Chamber ‘Salute to Business’ Reflects Positive Attitudes

BOARDMAN, Ohio – Anyone who doubts the can-do outlook of business leaders in the Mahoning Valley was not present at this morning’s Salute to Business breakfast hosted by the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

Speaker after speaker, honoree after honoree, saluted business and community collaborations established over the last 25 years, the positive attitudes of leaders and followers in the redevelopment trenches, and the generosity of the many who give back, provide guidance and build a powerful team for the Mahoning Valley.

Indeed, the teamwork metaphor — working together to overcome challenges — opened and closed the breakfast program at Mr. Anthony’s.

YSU head football coach Bo Pelini began by characterizing the upcoming season and his team’s kickoff Saturday against Pitt: “It’s not where you start. It’s where you finish,” he said. After seven individuals were saluted for their contributions to the region’s economy and quality of life, CEO Tom Humphries concluded, “Every single one of them talked about others, about giving back and about leading people to care about this community. It’s a whole team effort.”

Mitchell Joseph, chairman and CEO of Joseph Company International and West Coast Chill, was the first honoree to the podium as he was presented with the chambers Business Professional of the Year award. Joseph’s California-based company is building the $20 million beverage can manufacturing campus on Youngstown’s east side that will employ 237.

“Youngstown will once again be known for cutting edge technology and artificial intelligence just like it was once known for steel,” he promised.

Joseph’s roots go back to the same land where his family operated a bottling plant until 1971 and he’s building the chill-can complex. After thanking all those who helped him bring the project and help him secure financing, government incentives and the land, he dropped a broad hint that a second major investment is in the works. He described it as “project No. 2, a vision we have that will light up the city of Youngstown.”

He declined to provide more details in an interview with The Business Journal following the program.

Like Joseph’s boast of his company’s technology gaining wide recognition for Youngstown, Jessica Borza said the “power of partnerships” among the industrial competitors that established the Mahoning Valley Manufacturing Coalition in 2011 is drawing national attention.

Borza, the Business Advocate of the Year, is the coalition’s executive director and a strategic adviser at Thomas P. Miller and Associates in Indianapolis.

“As I travel the country, people are absolutely blown away by the level of collaboration and the impact we’re having here with what we do,” she said.

While Borza credited the coalition’s partnerships with colleges and trade schools, she said more work must be done to bolster enrollment in technical training programs.

Dr. Farid Naffah, the Nonprofit Professional of the Year, was recognized for his medical practice, Avamar Gastroenterology in Warren and its Avamar Foundation, which helps patients pay for medication.

Naffah told chamber members how he came to the Mahoning Valley 25 years ago when he was beginning his career. After seeing how he was welcomed, “I made one of the best decisions of my life” and decided to stay here.

“If you want to be appreciated. If you want to be loved, and if you want to succeed in any business, come to the Mahoning Valley,” he advised.

Michael Rulli, Small Business Person of the Year, extolled the Valley’s quality of life. “This is the only life we live so I like to stay positive,” he said. “This is our home, our fabric of who we are, what we are.”

Rulli, director of operations for the 100-year-old Rulli Bros. grocery retailer, said he announced his candidacy earlier this week for the Ohio Senate after being “awakened” to the threat of deep, sustained population losses.

“Everyone in this room can change that culture” of millennials leaving the region. “All you have to do is stay positive,” he said.

Also honored were Entrepreneurs of the Year Mike S. and Michael R. Senchak, the father and son team who opened FirstLight Home Care here five years ago and a second office in Florida; and Carlton Ingram, business representative for Local 66 of the Operating Engineers, who was presented with the Salute to Labor Achievement award.

“It’s a salute to labor and it’s a salute to all of us,” Ingram said in sharing his award with chamber members.

“All of us have put our labor into rebuilding this Valley.”

Pictured above are award winners, speakers and sponsors from the chamber’s Salute to Business. Front row from left: Jessica Borza, Andy Frost from the Canfield Fair board and Ted Schmidt, chairman of the Regional Chamber and regional president of PNC Bank. Second and third rows from left: Tom Humphries, chamber CEO, Mitchell Joseph, Michael Rulli, James Dignan, chamber chief operating officer, YSU football coach Bo Pelini, Dr. Faird Naffah, Carlton Ingram, Michael R. Senchak, Rocky DeGenaro from the Western Reserve Building Trades Council, and Michael R. Senchak.

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