Cities, Development Agencies Collaborate on COVID-19 Resource

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The cities of Youngstown and Warren, in partnership with local economic development agencies, will collaborate to provide information about resources to assist businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a news release Monday, Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown announced the COVID-19 Economic Development Task Force as one of the “proactive measures” being taken by the cities’ economic development teams in partnership with local development organizations.

The group’s objective is to identify information on the resources, such as those in the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act that are being made available to businesses and their employees affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Task force members will convene weekly conference calls to discuss new developments and actions to meet the pressing needs of the business community.

The group also will coordinate and transition efforts to foster local business recovery.

“As businesses begin to experience the immediate and long-term implication of the events occurring, it is essential to ensure these resources are properly communicated and accessible to the business community,” Brown said in the release.

The cities are partnering with the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association, Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp., Western Reserve Port Authority, Youngstown Business Incubator, Youngstown State University and Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

“We participated on several calls organized by the city for them to generate a sense of the many resources available in response to COVID-19,” said Sarah Boyarko, chief operating officer of the Regional Chamber. Earlier in the day, the chamber announced its Emerge program, an initiative to provide small businesses with the information and resources needed to get through the coronavirus outbreak.

The proactive approach being taken by the local entities is “pretty positive,” said Anthony Trevena, economic director for the Western Reserve Port Authority.

“It’s critical that there’s communication between these agencies,” he said. “This clearinghouse for communication is really important.”

T. Sharon Woodberry, Youngstown economic development director, initiated the conference calls about three weeks ago and the two cities are taking the lead on the task force, said Mike Hripko, YSU associate vice president of external affairs, government relations and economic development.

“The immediate goal is to share information,” Woodberry said. “We want to be consistent with our message and communicate to the businesses what resources are out there.”

The partners want to help local small businesses navigate the various assistance programs, said Mike Keys, Warren’s community development director. Warren will receive additional block grant funds that the city might be able to use to assist some of its more vulnerable small businesses.

Downtown Warren had three new restaurants open in the last year that probably can use as much help as they can get.

Some businesses aren’t familiar with the workings of government. “Sometimes it may be very daunting for them,” he added.

The first order of business is determining what resources are out there and categorizing them so local organizations can take advantage of them, Hripko said. YSU has contacts throughout state and federal government that are providing lists of resources “and we’re going through those and making those available that are applicable” to local communities.

“We’re kind of the big end of the funnel,” he said.

That information – including webinars and other resources – then will be shared among the partner agencies, who will make the information relevant to their audiences available though their websites.

“The amount of information that’s been circulating with the CARES Act has a lot of us confused and going in circles,” said Teresa Miller, executive director of MVEDC. Being able to communicate so they are telling people the same thing instead of “sending them in circles and adding to their frustration” is helpful, she said.

MVEDC partners with the U.S. Small Business Administration on loan programs for small businesses that often aren’t able to take advantage of SBA programs through their banks. “There are a few banks not offering [Paycheck Protection Program] loans to their customers and we want to be able to step in and help them as best we can,” she said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that everybody is fully engaged in doing everything we can to help businesses get through this,” Trevena said.

The group also is looking out further to determine how to react strategically “to what we know is going to be a hard hit on our economy” and to discuss what strategies can be taken moving forward, Woodberry said.

The group could look at pursuing funding for projects to meet community needs such as those funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development, or BUILD, grant program.

“We know collectively we’ll get much more done,” Woodberry said.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.