Commentary: Business Imitating Valley Company Should Repay Loan

By Guy Coviello

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the U.S. government provided a six-figure Paycheck Protection Program loan to a company in the United Arab Emirates, even though the company has no operations in Ohio.

I guess none of us should be surprised that the U.S. government then forgave the loan.

PPP loans were critical lifelines for companies that lost revenue during the Covid pandemic. Scores of Mahoning Valley companies are still in business today because of the loans and the subsequent forgiveness for which many qualified.

Unsurprisingly, in the rush to save Covid-ravished companies, our government was duped into billions of dollars in fraud. But the apparently inappropriate loan and forgiveness granted to RAK Ceramics, the UAE company I referenced above, is particularly upsetting because the company has since attacked one of our own.

Steelite International is a company founded in the mid-1800s that makes dinnerware, flatware and other food industry products such as serving carts for customers around the world. Some of its customers are the finest hotels, restaurants, cruise lines and high-end stores on the planet.

In 2016, Steelite opened a showroom in downtown Youngstown. The showroom attracts national and international visitors daily, including famous chefs and hoteliers. They often stay here for many days.

For that reason, Steelite’s customers are one of the largest users of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, since many of them fly private. Their customers are one of the largest users of our best hotels, including downtown Youngstown’s only hotel, and their customers are one of the largest users of many fine dining establishments throughout the Valley.

This year, Steelite became the first company in nearly 70 years to move its global headquarters to Youngstown. The company now employs 120 people, including high-salaried, top executives like John Miles, president and CEO, in a downtown building that it spent millions of dollars revitalizing.

RAK Ceramics is a competitor. Shortly after having its questionable PPP loan forgiven, RAK, knowing all about Steelite’s connections to the Mahoning Valley, launched a knockoff product line called Youngstown. RAK’s Youngstown line is made to look like the real Steelite product.

RAK took our hard-earned, taxpayer dollars and then attacked our taxpaying corporate neighbor. Steelite, by the way, did not accept a PPP loan.

It’s time for our elected federal delegation to launch an investigation. I call on U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and JD Vance, as well as U.S. Reps. Bill Johnson and Dave Joyce, to find the means to recall RAK’s American taxpayer-funded loan and abolish its Youngstown line of Steelite knockoffs.

It’s time for our elected state delegation to launch an investigation. Whether through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office or some other means, I call on state Sens. Mike Rulli and Sandra O’Brien, as well as state Reps. Lauren McNalley, Al Cutrona, Mike Loychik and Nick Santucci to compel the appropriate state agency to take actions in parallel with the feds.

It wouldn’t hurt to contact RAK’s chairman himself. Anyone can drop a line to:

Sheikh Saqr bin Saud Al Qasimi
Chairman, RAK Ceramics
Al Jazeera Al Hamra
Ras Al Khaimah P.O. Box 4714
United Arab Emirates.

The sheikh might be surprised at how the Valley rallies to the aid of one of its own.

Guy Coviello is president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.