull, Mahoning and Mercer counties.

Our four lake-to-river counties, Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana, are the most populous in Appalachian Ohio, giving us bigger opportunities.

The timing to take advantage of this is big, too.

Reshoring and onshoring business operations is real in the postpandemic era. Supply chain logistics, better quality goods and intellectual property protection make the U.S. more attractive for production.

That’s why spending on manufacturing increased more than 70% from 2022 to 2023.

Ohio, and the Mahoning Valley, are beneficiaries.

For the record, Las Vegas is currently the 44th largest TV market; Youngstown is 117th.

But let me leave you with this nugget: According to the United Nations’ population projections through 2035, Vegas will continue to grow but at the slowest rate in nearly 100 years. And through 2035, Youngstown will sustain growth, albeit slow growth, for the first time in nearly 50 or so years.

Guy Coviello is president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.