Common Wealth Develops Business on Elm Street

By Jim Converse, sustainability Coordinator, Common Wealth Inc. 
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Since Common Wealth opened our offices in 1986 on Elm Street in Youngstown, we have built over 160 units of new housing using low income tax credit financing and managed county and city rehab programs in Campbell and Struthers that resulted in repairs and rehab to more than 300 units.  

More recently we have developed jobs through the establishment of the Common Wealth Kitchen Incubator, Cultivate Café and the Lake-to-River Food Co-op on Elm Street. 

In addition, we have revitalized six buildings, 12 apartments and seven shops. We are at full occupancy and plan to expand our live/work space in our walkable neighborhood. 

In 2019, our kitchen incubator added a loading dock and equipment needed by new food producers. With federal funding, Common Wealth provided a walk-in cooler and freezer, a new forklift truck and kitchen equipment to meet the higher volume of shipping as producers expanded production and shipping. 

Several startup food businesses – such as Kitchen ABZ and Yo-Fresh – graduated from the kitchen incubator last year and moved into their own locations. In 2019, 18 new businesses were started. 

Job coaching has been critical in helping startups make it into production. Technology associated with food production has mainly consisted of thermal processing, bottling, labeling and flash-freezing

Eight businesses on Elm Street launched or continued to grow last year. In addition to Cultivate Café and the Lake-to-River Food Co-op, they are Culture House Coffee Co., Elm Street Diner, Her Primitive Ways/Red Road Apothecary, Mel’s Habitat, Stitchwork by Janet Tartara, Once Upon a Time Art Studio and Rev’s Ribs. 

Streetscape improvements included new paint and siding on the Elm Street Diner, installation of two bus stops, a mural painted by students from Youngstown State University and an art installation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on the kitchen incubator building. 

We also partnered with The English Center in a program called Chats on Elm, which brings together immigrants and community volunteers to practice conversational English. 

Participation in the Walk Youngstown project added 60 wayfinding signs that encourage walking to points of interest. And our collaboration with the Healthy Community Partnership is helping forge a program to increase healthful food offerings through neighborhood stores. 

Common Wealth plans to construct four row houses with business/studio space on the first floors and residences above. Also planned is space for a nanobrewery where local brewers and community members can collaborate on craft brewing. 

Beyond 2020, Common Wealth plans to reuse seven large historic homes to create an Equavillage – an ecovillage with inclusive/equal, sustainable housing opportunities for our diverse neighborhood. 

Key challenges for 2020 include funding the expansion of the kitchen incubator and new live/work spaces that maintain affordable rates for users and rental of new space. Funding cutbacks at the federal level, in particular reducing SNAP (food stamp) funding, means some reduction in buying power in our neighborhood, which affects many low-income residents. 

Common Wealth operates with a core staff of five. Job creation happens through supporting startups and growing small food businesses, as well as affordable space for Elm Street retail businesses. 

The Elm Street businesses added two full-time employees and four part-time employees last year.  Further growth is anticipated as more customers discover our growing Elm Street community.

Community service activities include planning committee participation and installation of signage for Walk Youngstown, the Wick Park Easter Egg Hunt and Chats on Elm.  

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.