CCPA Turns Focus to Its Backyard

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — The Columbiana County Port Authority, designated the lead economic development agency for the county upon its creation in 1977, has remained a vague entity to most small-business owners, township and municipal officials and residents of the county.

Its new executive director, Penny Traina, and Diane Ksiazek, manager for administration and finance, are working to remedy that. Ksiazek, a banker 30 years, was interim CEO from last October until early March.

Since taking the helm last March, Traina, a former county commissioner and former member of the port authority board, has held a forum for the mayors in Columbiana County, another for township trustees, and a third for chambers of commerce to inform them of the powers the port authority has.

After each, Traina says, “75% came up and said, ‘I had no idea’ of what you could do.’ ”

One purpose of the forum for the chambers was to encourage “working together more closely,” Traina says. “Each has their own territory, but I think we’re in the beginning stages of [more coordination].”

The port authority is about more than recruiting and landing major employers, which receives more publicity, Traina notes. Her predecessor, Tracy Drake, established the Wellsville Intermodal Facility, an industrial park of 70 acres now fully occupied, and a second industrial park with 126 acres, World Trade Park just outside Leetonia.

There Pennex spent $38 million to expand its aluminum plant and Humtown Products just agreed to lease the former network operations center to create an additive or 3-D manufacturing site.

After AMP, a still unidentified shell company, decided last summer not to build a $100-million metals-processing plant in Fairfield Township, it directed its focus to 68 acres in World Trade Park. Last February, AMP made a $50,000 down payment of the $2.15 million price for the site. It had five months to follow up or forfeit the payment. Silence has followed.

“AMP still has an interest,” Traina says, “but they have internal issues to resolve” before proceeding.

“They still have a vested interest in the area,” Ksiazek stresses.

Another company, which Traina and Ksiazek decline to identify, is close to buying another property in World Trade Park – “There’s a pending sale on one lot,” Ksiazek says – and no announcement can be made until the sale is closed.

At the Intermodal park, Drake succeeded in converting an abandoned brickyard into what has become a busy port served by river barges, rail and trucks. Most tenants, such as Marathon Oil and Anchor Drilling Fluids, support the energy industry and extracting oil and natural gas from the Utica shale.

Another company, Cimbar Performance Minerals, uses the port to unload its minerals used in industry from barges and load trucks that carry them across the Midwest.

Pier 48 Stevedoring runs the 60-ton crane that cost $6 million and will run the second, a Mantsinen crane that cost $1.6 million, and complementary $2.2 million conveyor system. The formal opening of the second crane and conveyor system was celebrated Sept. 23 with a ribbon cutting.

The Mantsinen crane and conveyor system will make unloading barges and loading trains and truck go much smoother and faster, Traina notes.

The port authority headquarters building, 1250 St. George St., is an incubator as well, Traina and Ksiazek note, for small businesses in need of office and storage space at reduced rates. Next door is Heritage Thermal Services, which leases the land where its incinerators operate to safely burn industrial waste.

Having Tad Herold, the county director of economic development, on the port authority board is an asset, Traina says, because it helps in coordinating their efforts.

Columbiana County created his office, reassigning him from the prosecuting attorney’s office, to administer Community Development Block Grant funds and the county land bank, functions not assigned the port authority.

At the port authority’s organizational meeting in January, Chairman Charles Presley appointed Herold the chief financial officer.

During Drake’s 23-year tenure as CEO, he announced the imminent arrival of major projects – home runs, if you will – such as a coal gasification plant in Wellsville and a communications center to be built in Center Township. They didn’t pan out, largely because of the Great Recession.

Traina isn’t swinging for the fences. She’s more interested in hitting singles.

She and Ksiazek are getting out into the county – “We’re going to be boots on the ground,” Traina says – spreading the port authority’s story.

By introducing herself to business and civic groups such as the East Liverpool Community Partnership in Revitalization, she is both learning their needs and aspirations and getting leads to help businesses.

She sees the port authority as a clearinghouse of information. Businesses that qualify for state and federal grants or low-interest loans become aware and are encouraged to apply. State agencies looking for qualifying businesses learn of their existence.

“The East Liverpool Community Partnership reached out to us after the mayors’ round table,” she says.

At the mayors’ forum, Traina informed them of their municipalities’ eligibility for Ohio Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce programs.

With support of the port authority, Exochem Corp., Lorain, took advantage of a Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp. low-interest financing of some $200,000 to replace the roof and façade on its plant in East Palestine. Exochem manufactures fabricated textiles there.

Its director of operations, Ross Maenza, said the port authority acted as a liaison “early in the year” and the roof was replaced in July and it’s exploring more MVEDC funding to finance new equipment.

As businesses, municipalities and civic groups have heard Traina’s presentations, her audiences have spread the word. “We’ve been well-received,” she says. “We’re getting more calls. We’re getting more traction.”

Property owners are calling to tell the port authority of land they think would make good industrial sites. “Folks are bringing in maps of their property and saying, ‘This is what I have’ for manufacturing.”

“They let us know their property is available,” Ksiazek says. “Churches call about empty buildings” they think could be converted or returned to retail space.

As for what’s forthcoming, Traina is purposely vague. “We have a couple of projects in the pipeline,” is all she can say lest the interested parties shy away because of premature disclosure.

In the near future is “rebranding the port authority,” Traina says, which includes “getting a new logo.”

Pictured: Diane Ksiazek and Penny Traina are spreading the word about the port authority’s tools.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.