Economic Action Group Hears Outsiders’ Views

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For nearly a year, the Economic Action Group, stakeholders who live and work in the downtown, worked to write a plan that would further the revitalization of the central business district.

The stakeholders put forth ideas for infrastructure upgrades, highlighting where developments could take place and analyzed market demand as they came up with a vision and how to make it come true.

At the group’s monthly meeting Tuesday, a Pittsburgh nonprofit, New Sun Rising, brought its perspective on the plan to 40 members of the group.

The executive director of New Sun Rising, Scott Wolovich, said he is impressed by the progress made and drew parallels between what’s going on in Youngstown and Greater Pittsburgh.

“It was fun for us to look through it,” he began. “There are a lot of parallels that we found in our work and the trajectory the EAG has taken. It started from a community voice and leaders have come together, not only to talk about the vision, but also the action. It shows me that Youngstown and the leaders here are really about making things happen.”

In Pittsburgh and its suburbs, New Sun Rising has acted as a liaison between community projects in need of funding and nonprofit organizations that provide such funding.

One project Wolovich mentioned was the creation of the Millvale Community Library in 2013. Before that, the library nearest the borough, which had never had its own library in its 145-year history, was “15 miles and a few bus transfers away,” said Dan Stiker, New Sun Rising director of fiscal sponsorship.

“Through us, they started the project and it is now its own nonprofit,” he said, adding that the program he oversees is “focused on helping other social ventures get off the ground.

“It gives projects access to restricted funding without them being a nonprofit,” Wolovich explained. “We take the liability as far as taxes go, so it helps them focus on their project rather than worry about administrative overhead.”

New Sun Rising doesn’t impose any degree of control in the groups it benefits.

After the meeting, Wolovich noted that groups across the country similar to New Sun Rising and the Economic Action Group are constantly entering new territory.

“We’re all petri dishes that are testing things right now,” he said. “None of this is in a textbook anywhere, so the more we can exchange information and learn from each other, the better.”

Also at the meeting, Youngstown’s director of downtown events, Michael McGiffin, gave an update on Studio Graphique’s designs for new downtown signage and said the Cleveland design firm met with city officials a couple of weeks ago. It will have updated designs prepared by next month.

Closing out the meeting was Chris Faircloth, manager of lending for the Akron office of the Economic & Community Development Initiative. The organization, a Small Business Administration micro-lender, opened its office in Akron in November, Faircloth said, and has since awarded around $600,000, with another $500,000 in the pipeline.

Loans can range from $500 to $350,000, he added, but said the cap for startups – businesses less than two years old – is put around $75,000.

“We do look at business plans and credit scores, but our guidelines are just that – guidelines,” he said, noting the typical minimum credit score is 590. “If there’s something beyond control, like medical bills because your family got sick that have piled up that’s OK. It’s when you don’t pay your cable or phone bills that we have an issue.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.