Journal Opinion: Repopulating Our Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The most frequently expressed concern voiced by local companies when they are interviewed by Business Journal reporters is the shortage of qualified workers at all levels.

We hear repeatedly from business owners and managers in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys about a lack of applicants for positions, from food service and retail clerks to skilled laborers and technology workers.

It’s a shortage that’s expected to grow in the coming years. Local officials have projected that the region could add 5,000 jobs by 2026 and potentially 20,000 jobs by 2030, driven in part by the growth of Voltage Valley.

But at the same time, our communities continue to lose population. Over the past 50 years, the local metropolitan statistical area has lost, on average, seven people every day.

Earlier this year, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments advanced a three-pronged strategy aimed at increasing the local population by retaining young people, encouraging young adults to return to the area and attracting immigrants and refugees. 

The chamber highlighted the third element at its Aug. 31 Salute to Business that featured a discussion with Lee Williams, chief program officer for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. The not-for-profit organization focuses on assisting refugees and
immigrants to establish new lives in the United States by helping to connect them with jobs, housing
and schooling so they can better achieve self-sufficiency.

People coming to the United States, including from countries such as war-torn Ukraine, arrive with a range of skill levels and often are highly entrepreneurial. Williams emphasized that the U.S. birth rate is below that necessary to maintain population at its current levels. 

Other communities, including Pittsburgh, Erie, Pa. and Akron, have launched successful resettlement programs for refugees. Certainly the ethnically diverse Mahoning Valley could mount a similar effort.

“There has to be a whole-of-community effort,” Williams said. “The only way that resettlement is successful is if the entire community is engaged.”

The business community must lead the way.