Commentary: D.C. Fly-In Unites Development Efforts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Wednesday and Thursday, more than 50 Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber members, staff and elected officials descended upon the nation’s capitol to share the Mahoning Valley’s transformation agenda with representatives there. The group came together as one voice, one force, on a mission to grow our region’s economy.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the chamber’s second annual D.C. Fly-In and I found it to be yet another positive step in changing the narrative of the Mahoning Valley.

But while we accomplished what we set out to do, there is much more work ahead.

I was most impressed by the fact that every official we visited on the two-day trip  – from our congressional representatives to members of President Donald Trump’s policy teams – were well versed and ready to discuss the Mahoning Valley’s initiatives, roadblocks and economic development opportunities.

“It’s encouraging to see the leaders in this community pull together, travel to D.C. and communicate clearly and concisely the Mahoning Valley’s priorities as well as how the federal government can help us achieve our goals,” says Guy Coviello, president of the Chamber Foundation and former vice president of government affairs for the Regional Chamber. “It’s even more encouraging to see our federal officials, both in Congress and in the executive branch, immediately address our priorities. This type of relationship between Washington and the Mahoning Valley is government working well.”

The meetings were far from a pleasant exchange of talking points and photo ops. Our conversations dug into real and very specific policy initiatives that support the development of our Valley. Wednesday’s agenda focused on addressing the need for more planes at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, the development of Camp James A. Garfield in Ravenna and the proposed missile defense site, as well as projects along the Mahoning River.

We started with meetings in the Library of Congress at the Thomas Jefferson Building. Following lunch, the group had a series of information-packed discussions with our congressional representatives. The format of the talks were open and off the record. So while I can’t get into the details of the discussion, I can speak to the overall sentiment and outcomes.

The afternoon briefings with Ohio’s congressional delegation were kicked off by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13. As always,  he immediately connected with the room and dug straight into our biggest challenges and opportunities for the Mahoning Valley. He is so well tuned into our potential that it felt like he was simply one of us who happened to have the floor.

Since throwing his hat in the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination, Ryan has used the increased exposure to bring the Valley into national focus. As part of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, he’s worked to secure funding for four C-130J aircraft for the 910th Airlift Wing at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station as well as research and development into additive manufacturing, among other key projects in the Valley – initiatives that are included in the fiscal year 2020 appropriations spending package that passed the House on June 19.

Following Ryan was U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-16, whose district covers parts of Cleveland. Gonzalez is a boomerang back to northeastern Ohio. Following a career at Ohio State under Jim Tressel and time in the NFL, he earned his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and went on to work in the tech sector in the San Francisco area. His skills, experience and connections will serve us well as we look to develop our culture of entrepreneurship based upon innovation and technology.

Of course, we saluted him with an “OH, IO” chant as befits a standout receiver with The Ohio State Buckeyes.

Conversations with U.S. Rep. David Joyce, R-14, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, provided insight into their efforts to work across party lines to accomplish our goals and initiatives. Briefings from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and an inspirational talk by U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6, wrapped up the afternoon.

It’s no secret our current political climate is highly divisive. A report published last week by the Pew Research Center found a large majority of Americans say the tone and nature of our political discourse has been more negative, less respectful, less factual and less substantive than in recent years.

I was impressed to see our elected officials operating in tight alignment across party lines. They are willing and able to support one another to accomplish goals for the Valley.

The day continued with a reception in the hall of American Legion Kenneth Nash Post 8, where the House and Senate representatives joined us, along with several of their staffers, to mix and mingle in a more social setting. Many of the D.C. Fly-In contingent got to discuss specific roadblocks impeding their progress.

The evening concluded with a very nice reception at the private residence of Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Cafaro.

On Thursday, we visited the White House and received briefings from members of President Trump’s team advisers in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Tim Pataki, deputy assistant to the President and director of the Office of Public Liaison, Peter Navarro, director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and Robert Blair, assistant to the President and senior adviser to the chief of staff, met with the group. They listened to our concerns on several areas, including the proposed missile defense site at Camp Garfield, the region’s manufacturing industry, the future of the General Motors Lordstown Complex, YARS and international trade agreements.

The D.C. Fly-In was an incredible opportunity to build relationships with federal lawmakers and representatives, as well as with others in the business community. And it was made possible by some incredible area sponsors, including Humtown Products, Strangpresse, Seneca Resources Co. LLC and Dominion Energy. Jenny DiJames and Mike Beer from Alignment Government Strategies in Washington D.C. arranged all of the meetings.

Beyond the briefings, the relationships forged will be key to accomplishing our goals. Only by working together and keeping open the lines of communication can we achieve the ultimate goal, which is strengthening our five-county region for generations to come.

Pictured: About 50 area representatives traveled with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber as part of the D.C. Fly-In June 19 and 20 to advocate for local development projects and meet with government officials.

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