Trades Council Builds on Partnerships

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council is moving ahead in 2022 by strengthening the partnerships it has established across the Mahoning Valley.

These partnerships are especially profound with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and the Western Reserve Port Authority, leaders of economic development across the region.

“It’s how we work together,” says Tony DiTommaso Jr., the organization secretary/treasurer.  DiTommaso also sits on the board of the chamber, while the president of the Building Trades, Marty Loney, is board chairman of the Western Reserve Port Authority. 

“These are players that understand that we need to get our local people working,” DiTommaso says.

The Building Trades represents 27 locals associated with 15 trades that together boast a membership of more than 9,500, a significant voting bloc in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

“When you see the chamber engaging the different economic development teams around the Valley and we’re sitting in the room, we can show them the value of what we have,” Loney says, especially to outside developers looking at potential projects.

Engagement among the Building Trades, contractors, elected officials, development agencies and the public strengthen the region’s position when pursuing important projects, DiTommaso adds.

Moreover, these partnerships shatter conventional stigmas that business organizations such as the chamber are indifferent to local labor, he says.  

“When they see we are active participants and members, they realize we get the business angle,” DiTommaso says. “We’re asking to have that shot. That’s how we work together to present ourselves.”

Among the most significant construction projects is the Ultium Cells $2.3 billion electric-vehicle battery manufacturing plant in Lordstown. In late December, approximately 1,100 men and women representing the trades were working on the plant, according to the labor leaders.

Recent big projects include the TJX HomeGoods distribution warehouse in Lordstown, the $900 million Lordstown Energy Center, and significant work with Youngstown State University, area hospitals and a host of public projects.

“We have a good relationship with the elected officials around here,” Loney says. “When you’re looking at job sites that are state funded or federally funded, we must have that partnership,” he says.

Working with the port authority, the chamber and other agencies also helps raise the profile of apprenticeship programs, DiTommaso says. “We’ve been working with career counselors to expand interest at an earlier age,” he says, starting in middle school.

DiTommaso says that an entire generation of skilled trades workers were lost when area schools began to cut shop classes. Presenting the trades as a practical career pathway at an earlier age is likely to spur interest in apprenticeship programs.

The Building Trades has established partnerships with the Mahoning County education service center and would like to expand to Trumbull County.

More than 4,300 students of all ages attended a two-day skilled trades expo at the Canfield Fair in 2021, Loney says. He adds that the trades have attracted the largest apprentice groups ever.

Some crafts might be struggling but opportunities abound throughout the locals. “We’re working hard to attract in all of them,” DiTommaso says.

Loney and DiTommaso say that Royal Dutch Shell’s $6 billion ethane cracker plant in Monaca, Pa., is likely to draw additional petrochemical business to the region, requiring trades workers. At the same time, they’re optimistic that ventures such as the $1 billion Trumbull Energy Center in Lordstown will come to fruition this year.

Other major projects include a $33 million addition and renovation at Akron Children’s Hospital in Boardman, continuing work at the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County’s downtown branch, and the potential to land a project to renovate 20 Federal Place downtown.