Commentary: Collaboration

By Edward P. Noga

Having served parishes in Trumbull and Mahoning counties and having been involved for years in faith-based organizing, I have witnessed some phenomenal individuals and groups who see the bigger picture.

That picture is a landscape that goes well beyond geographical and denominational boundaries. In a recent editorial in two of our local newspapers, The Tribune and The Vindicator, the notion of seeing the bigger picture and stepping beyond the normal boundaries of life both excited and challenged me. In that spirit, and knowing that there is so much in our communities, nation and world that seems to be on overdrive to divide us, I offer this reflection.

In an age when we are accustomed to acronyms, I would like to suggest that we could refer to our regional WRPA in a few different ways.

The Western Reserve Port Authority was formed in 1992 to operate the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. The challenge of having our airport between two major hubs, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, was obvious when the authority was established.

More recently, the ever-expanding Akron-Canton Airport has added to the challenges of maintaining and operating our airport.

Yes, our airport is home to some business and corporate travel. There is a nationally known aeronautical training school on the property. The 910th Tactical Air Wing operates next door and is a major economic and employment engine for the Youngstown-Warren area.

Area residents would love to see more commercial flights for travel. For many reasons, however, that has been the greatest challenge on the port authority’s agenda.

Nevertheless, its unique position and development tools have enabled the port authority to greatly expand what it can do. Local news reports tell how WRPA has lifted up the wide variety of projects and proposals discussed at its board meetings and enlarged its footprint. IWe hear about news and projects almost daily that have a relationship with WRPA.

Anyone coming into the Valley from the west on the Ohio Turnpike can see the repurposing of the former Lordstown car assembly plant and the new TJX/HomeGoods warehouse as examples of major progress.

In addition, apartments near the campus of Youngstown State University, the Doubletree Hotel in the heart of downtown Youngstown, Hollywood Gaming in Austintown, and various nursing care expansions and manufacturing retooling projects have kept the port authority very busy.

Recently, a large tract of former steel mill land in Warren was on the WRPA agenda. The list goes on and the projects bring hope, jobs and opportunities to all aspects of life.

The port authority’s success is a direct result of some very forward-thinking Mahoning Valley leaders and very dedicated board members. It reminds me of comments made by a mayor who once taught at YSU. I remember him on several occasions and at various meetings talking about homeowners who keep up their properties and each room in their homes so that their dwellings are totally taken care of.

As those in the audience nodded their heads in approval, he went on to mention by analogy that the Mahoning Valley is our home. Wouldn’t it make sense to take care of all the rooms so that our entire home would benefit and prosper? He added that whether we live in the room called Warren, Sebring, Austintown, Niles, Youngstown, Girard, Canfield, Howland or wherever, we must work together as much as possible to move forward and respond to the challenges and issues we face.

Sadly, our history has not always reflected a spirit of collaboration. Sadder still, many of our young people have moved to communities that long ago realized more can be 
accomplished with a cooperative spirit.

The Western Reserve Port Authority is a prime example of a realistic approach to what it means to be part of a valley. In fact, it may be one of the best examples of collaboration that we have in our region.

So let’s look at the port authority’s initials, WRPA, and add other words:

• WRPA: We Research Property Activity.

• WRPA:  We Repurpose Project Accessibility.

Organizations like WRPA need to be encouraged and supported because they are an example of how much can be done when there is true cooperation.

As the Mahoning Valley entered the 21st century, Myron Orfield from the University of Minnesota did some work in Ohio and came here at the invitation of the local Action initiative. Action is an acronym for the faith-based Alliance for Congregational Transformation in Our Neighborhoods.

Orfield is a student and teacher of metropolitan opportunities. When he came here, he acknowledged the problems, challenges and hurdles facing the Valley. He looked at our history, and the history of other Ohio metropolitan areas, and said the future would belong to communities that did the hard work of working together.

If he were invited back today, the work of WRPA would spark his interest and be an example of things he has studied for most of his career.

Thanks to the board members and staff of the WRPA, their spirit and energy. I close with one last play on the port authority’s initials:  We Resolutely Push Ahead.