Trumbull County Manufacturing Shows Resilience, Growth

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There is perhaps no more fertile ground for the manufacturing sector here than Trumbull County as producers undergo expansions, acquisitions and handle a steady supply of business that opens the potential for new development projects throughout the region.

Inquiries from producers about new sites in the Mahoning Valley have accelerated exponentially, development specialists say.

This includes increased interest from Asia-based manufacturers, perhaps alerted to the Mahoning Valley through the presence of Taiwan-based Foxconn’s U.S. manufacturing plant and Ultium Cells’ battery-cell production complex in Lordstown.

The manufacturing base in Trumbull County – from furniture makers to conventional steel processing to electric-vehicle production – comprises a sector that is both diversified and primed for future growth.


Univserv LLC in Brookfield demonstrates the resiliency of manufacturers in Trumbull County that depend on steel.

“We have a robust customer base,” says Jeremy Kerola, vice president of the company. “Our customers produce guardrails, tubing, framing for solar panels – one of our customers even makes clips for seat belts.”

Uniserv slits heavier-gauge steel to size for these and many other customers, mostly in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. These companies take steel processed by Uniserv and manufacture products for end users.

The Kerola family purchased Uniserv in March as a means to vertically integrate services with its trucking company, PI&I Motor Express in Masury.  Morris Friedman established Uniserv as United Steel Service in 1968, and PI&I – Kerola’s father, Joe, is president – has hauled steel out of the plant for years.

When Uniserv expressed interest to sell the company, there was a real concern that another out-of-town firm would acquire its assets and shut the plant down, eliminating 105 manufacturing jobs.

“We wanted to ensure that the 105 people we employ here kept their jobs,” Kerola says. “The last thing we wanted to see was another company that had been in the area for so long be acquired by an outside power and being shuttered.”

The Kerola family found the acquisition a perfect fit since 90% of PI&I’s customers overlap with Uniserv, he says. The end result is a company still in operation that is contributing to the local economy and still in need of additional employees.

“We have about 20 more positions we need to fill,” Kerola says. “Our goal is 125 employees. Every month we do a hiring push. Right now we’re evaluating résumés.” The company is also investing in upgrades to its manufacturing processes, electronics and control systems. “We’re trying to improve operations,” he says.

Uniserv operates four slitting lines across the plant. These lines slit metal coil procured from production mills into narrow strips, which are then shipped to the customer to be formed into final products. Three of Uniserv’s lines are able to handle heavier gauge-metal, while the other slits product from 0.030 inch thick to 0.120 inch.

On average, the plant processes approximately 20 tons of steel and metal per hour, Kerola says. 

Although it’s too early to determine how measures such as the Infrastructure and Investment Act – a federal law that authorizes up to $110 billion for $1.2 trillion roadway and bridge repairs – will affect Uniserv’s customers, it should improve the metals industry as a whole, Kerola says. A customer that manufactures guardrails, for example, stands to improve its bottom line as a result of the law, which should translate to more business for Uniserv.

“It’s helped the steel industry as a whole,” he says.  “It’s increased ‘Buy American’ standards.”


Hundreds of jobs are available throughout the manufacturing sector within Trumbull County, according to the latest data provided through the Warren office of Ohio Means Jobs.

There are 558 manufacturing jobs posted with the agency within a 20-mile radius of Warren. But the number of actual openings is likely higher because the information does not reflect how any jobs are available for each post. 

As of May, the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 26,600 are employed in manufacturing positions in the Youngstown-Boardman-Warren metropolitan statistical area, which includes portions of western Pennsylvania.

In 2019, Trumbull County was home to 198 manufacturers that employed 10,704 workers, according to a 2022 report issued by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association.  However, these numbers are not adjusted for the job losses from General Motors Lordstown Assembly plant in 2019, nor the job gains from projects such as Foxconn’s purchase of that plant last year and the nearly 1,000 employees at the Ultium Cells factory that opened in August 2022.

“I’d say the industrial sector is incredibly strong,” observes Shea MacMillan, vice president, economic development at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. In Trumbull County, MacMillan says the Kerolas purchase of Uniserv, plus other major projects, point to steady demand for goods produced here.

He points to Transglobal’s expansion in Champion Township as an example of how the county has responded to demand across the manufacturing sector.

