Commissioners Allocate $1M for Economic Development Initiative

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Mahoning County Board of Commissioners approved allocating $1 million to help promote economic development as part of a longer-term regional strategy that is being formed.  

The Valley Vision 2050 initiative resulted from an analysis of the local economy by Ernst & Young, a multinational professional services organization, on behalf of Mahoning Valley Partnership, a group of regional leaders that meets informally on a regular basis “to share information and discuss” the regional economy’s future.

The goal of the initiative is to position the community to thrive and still be thriving in 2050, said Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber.

By April, the intent is to form an expanded Mahoning Valley 2050 committee to oversee planning and expansion of the region’s economic development program, as an advisory group to the Regional Chamber, with a plan by next summer for the committee to launch the effort to create and implement a regional vision and strategy.

The partnership, also referred to as Team MVP, consists of representatives from Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Valley Partners, Western Reserve Port Authority, Youngstown Foundation and the Regional Chamber. Commissioners awarded the funds to the port authority, which it contracts with for economic development services, on behalf of the partners. 

“The Ernst & Young study was done because the Mahoning Valley economy is underperforming, and we wanted an expert to tell us why and also tell us how we can reverse that,” Coviello said. 

From August to December last year, representatives of the consulting firm collected input from a broad range of stakeholders involving eight focus groups, 38 interviews, approximately 80 participants and 60 organizations represented, and looked at peer communities.    

The report that resulted shows how the Valley can perform better and be more competitive in growing the economy, Coviello said. 

Among the report’s conclusions is the Valley invests far less in economic development than communities it competes with. Although the report acknowledged accounting for total economic development spending among organizations is difficult, the chamber’s total budget of $2.6 million is “illustrative,” ranking 18th out of 20 economic development organizations used for benchmarking in the study. 

“According to Ernst & Young, the community needs to invest somewhere between $1 million and $1.8 million a year, and the community is currently investing probably half a million or more a year,” Coviello said.  

“Another conclusion from the study is that we haven’t historically practiced economic development as a community. We’ve done it in organizational silos,” he added. 

Other themes emerging from the stakeholder engagement included agreement that a strategy and vision are needed to make the Valley more economically competitive, recognition that developing the Team MVP model into a regional visioning and strategy effort will require dedicated resources, and that the greatest perceived benefit of such an effort is the potential to develop “a powerful, unifying marketing campaign with a compelling brand to attract and retain people and companies.”

The county funding awarded Thursday will be used to support four outcomes in Mahoning County: stabilizing and expanding the capacity of new and existing businesses in Mahoning County; increasing public awareness of the arts and cultural industry’s economic development role in the county; increasing residents’ participation in workforce training, education and employment opportunities; and increasing subsidiarity of nonprofit organizations and businesses serving residents of the county.  

“We’re awaiting Trumbull County’s decision as to whether they want us to also provide these services to their constituents,” Coviello said. 

As opposed to creating a new, independent organization, the report recommends incubating the Mahoning Valley 2050 initiative as a stand-alone program within the Regional Chamber. Some existing economic development positions and chamber positions and departments could move under the MV 2050 umbrella. 

Proposed new or repurposed positions include a Mahoning Valley 2050 executive director, economic competitiveness and innovation director and quality of life and community vitality director and business attraction manager.    

The five Team MVP organizations have identified areas where they have expertise and can immediately begin to make a difference, but they also plan to invite other critical stakeholders “so that this becomes a responsibility and effort that rests with the entire community, not any single organization or not even our five organizations,” he said. 

The expanded committee also will help define achievement targets and metrics, he said.

Pictured at top: From left are Guy Coviello of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber; Sarah Lown of the Western Reserve Port Authority; Teresa Miller of Valley Partners; Commissioners David Ditzier, Anthony Traficanti and Carol Rimedio-Righetti; and Jim Kinnick of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.