Executives Stay Upbeat about Trumbull’s Business Climate

WARREN, Ohio — In no way is the upcoming layoff of 1,250 employees at the General Motors Lordstown Complex good news, but business leaders in Trumbull County remain optimistic about their county’s business climate as cooperation across industries becomes the norm and major projects get underway.

Last month, GM announced it would lay off workers at two plants – one being Lordstown, which builds the Chevrolet Cruze – because of the drop in demand for small cars.

GM and its supply chain account for much of Trumbull County’s $6.9 billion gross domestic product, reports Sarah Boyarko, Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber vice president for economic development. The county’s unemployment rate – 6% in October – will likely rise once the GM layoffs occur and seasonal work ends.

“Prior to the announcement at Lordstown, I would have said we’re steady-as-she-goes and seeing a lot of improvement,” says Mark Wenick, Mahoning Valley regional president for Chemical Bank. “You can’t underestimate the loss of those 1,250 jobs.”

That said, Wenick is quick to pivot to what he finds encouraging. Among the signs are Mark Marvin’s redeveloping several commercial and residential properties in downtown Warren and his interest in developing the Peninsula area at the edge of downtown. Another positive sign he cites is the Cafaro Co.’s continued development of its Eastwood Mall Complex. And he points to companies that Chemical works with that are expanding.

“They’re existing companies. They need capital and that’s exciting from our perspective,” Wenick says. “They’re not making headlines or they’re not out in the public talking about it, but they are private companies that are doing well in the county.”

Among the big projects started or announced this year are the Lordstown Energy Center in Lordstown, Flex-Strut Inc. in Warren and JA McMahon Inc. in Niles, Boyarko says. Announced projects will result in $916 million in investment and nearly 400 jobs created or retained at an average wage of $42,000, she notes. Pending projects over the next 24 months are projected to result in investment of $1.6 billion and more than 1,800 new and retained jobs that pay an average wage of $30,500.

Danielle Cantrell, vice president of retail, small- business banking and investment manager at Cortland Bank, says she sees Trumbull county’s business climate improving. “We’re seeing more companies borrowing to expand, to develop business, to take over family businesses and grow them in this market,” she says.

Based on her experience, Cantrell foresees one potential impact of the Lordstown announcement. In previous instances of companies downsizing, many of the employees laid off launched their own businesses, coming to Cortland Bank to help finance their startups, she says.

Ron Klingle, chairman of Avalon Holdings Corp., Howland, says he sees more potential in the county today than at any point in the 25 years he’s been in business here.

“We’re absolutely tickled pink with what we’ve achieved over the last year or two,” he says, noting revenues at Avalon’s hospitality properties have more than doubled.

Having completed the first two phases of the renovation of the Avalon Inn and Resort at a cost of more than $17 million, the company decided in late November to move forward with Phase III, which includes an outdoor pool and Roman bath. That phase is projected to cost $6 million and the goal is to have it completed by June.

“No one will be able to equal what we have within a thousand miles,” he says. “We’re very optimistic about the future from all aspects of our businesses.”

As chairman of the Western Reserve Port Authority, Klingle is also optimistic about what he sees on a broader level. “A lot of things are happening that I can’t talk about yet. But we definitely see the business climate improving,” he remarks.

With regard to GM Lordstown, Klingle notes the layoffs are the result of low gas prices, which reduces the demand for smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles. “I don’t think the price of gas is going to stay low,” he says. And as the price of oil rises, that could mean improved prospects for the Lordstown plant and for oil and gas production in the region, which has slowed over the past year or so. “Oil and gas is not over, not by a long shot,” he remarks.

Sam Covelli, CEO of Covelli Enterprises in Warren and chairman of the port authority economic development committee, sees the business climate in the county getting “healthier and healthier.” The company, which operates more than 300 Panera Bread, O’Charley’s and Dairy Queen restaurants, employs as many as 300 in Trumbull County at any given time.

All his operations are doing well, Covelli reports, including three restaurants clustered at the Eastwood Mall Complex. “It’s like everything. You’ve got to stay on top of our game,” he says. “Things change and you’ve got to be flexible.”

Covelli praises cooperation he sees across the community. “Economic development is becoming a priority,” he says. “Everybody is on the same page more than ever. It’s refreshing.”

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