City Economic Development Position Under Deliberation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The city’s director of community planning and economic development says she is carefully evaluating the position of economic development director before determining how she will fill the job.

Nikki Posterli, who also serves as chief of staff to Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, said she has no set timetable for naming a successor to T. Sharon Woodberry, who resigned in April to accept a job in Florida.

“It’s too critical of a position to rush, but I’m not going to drag it out forever, either,” Posterli said.

“Having a strong economic development department is extremely important to the growth, sustainability and overall success of the city,” affirmed 7th Ward Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, chairwoman of Council’s community planning and economic development committee.

“So we must be very mindful when filing this position,” she cautioned.  

Posterli said she is seeking someone with the ability to attract business, as well as to understand the direction that the city is headed and “get ahead of it.” In the past, the city economic development office was reacting to opportunities rather than being proactive, though she acknowledged it was essentially a two-person division.

“When I look at other communities, they have a lot more support,” she said. 

As part of her evaluation process, Posterli said she is working in the position so she has a better idea of what it entails, something she says she does whenever she has an opening she needs to fill.

“It’ll help me when I’m preparing a new job description in order to see where I want the parameters that I want to set,” she said. The current description is 15 years old, and she hasn’t ruled out dividing responsibilities into more than one position. 

Her process also involves meeting with the city’s economic development partners – including the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Western Reserve Port Authority, Valley Partners, Economic Action Group and Environmental Design Group – to see how the city can strengthen its relationships with the entities. “I want to strengthen our partnership base so I know when I put someone in this position they have a full support system in the community,” she said.

Successful cities tend to have strong economic development teams, ones not just composed of in-house staff and employees but also ones that include and interact with local partners, Adamczak said.

The partnership with EAG is one example of how such relationships have benefited the city, she pointed out. She suggested the economic development director could act as a city manager/community development director, serving as a liaison between the city and its collaborative partners.

The city also could enter into professional service agreements with its partners for some of the economic development division’s responsibilities, she proposed. 

Posterli said she is eyeing the creation of an incentive structure that would provide bonuses for meeting job creation goals and other benchmarks. “I want to set some benchmarks and some goals for the position,” she said. 

Additionally, she is looking at what other communities are doing in terms of structuring the position and reached out to cities like Akron and Columbus as well as cities outside Ohio to see what their job descriptions look like.

“This is why I can’t rush it,” she remarked. She has been meeting with members of City Council over the past several weeks to gather input regarding what worked well in the economic development office and what changes need to be made, she said. 

So far, they appear to support changes she has is considering.

“Council is very aware that this division, this department is the face of the city,” she said.

She also is waiting until a new economic development director is hired to fill other openings in the department so that that individual is involved in building the team, something that Woodberry was working toward when she received the employment opportunity in Florida that she accepted.

Adamczak, who also said she has been researching what other communities have done with their development offices, said she agrees with Posterli’s deliberate approach, in part because anyone hired would fall under civil service protection.

“Not rushing it is good,” she said. “We’d be doing ourselves a disservice to fill the position for the sake of filling it.” She also said she has been researching what other communities have done with their development offices.

Though she hadn’t heard previously that Posterli was looking at incentives, it’s a concept she said she would support to provide the city with a competitive advantage” in seeking a new economic development director.

“A lot of times, the challenge we face is that they pay we give is not very competitive,” she said. A merit-based incentive would be a “win-win.”  

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.