The company manufactures drop-down doors for EV manufacturer Rivian and other original equipment manufacturers.  Transglobal has invested more than $5 million in a new plant along North Park Avenue and plans to create 90 jobs there. 

“Transglobal’s expansion proves that automotive has taken its wings,” MacMillan says. “Existing legacy automotive manufacturers and EVs are looking to build out their supply chains and we’re excited to see that land here.”

Landing this new business, however, relies on agreeable locations and sites that fit the needs of modern manufacturing.

“They’re looking for more square buildings with clearing closer to 32 feet high, dock doors,” MacMillan says.  “Manufacturers are more interested in clear span, less columns.”

This deviates from the dated existing building inventory across Trumbull County and the Mahoning Valley, MacMillan says. 

Sapientia Ventures, based in Warren, is in the process of constructing a 100,000-square-foot spec building at its 86-acre West Warren Industrial Park in an effort to address this void, MacMillan says.  The company plans to invest $9 million to build a modern manufacturing building that could appeal to local companies looking to expand or to attract new business to the region.

MacMillan also emphasizes the potential of the former Republic Steel brownfield site that lies across Howland, Weathersfield and Warren townships and the city of Warren. “There is collectively 700 acres of contiguous land you can develop there,” he says.  The site, owned by the Western Reserve Port Authority, presents “unparalleled” opportunity for manufacturers, he says.

Discussions are underway regarding the formation of a Joint Economic Development District, or JEDD, for the property.  Under a JEDD, tax revenue generated from a development would be shared by the four jurisdictions.

Anthony Trevena, executive director of the port authority, says sites as large as this are rare and bound to attract attention from major end users. “We’ve had different companies look at it,” he says, adding that it’s under “serious consideration.”

Because of its size, Trevena says the Republic Steel site does not have to be marketed to a single sector. It’s likely, however, that manufacturers would find the location ideal.

“It’s a great site for manufacturing and it will definitely attract a large one,” he says. “I don’t have any question that we’ll see jobs returning to that site in the future.”

In fact, interest for manufacturing sites in the region has never been greater, MacMillan confirms.

On average, the chamber gets approximately 70 leads per year for new projects.  But halfway through 2023, the chamber has fielded 50 – well above the normal pace.  What is also unusual is stepped-up interest from “green” manufacturers from Asia requesting information about sites.

“We’ve responded to 11 megaprojects,” MacMillan says. “The massive demand has been uplifting.” 


Meanwhile, manufacturers that have operated for decades in Trumbull County are demonstrating resilience in the face of change.

“We’re continuing to grow and build the business,” says Megan Vickers, president of Soft Touch Furniture in Girard. The company, established in 1974, manufactures tables, booths, chairs and other furnishings for major corporate accounts and residential customers.

Megan Vickers, president of Soft Touch Furniture, stands with Jeffrey Kay, vice president, at the Girard factory.

The company employs 32 and designs and builds furnishings for restaurants, hotels, casinos and other venues, Vickers says. 

“What’s starting to come back are movie theaters,” she says.  “Corporate business is going strong. There are a lot of restaurants that shut down at night, do the remodel overnight, and open the next morning fully renovated.” 

The company is in the early stages of expanding with the construction of a new warehouse building at its location on State Street, she says.

Soft Touch manufactures furnishings for corporate clients such as Panera Bread, Firebirds and Silver Diners.  These customers and others have locations across the country that Soft Touch supplies.

What sets the company apart from other manufacturers is that much of the work is still performed by hand, says Jeffrey Kay, vice president. “We do have two wood-cutting CNC machines we run eight hours a day and a fabric-cutting machine,” he says. “Everything else is manual.”

Kay says there are no machines that can perform the work of some of Soft Touch’s craftsmen. Still, the company is looking to upgrade and introduce technical improvements that can better track and store information related to shipments, product information and projects, he says.

“It’s not more automation, but better organization,” he says.  “A purchasing agent can look at the job and in real time know what needs to be ordered.”

While inflationary pressures remain, “We still buy local as much as we can,” Vicker says.

Soft Touch sources most of its lumber, metal screws and foam from regional suppliers. At the same time, the company continues to discover new innovative designs that appeal to customers.

“We’re always looking to do something different and build unique – not cookie-cutter – things,” she says.

Pictured at top: Mike Lee bands steel coil as it comes off one of the four slitting lines at Uniserv in Brookfield.