Dignan Urges Support for TJX as Chamber Marks 25 Years

BOARDMAN, Ohio – James Dignan urged people throughout the Mahoning and Shenango valleys Thursday to show their support for TJX Companies Inc. building a $165 million distribution center for its HomeGoods division in Lordstown – and to counter criticisms voiced by “disgruntled naysayers” earlier this week.

Once completed, it is expected to create about 1,000 jobs with an annual payroll of nearly $30 million, said chamber President and CEO Dignan, addressing the annual meeting of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber for the first time as its leader.

The chamber held the annual meeting at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center, where it also marked the 25th anniversary of its formation from the merger of the chambers of commerce in Youngstown, Warren and Niles in 1993, and presented awards to four individuals and organizations.

The chamber’s economic development division has worked with TJX for two years on the proposed distribution center on Ellsworth-Bailey Road in Lordstown.

“This is not a small deal. This is an opportunity for us,” he said.

Dignan called for community support for that project, as well as selection of the Camp Ravenna site for a missile defense base. At a meeting Monday night, several Lordstown residents raised objections to the project over its proximity to their houses.

tjx project youngstown/warren regional chamber

“This is a business that wants to be a good neighbor,” Dignan said. WATCH VIDEO

At yesterday’s lunch, Dignan called for people in the community to write letters of support to TJX and the village, as well as “just responding to some of the quotes you see” in media coverage. Those letters of will be forwarded to TJX to show that the community is committed to and supportive of the project.

“We ask that you help us support those that live in Lordstown, and those that live in the Mahoning Valley that might want access to 1,000 jobs,” he said.

Similarly, Dignan urged community support for the Camp Ravenna missile defense project, which he said would represent a $5 billion investment. The military training center, which straddles Trumbull and Portage counties, is among a handful of locations being considered for the project, which would create more than 1,000 construction jobs and, once completed, some 800 full-time positions for rocket scientists and engineers, he said.

“Would that be something we could use in our backyard?” he asked.

The Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission, which the chamber formed three years ago to support military assets in the region, is making sure that the Mahoning Valley is “in the discussion” “and bring given its due consideration,” he said.

Neither project is part of the $2 billion in economic development projects that chamber officials yesterday reported were pending for the Valley.

During his remarks, Dignan also challenged assertions that issues such as addressing blight or cleaning the Mahoning River don’t represent economic development.

“It isn’t the core economic development that we’ve classically known, but it’s key to what we do,” he countered. “Community development and business development are inextricably linked to economic development,” he said.

“We can’t get there from here if we don’t look at it from a holistic approach and bring them all together,” Dignan continued.

The annual meeting featured the presentation of the William G. Lyden Spirit of the Valley Award, Donald Cagigas Spirit of the Chamber award and Chairman’s Political Achievement Award.

The Spirit of the Valley Award was presented, for the first time, to two organizations doing similar work in Youngstown and Warren: Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. and Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership. Both organizations address blight in their cities by rehabilitating and selling residential properties that can be saved, tearing down ones that can’t, running cleanup efforts, promoting healthy food and launching community improvement projects.

“Our work in community development here is economic development,” said Ian Beniston, YNDC’s executive director. “It has great potential not only for the cities of Youngstown and Warren but for our region to revitalize, make the whole region a place that’s attractive to all people and hopefully catalyze much broader economic development change in the future.”

TNP and YNDC are “strategic partners, two very successful organizations doing work 12 miles apart, sometimes the longest 12 miles in America,” said Matt Martin, TNP’s executive director. “We’re not just two organizations sort of randomly doing similar things in different cities that [the Raymond John Wean Foundation] just happens to like. This is really part of an ongoing strategic partnership.”

“The spirit of the Valley is collaboration,” he added. “All of us know that our communities face a lot of challenges, and we will face those challenges together.”

Gary Soukenik, president and CEO of 7 17 Credit Union, received the Spirit of the Chamber Award in recognition of his longtime work as the chairman of the chamber’s Government Affairs Council.

“By helping businesses grow, we create stronger communities, and I think that’s an issue that we all share, and as business leaders of the business community here we must work together to accomplish that mission,” Soukenik said.

The Valley has transitioned from its reliance on traditional manufacturing to position itself as a leader in additive manufacturing, as well as other success stories, he said. It also needs to promote ideas and projects that present opportunities for future growth, and to build a “positive legislative and regulatory environment” to improve local communities.

“Our present doesn’t look like our past,” he continued. “Undeniably there are some challenges that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not positioned for a great future.”

The Chairman’s Award was presented to Craig Butler, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, for his work on a waterline that will provide service to Braceville, Southington and West Farmington in the western portion of Trumbull County as well as his efforts around the state.

Accepting the award for Butler, who was unable to attend because of illness, was Kurt Princic, Ohio EPA Northeast District office chief, who said the new regional waterline “will provide a reliable water source to numerous customers along the route,” which will run from Newton Falls to West Farmington.

“Having a reliable, clean drinking water source will help pave the way for future development in these areas,” he said. “As we all know, a community’s development goals can be significantly handcuffed without reliable infrastructure like sewer and water.”

Princic also outlined progress made in the Mahoning River. In 1994, a water quality study found 24 of 29 sections received a failing grade. Nineteen years later, only two of 25 sections failed.

“That is just a remarkable recovery for the Mahoning River in just two decades,” he said. “There is new community ownership and pride in the Mahoning River. … It is now viewed as an asset to the community rather than a liability.”

The chamber also showed a brief video showcasing some of the highlights of the past 25 years. Those included support campaigns such as the Bring It Home campaign for the General Motors Lordstown Complex, Operation Save Our Airbase Reservists, and its efforts to help bring Vallouec Star’s $1 billion-plus mill to Youngstown.

Pictured: PNC Regional President Ted Schmidt, 7 17 Credit Union President and Cagigas Spirit of the Chamber Award winner Gary Soukenik, and Donald Cagigas.

VIDEO: ‘3 Minutes With’ at Regional Chamber’s Annual Meeting

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