YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A major Mahoning Valley economic development project appears to finally be moving forward, but only after months of political squabbles.
We’re referring to the $1.2 billion Trumbull Energy Center, a project that will generate $100 million in construction payroll while the plant is being built. But we could be referring to any number of projects over the decades. Recall Vallourec Star’s $1 billion-plus pipe mill, a project imperiled by a dispute between Youngstown and Girard.
Or consider, more recently, the TJX Companies Homegoods regional distribution center, a project in Lordstown – like the power plant, in the epicenter of the emerging Voltage Valley. TJX and its thousand jobs were nearly lost, first by internal squabbles among village council members and later by village residents who sought to block the project by referendum and legal action.
On July 5, the Lordstown Board of Public Affairs cleared the way for the long-stalled Lordstown Energy Center by approving a service agreement with the city of Warren to directly supply water to the natural gas-fueled power plant.
Some village residents and two members of the board initially opposed that plan and instead favored using water sourced from the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, the utility jointly owned by the cities of Youngstown and Niles.
Following the Board of Public Affairs approval, village council voted 5-1 to enter into a contract with Warren through an emergency measure, thwarting the kind of referendum that delayed the TJX project.
Apparently everyone saw the light – but not until weeks of news reports revealed the parochialism.
This is a very old, frequently told story in the Mahoning Valley: officeholders engaging in power struggles. Pointing fingers at individuals is pointless. They are symbols of the larger, community-defeating problem – too much local government that is both costly and cumbersome.
Mahoning and Trumbull counties have a combined population of fewer than 430,000 residents, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. Yet these residents are governed by more than 60 cities, villages and townships.
Nearby Summit County, with a population of more than 540,000, has about 30 cities, villages and townships.
This is not breaking news: The Mahoning Valley has too much government!
There are too many political entities, too many officeholders, public safety departments and administrative officials. Few entities, if any, have adjusted their structures to the shrinking population. And none dare talk of consolidation.
Former Mahoning County Commissioner Tom Carney was derided decades ago for suggesting local communities consolidate as “New Youngstown.” His idea is no more palatable today, blocked by a combination of small community pride and entrenched powers preserving their fiefdoms.