‘Boots on the Ground’ Assist East Palestine Businesses

LISBON, Ohio – The Columbiana County Port Authority Board of Directors took action this week to provide more assistance to East Palestine businesses affected by the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment.

“We are actually boots on the ground in East Palestine and have been since March,” Penny Traina, CCPA executive director, told the board at its Monday meeting.

In 2021, the CCPA received a $478,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration for business retention/expansion and workforce development, which allowed two CCPA employees – Brittany Smith and Bobby Ritchey – to serve as recovery coordinators.

Ritchey had met in December with East Palestine administrators to discuss the needs of village businesses, and Traina told board members the February train derailment “pushed that full steam ahead,” with her team now trying to determine where problems for businesses were before and where they are now.

“We’re working with all businesses in East Palestine,” she said.

The board approved a resolution amending the initial EDA grant, extending it from 36 to 48 months and increasing the amount by $209,678, which will be used to determine the economic impact of the train derailment on the village. The additional funding will be used for personnel, fringe benefits, travel, supplies and contractual agreements.

Haedan Panezott is serving as recovery coordinator for the project and has been visiting East Palestine one to two days each week, meeting with village officials and business owners.

Two surveys have been circulated to businesses to collect data to determine needs and how the team can collaborate with its economic development partners, which include the Ohio Development Department, Governor’s Office of Appalachia Team NEO, JobsOhio, Youngstown SBDC and federal, state and county officials.

One of those partners was represented at this week’s CCPA board meeting by Walt Good, Team NEO managing director, and a resolution was passed entering into a six-month service agreement with JobsOhio and Team NEO for $50,000 to further assist East Palestine businesses.

These funds can be used for salaries, benefits, program-related mileage, meals, cellphone usage and other incidentals. 

Traina told the board her team has been working closely with Team NEO to enhance business retention and expansion in the county and that there is a slate of projects on which they are working.

“We appreciate the partnership as we continue to enrich our relationship and increase the lives of Columbiana County residents and businesses,” Traina said. 

Likewise, Good praised the CCPA’s efforts, saying, “We think it’s important to support the work that Penny and the team is doing in East Palestine. The information they gather is critical to us as we work with them to evaluate support and recovery efforts. The support we’re providing (with the service agreement) is intended to offset the unexpected costs that are incurring because of this disaster.”

Traina also reported that the CCPA team will be in East Palestine this week, talking with business owners within a 2-mile radius of the train derailment regarding applications for $5 million transferred to the East Palestine Emergency Support Program by the state Controlling Board. The funds were announced in June by state Rep. Monica Robb Blasdel of Columbiana County, R-79th.

Businesses within that 2-mile zone can apply for zero-interest loans between $10,000 and $1 million for on-going expenses, working capital needs and recovery efforts associated with the train derailment. If the business owners meet parameters of the loans, they can revert to grant status after 18 months, according to Traina. 

Other Matters

In other matters Monday, the board approved a $2,978,338 bid from C. Tucker Cope, Columbiana, for construction of a 60,000-square-foot speculative building at the CCPA’s Leetonia World Trade Park. Traina said five bids were received for the project, and now a time line for construction will be negotiated with the successful bidder. 

In addition, she said, the CCPA will be looking at other possible sources of grant funding to help pay for the cost of the building.

Traina also offered an update on the Global Investment Hub in Leetonia, which is being created to provide companies space in an industrial facility.

Interior renovations are complete, and the exterior is being painted. Traina said the next step is ordering furniture, followed by setting a date for the ribbon-cutting. 

The facility consists of six private offices, co-working recreational space, three conference rooms and a kitchen area. It will be fully furnished, and companies will receive one year free rent – including WiFi – with the requirement they employ a Youngstown State University intern for an academic year.

According to statistics provided with informational GIH handouts, Ohio is No. 3 in the United States for manufacturing; in 2022, Ohio exported $57.55 billion worth of manufactured goods; Ohio’s real Gross Domestic Product in 2021 was $629.28 billion; Ohio ranks No. 7 for GDP in the U.S.; Ohio is No. 4 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the Midwest for Foreign Direct Investment. 

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