By Guy Coviello
President & CEO, Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Like most nonprofits worldwide, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber acted as a sort of first responder to the pandemic crisis, in our case, providing aid and support to struggling employers while adapting our entire operations virtually overnight.
Unlike most nonprofits, we did this while undergoing a leadership transition.
By the end of 2021, we stopped emerging from the crisis. Through good planning, leveraging partnerships, building strong connections with our employees and creating a thriving culture, we emerged.
In partnership with the Youngstown Foundation, we launched a monthly “lunch and learn” series to create community dialogue around the Valley’s pressing economic opportunities and needs. With the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, we prepared to launch the Mahoning Valley Logistics Council. In partnership with the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, we brought the successful Ohio to Work talent development program to our community. And with
TeamNEO, we successfully won a Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant that could lead to an energy- storage research lab at Brite Energy Innovators in downtown Warren.
Like many nonprofits, during the height of the pandemic we downsized, by 58%. But over the past 12 months we have added 10 to our staff and increased our team to 19. These young, energetic professionals reduced the Valley’s brain drain and helped the chamber transform into a modern business membership organization.
For example, in 2021 we embraced diversity. We are committed to ensuring gender and racial diversity across all levels of the organization, including our board of directors. This diversity, equity and inclusion effort includes readying for a robust program to help minority-owned businesses.
Also in 2021, we launched new member benefits. These included e-waste sanitization and recycling, a business expense reduction program and a preferred provider for EV charging stations so we can embrace Voltage Valley while greening the planet.
All the while, we never slowed down creating and retaining jobs:
• With tremendous support from the Western Reserve Port Authority, Valley Economic Development Partners, JobsOhio and others, we completed projects that attracted more than $100 million of investment and created 618 jobs.
• With assistance from our partners, we ended 2021 with $3.8 billion of investment and almost 4,000 new jobs in the pipeline.
• We launched a Family-Owned Business series of quarterly chats to help small, local companies.
All the while, we never slowed down creating good public policy:
• With tremendous leadership from our state-elected delegation, we helped attract millions of dollars in the state’s biennial operating budget.
• With tremendous leadership from the Valley’s congressional delegation, we helped the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission attract federal investment for runway widening and new aircraft at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
• We joined the Utica Alliance to help shape energy policy.
• We hosted Impact Ohio, bringing statewide government officials here for high-level policy discussions.
And all the while, we never slowed down:
• The Regional Chamber membership grew by hundreds, to more than 2,500 businesses that employ over 125,000 workers. Our members collectively provide a thunderous chorus in Columbus and Washington, where we advocate for pro-business policies.
• The Regional Chamber’s three 501(c)(3) foundations swelled to nearly $2.5 million in assets, enabling us to support many worthy economic development and quality-of-life programs. In the meantime, we have built a war chest that paves the way for more success in the future.
For our team, we feel like this is just the beginning. What we’ve built and accomplished last year sets the foundation for even greater collaboration and positive results this year.