Government

Chamber to Make Case for Local Priorities in D.C.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A delegation led by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber will lobby federal officials in Washington, D.C. next month to advocate on behalf of a missile defense site at Camp Ravenna, among other local priorities.

So far, 25 representatives of area businesses and institutions have signed up for the D.C. Fly-In, set for June 20 and21. Next month’s initiative follows a similar Columbus Drive-In event in February.

For years, organizations in the Mahoning Valley have complained that the cities known as “the Three Cs” – Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati – get a disproportionate share of state and federal dollars compared to other Ohio cities such as Youngstown and Warren.

“Now they are bigger and they are going to get more for that reason,” said Guy Coviello, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs. “Even taking that into consideration, we don’t think that it’s been fair, but we think we share some of the blame.”

In the past, the Valley has not “in an organized fashion” gone to the state and U.S. capitols to advocate for their priorities, he said. Last month, Dayton and Columbus lobbied for their interests during similar trips to the nation’s capitol and Cleveland is doing so as well next month.

Meetings are still being scheduled for the trip, which will include a session with the undersecretary of the Air Force. Meetings also are set with members of the Valley’s congressional delegation and chamber officials are working on opportunities with “some high-level White House officials” which are yet to be confirmed, he said.

Coviello said, the lobbying initiative will focus on three priorities: the East Coast Missile Defense project being considered for Camp Ravenna, protecting Youngstown Air Reserve Station from a potential Base Realignment and Closure process and to pursue opportunities to expand operations there, and funds for revitalizing the Mahoning River.

If Camp Ravenna is selected for the missile base, the $4.5 billion project would employ 2,000 construction workers for five years and 850 rocket scientists on a permanent basis once completed, Coviello said. The base sits on the border of Trumbull and Portage counties.

“And there are going to be probably at least dozens, if not hundreds, of additional scientists and engineers in support industries from Cleveland to Pittsburgh,” he continued. “So the economic impact of that is mindboggling in terms of the level of employment that we’re talking about, the level of education of the people that would be working there.”

Further, he said, those jobs would be recession-proof. “Regardless of the economic ups and downs of the country, there’s always going to be this need for the military,” he said.

Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township survived the last BRAC process in 2005. Coviello said he is more concerned about a proposal that would give the Department of Defense the authority to close small military bases by U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, than another round of BRAC.

“There continue to be threats of programmatic changes,” he added. Since the 2005 BRAC, YARS has lost half its aircraft, which have been reassigned to other bases.Advocates for the Mahoning River funding envision a three-phase project that includes removal of the dams along the 26-mile waterway, seeking “pockets of opportunity” for development and linking communities with the multiuse paths to take advantage of opportunities to enjoy the river, said Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

“We started the dam removals. We’re going to continue that, but we’re going to advocate for additional funding so that we can get them out sooner rather than later,” he said.

In addition to limiting the growing use of the river by kayakers and canoers, who have to debark and go on private property to get around the dams in place, the barriers no longer serve a purpose, Coviello said. Removal of the dams also will promote self-cleaning of the river, he said.

“For decades, that river gave of itself for the benefit of the country,” he reflected. “It supported steel mills that made the materials that built great cities here. It supported factories that made bombs to protect those cities. And now it’s time for the country to give back to the river.”

In addition to the three priorities outlined by the chamber, Kinnick said he also plans to advocate on behalf of funding for the Youngstown SMAR2T – Strategic Medical, Academic, Residential, Recreational and Technology – Corridor.

The proposal, which involves the Fifth Avenue corridor and surrounding area, was twice passed over for funding by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery program. The program’s successor, the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development program, received $1.5 billion in funding, and has a July 19 application deadline, Kinnick said.

The SMAR2T team had a debriefing last month with Department of Transportation officials to discuss opportunities to improve the application submitted for Tiger grant funding, he said.

“We felt that some of the data wasn’t as obvious, so we’re going to highlight some of the safety numbers,” he said. “The opportunities for innovation are highlighted more under the Build application versus the Tiger application, so we’re talking about possibly exploring an autonomous transit shuttle around the campus and possibly to Mercy Health.”

Coviello said the chamber would like to have another 10 participants in the Fly-In, bringing the total to 35.

The cost to participate is $750, which covers the slate of activities scheduled, including meetings, meals receptions and ground transportation; $1,000, which includes overnight accommodations at the Hyatt House Washington D.C./The Wharf; and $2,000, which includes air transportation on a private jet departing from Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport.

The chamber also is offering sponsorship opportunities for the trip at Gold ($5,000), Silver ($2,500) and Bronze ($1,500) levels. For more information about sponsorships or the trip, call Coviello at 330 744 2131, ext. 1106, or email him at guy@rgionalchamber.com.

He did not say what the chamber had achieved in sponsorships so far other than the “top sponsor” is Humtown Products, Columbiana. The “biggest priority” for the chamber is “getting out there and speaking on behalf of the community and having that show of force,” he said.

Among those he wanted involved were members of the Mahoning River Corridor Mayors Association. Local mayors participating in the Fly-In include Youngstown’s Jamael Tito Brown and Warren’s Doug Franklin.

Among the scheduled activities are a dinner featuring a keynote presentation by Rick Ungar, co-host of the “Steele & Ungar Show” on the SiriusXM Potus channel, and a luncheon with keynote speaker Hugh Hewitt, host of the nationally syndicated “Hugh Hewitt show.” Ungar and Hewitt are both Valley natives.

Those interested in participating in the Fly-In can register here.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.