VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – The retiring CEO of the Western Reserve Port Authority sees building trust and collaboration among local elected officials and the business community as one of the key accomplishments of his tenure.
Community leaders from around the Mahoning Valley joined the staff and board of directors of the port authority Feb. 16 to recognize John Moliterno, who retired March 1.
“It’s important for this Valley to move forward, that everybody was trying to work together,” Moliterno said as he reflected.
The port authority hired Moliterno as executive director in June 2015 after he held the position on an interim basis since the previous September. He was named CEO in late 2020 as part of a planned transition that named Anthony Trevena chief operating officer.
Helping to bring Moliterno – a former president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and local chapter of the Better Business Bureau – to lead the WRPA staff was “my best accomplishment,” Ron Klingle said.
Klingle, CEO of Avalon Holdings Inc., was WRPA board chairman when Moliterno was hired and recently completed eight years on the port authority board.
“Things have changed a lot over the last eight years. And so much of it is a result of John and his dedication, the people he had working with him, along with a bunch of new board members who were all on the same page with one goal: making our community a better place to live,” Klingle said.
“It proved to be a pretty good move,” Marty Loney, Klingle’s successor as chairman, agreed. “It got us all going in the right direction.”
Warren Mayor Doug Franklin was among the community leaders who thanked Moliterno for his service. In particular, he recognized Moliterno for his role in a partnership with the city to move properties that were tax liabilities into productive use.
Those properties include two that Warren developer Mark Marvin has repurposed: the former Mickey’s Army Navy plaza, the first floor of which is now completely occupied, and the former Warren Scope senior center, now Charbenay’s Wine on the River. The city also transferred a Mahoning Avenue property to the Trumbull County Historical Society, which is converting it into a cultural and education center.
“It’s an unprecedented program that other communities are calling us about,” Franklin said.
It was Franklin who recommended to his fellow mayor, Youngstown’s Jamael Tito Brown, that he engage the port authority in his city, Brown said.
Brown evoked a quote by Booker T. Washington, noting that a man’s success “isn’t in the position he holds, but by the success he was able to achieve while in that position.”
In all Moliterno’s positions, he has “been able to make some success,” the mayor said.
“I can’t thank you enough for your leadership over these years,” said Rick Leonard, district director for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio. Ryan’s office led the effort to establish and fund – with contributions from the Mahoning Valley’s largest cities and the two counties – an economic development division and hire an executive director at the port authority to capitalize on the economic tools available to port authorities in Ohio.
The measure of good leadership is whether the organization is in a better place than when the leader arrived, Leonard said.“Without a doubt, I think anybody in this room can say that you left this organization in a better place. And we as a community get a benefit from that,” he said.
The relationship between the port authority and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber is critical for economic development. It has never been stronger than in the past year, said Guy Coviello, chamber president and CEO.
Coviello joked that he and Moliterno say they speak to each other more than they do to their own spouses. “That’s probably not going to stop after you retire,” he added.
A video with songs such as “What a Wonderful World,” “Celebration,” “Taking Care of Business” and “My Way” highlighted various projects and initiatives the port authority participated in during Moliterno’s tenure.
Among them were the property transfer agreement with Warren, the renovation of the Stambaugh Building and reopening as the DoubleTree By Hilton Youngstown Downtown hotel, student housing projects near Youngstown State University, expansion of the Macy’s fulfillment center and other local development projects.
“What I do, I do because I want to make the Mahoning Valley the best place it can possibly be,” Moliterno said.
Other WRPA board members praised Moliterno for his efforts.
Moliterno “is probably the greatest ambassador I’ve ever seen in action,” Sterling Williams said.
Ed Muransky lauded Moliterno for helping to bring together local economic development engines, mayors and county commissioners.
“It’s the only way that we could move this whole ship forward and you’ve been a big part of it,” he said. “It’s going to pay big dividends for many years to come.”
With Moliterno’s retirement, Trevena assumed the role of port authority executive director effective March 1. Trevena was among the finalists for the executive director position when Moliterno was hired in 2015.
The port authority, recognizing that Moliterno would retire or otherwise move on eventually, created a position for Trevena, Loney said. He was hired as director of economic development in September 2015, just a few months after hiring Moliterno.
Loney, who also is president of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council, likened the situation to an apprenticeship.
Reflecting on how everything proceeded, Trevena said the approach the board took was “the best decision that could have been made.”
While he would have been prepared to take on the executive director’s job, he benefited from Moliterno’s mentorship and relationships he has built over the years.
“I don’t know anybody who couldn’t sit down and just enjoy a conversation with John Moliterno,” he said.
The port authority board also recognized Klingle, presenting him with a plaque for his recently completed term of service. The meeting was held at the Grand Resort, one of the properties operated by Klingle’s Avalon Holdings.
“It’s been a pleasure to be on this board for the last eight years,” Klingle said. “One of the things that’s been accomplished is bringing our community back to the position where we have an opportunity to really grow.”
Loney, who joined the port authority board at the same time as Klingle, said he “couldn’t ask for a better board member” and expressed his appreciation for his colleague’s expertise.
“He’s been good to this Valley,” he said.
Pictured: John Moliterno has served the community in several economic development roles.