Economic Development Tops Moliterno’s Agenda

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Expanding the Western Reserve Port Authority’s economic development capacity is the top priority for John Moliterno, hired Wednesday as its executive director.

WRPA board members talked with Moliterno and the other remaining candidate for the position, Anthony Trevena, and deliberated in executive session for more than three hours Wednesday before voting to hire Moliterno. The former president of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber and Better Business Bureau has served as interim executive director since September. He was selected from among seven candidates interviewed for the post.

“We all agreed that John Moliterno, throughout the interview process, impressed us more than any of the candidates,” said David Mosure, chairman of the board’s strategic plan committee. The committee oversaw the search process because hiring a permanent executive director was among the elements of the strategic plan adopted earlier this year.

“I appreciate the confidence of the board,” Moliterno remarked.

Trevena, of Ormond Beach, Fla., was chief of staff to John Boccieri, a WRPA board member, when he served in Congress.

“We’ve been working for the past nine months to make this the best port authority it can be and to try to run a great airport and continue to bring jobs to the Valley,” Moliterno said. “We’re going to be able to do that in the future and I think we’re going to being a few more people into the mix to help us do a great job for the people of Trumbull and Mahoning counties.”

The port authority operates Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna Township and an economic development division established six years ago.

Five of the six port authority board members present at yesterday’s meeting voted to hire Moliterno. Board member David Detec, who has represented Moliterno, abstained from voting. Detec also did not participate in any of the interviews and recused himself from the interview with Moliterno due to the conflict of interest. He sat in on yesterday’s interview with Trevena for informational purposes, he said.

Boccieri and fellow board member Sam Covelli were absent from the special meeting.

“The board selected Moliterno based on his experience in the Mahoning Valley, Mosure said.

“John was one of the founders of the port authority itself and his knowledge of our local politics and how we get things done has been a really valuable asset to us as a board recently,” he said. “More people have called the port authority for projects and they trust us now. John brings integrity to the port authority that wasn’t there in the past.”

Moliterno was hired last year as interim executive director following several months characterized by infighting and ethical lapses involving board members. Over the past 18 months, the board has undergone a near-complete change in membership.

Moliterno’s salary and the length of his contract have not been established. “We talked on the periphery what the terms of the contract would be. The details have yet to be determined. But it will be an at-will contract,” Mosure said.

The potential restructuring of the port authority will involve additional staffing in the economic development division, one of the recommendations in the strategic plan adopted this year. The division now is staffed by Sarah Lown, senior manager for economic development, and an intern.

“We’ve told John that an immediate concern of ours is to begin to find the correct personnel for those jobs and we’re in the process of that,” Mosure said. He declined to say whether Trevena would fill a potential position.

“I have advocated from the first day that we need to add to that department. We have a couple of people in that department who have done a great job but they’re very much undermanned,” Moliterno said.

Moliterno’s door is “getting knocked down” with potential projects “and he can’t be everywhere. You need someone to assist that effort,” Mosure added.

Over the past 30 days Moliterno said he has had conversations with former Valley residents regarding “very exciting projects. They’re people who grew up here, moved elsewhere over the years and now are very interested in moving back.”

“We want to make it easy for them to come back. That’s our job,” Mosure said.

Lown, who was hired to assist the port authority’s former executive director, Rose Ann DeLeon, with grants, has “done an outstanding job” and has assisted Moliterno with his duties related to economic development, Mosure said.

“We see a tremendous opportunity across the port authority to assist our local communities on the grants’ side. We’d like to enhance that arm of the port authority. She simply hasn’t had time to do it in the past because she’s doing a lot of other things,” he remarked.

The intent is to refocus Lown on grants, Mosure said. “The consultants we hired to help us with our strategic plan say they’ve never seen a port authority that was so successful at getting grants. And that’s due to Sarah,” he remarked.

The port authority expects to bring on additional economic development staff within the next 60 days. Moliterno and Mosure would not specify how many individuals might be hired.

Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka applauded the port authority’s choice of Moliterno but was more reticent about adding to the economic development staff. “John will do a good job,” he remarked.

The county commissioner stressed the port authority has to work within a budget and collaborate with other economic development entities. “There needs to be a cohesive working relationship [with everyone] heading in the right direction,” he said.

Pictured: John Moliterno, newly hired executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority.

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