DeWine Lauds Creation of Lake to River Development District

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The four member counties of the newly designated Lake to River economic development region and the state of Ohio as a whole will benefit from the district’s creation, Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday afternoon. 

DeWine touted those benefits and praised local leaders during an exclusive telephone interview while en route to Niles for the event announcing the creation of the new JobsOhio district, Lake to River Economic Development.

The new district will cover Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties, which previously were associated with the 18-county Team NEO region.

The communities are connected from Lake Erie in Ashtabula to the Ohio River in East Liverpool by state Route 11, noted a news release issued during the event.

“It is time that this region fully capitalized on the advantages that it has, based upon the Ohio River on one end of it and Lake Erie on the other,” DeWine said. “Those are strategic assets.”

The idea of establishing a separate economic development district centered on the Mahoning Valley, which local business leaders approached DeWine with some time ago, made a lot of sense, the governor said.

DeWine noted he visited the area numerous times over the past 40 years, starting when he would do events with former U.S. Rep. Lyle Williams and through his time as lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, attorney general and now governor. It became apparent that the area was “distinct,” he said. During those visits, he recognized that the area didn’t have much in common with communities like Cleveland, Akron and Canton, which also were part of the Team NEO district, because of factors such as its proximity to western Pennsylvania and the existence of its own television market. 

“The leadership in the community made it very clear that if we would allow this to happen, they thought they could really leverage their unique assets better and bring more companies here,” DeWine said.

“We looked at it, and it made sense,” he added. “We believe it’s going to work. We think it’s going to be beneficial for the four counties. It’s going to be beneficial for the state of Ohio.”

Creation of the development district is “a fantastic opportunity for the Lake to River counties to really get laser focused on economic development” and “the assets and challenges that are unique to our four counties,” said Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

As more resources come into the new JobsOhio partner, the chamber will be able to redirect and expand its focus to what Coviello called “transformational strategic level initiatives so that Lake to River can be more successful at creating jobs,” Coviello said. Specifically, that would mean taking advantage of unique regional assets such as the oil and natural gas of the Utica Shale and technologies such as additive manufacturing.

“Since 2020, we’ve seen an overwhelming amount of activity and economic development that has made it very difficult to keep up,” Coviello said. “When we created the system years ago, we never anticipated this level of activity, so bringing more resources to bear will help us be more successful.”

“It will also allow us to increase our efforts around growing the population so that there are more workers here to take the jobs that Lake to River creates and ramping up our public policy efforts to make sure that we get the state and federal resources necessary to be successful economically,” he continued. “That would include getting sites ready for commercial and industrial development.”

Additionally, the chamber would be free to form partnerships in western Pennsylvania, and it will focus more on “non-driver” industries than it had in the past.

Looking at it Geographically

DeWine also discussed how Ashtabula County, in particular, located at the northeastern corner of Ohio, would benefit from inclusion in the new district.

“If we look at it geographically, it logically belongs with these other three counties,” he said.

While Columbiana County shares the same media market and “thinks of itself as part of the Mahoning Valley,” people in Ashtabula County sometimes feel like it’s forgotten.

“I think this is going to alleviate that,” he said. “And by working with these other counties that are in close proximity to Ashtabula, I think it’s going to be very beneficial to Ashtabula. It’s going to make them stronger.”

The Lake to River district is being led by local businessman Chuck George, who is serving as chairman of its board of directors, and local businesswoman Alexa Sweeney Blackann, who will serve as interim CEO of the organization.

George is managing partner of Sapientia Ventures LLC, which owns The Business Journal.

“I’ve always been impressed by the leadership in the Mahoning Valley,” DeWine said. George has “really taken the ball” and ran with it on this plan, and praised local attorney Matt Blair, who serves on the affiliated Lake to River Foundation and contacted him early on.

Coviello praised George and Blair as “two business leaders that have done more for this community than anybody in this process.”

Though not as familiar with Blackann, DeWine said he has heard “very positive things” from many people in the Valley whom he respects.

“Alexa has been an incredible gem in this entire process. We were very fortunate that she was available at the right time to really lead us to this point,” Coviello said. “I don’t know how we could have gotten here without Alexa.”


The state issued the following news release Wednesday to announce the new district:

Governor DeWine, JobsOhio Announce Completion of JobsOhio Network with Addition of Lake to River Region

(YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and JobsOhio announced today the addition of a new JobsOhio network region, Lake to River Economic Development. The new four-county region includes Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning, and Trumbull counties in the far east corner of Ohio.

The region is connected from Lake Erie in Ashtabula to the Ohio River in East Liverpool by State Route 11, providing strong infrastructure capabilities.

“This region of Ohio is experiencing new growth and is ready for even more prosperity,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “Today we are pleased to celebrate this progress by completing the JobsOhio network with the addition of the Lake to River Economic Development region.”

Lake to River joins the six JobsOhio Network Partners, Dayton Development Coalition, Ohio Southeast Economic Development, One Columbus, REDI Cincinnati, Regional Growth Partnership, and Team NEO. The four-county region, anchored by Youngstown, was the only major-metro media market in the state without its own JobsOhio region. The addition of the Lake to River region completes the JobsOhio network.

“Today, we welcome the Lake to River team to join Team Ohio as our seventh and final JobsOhio network partner,” said President and CEO of JobsOhio, J.P. Nauseef. “Since 2011, JobsOhio and Team NEO have been building momentum for the region, which has led to more than $6 billion in capital investment; we are eager to get to work with our new partners to continue building a bright future for the valley.”

Lake to River is dedicated to transforming Eastern Ohio’s economic landscape by fostering growth, innovation, and community development. The four Ohio counties, plus Mercer County in Pennsylvania, form a separate Combined Statistical Area with a unique workforce commute pattern and logistics corridors.

A strong workforce development ecosystem exists to support growth in the region, including Youngstown State University, Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, and the more than 20 partners that came together in 2020 to execute JobsOhio’s Ohio To Work program and formed the Regional Workforce Coalition.

The Lake to River region is led by interim CEO Alexa Sweeney Blackann, who said, “We thank the Governor and JobsOhio for recognizing what’s been accomplished and for entrusting us with additional resources and accountability to continue our momentum.”

Local public and private stakeholders have committed to funding economic development and creating a shared vision focusing on the needs unique to the Valley.

“The opportunity to be part of the JobsOhio network is welcome news for our region,” said Lake to River Board President Chuck George. “We’re confident we have the team, the infrastructure, and the support from local business and community leaders to support Lake to River and take our regional economy to unprecedented success.”

The momentum built by JobsOhio and Team NEO has seen several successful projects, investments, and job creation opportunities come to the Valley in partnership with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. This includes 124 projects with more than 8,000 new jobs and newly created payroll of more than $364 million.

“The creation of the Lake to River region focused on Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, and Columbiana counties is a strategic move that will strengthen economic development across Ohio,” said Bill Koehler, CEO of Team NEO. “Through our partnerships cultivating growth in this area, the groundwork is laid for the new Lake to River partner’s success. We are proud of our role and will work closely with the new organization to ensure a smooth transition.

To learn more about Lake to River and economic development opportunities in Eastern Ohio, visit


Pictured at top: Gov. Mike DeWine speaks at the Eastwood Event Centre in Niles on Wednesday.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.