Economic Development

Fly-In Group Advocates for Valley at White House

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — After a set of morning meetings at the White House, members of a business delegation to Washington, D.C. say they have made valuable connections and came away with next steps in support of local initiatives.

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber organized the trip, in which about 50 business and community leaders and chamber staff traveled to the nation’s capital. The group headed back to the Mahoning Valley Thursday afternoon.

Based on the feedback from fly-in participants and the federal officials they met with, “I don’t think there’s any doubt that we will make this an annual trip,” said Guy Coviello, the Regional Chamber’s vice president for government affairs.

The chamber-led delegation headed to Washington primarily to advocate on behalf of Youngstown Air Reserve Station, support for cleaning up the Mahoning River, a major downtown Youngstown infrastructure project and a potential $4.5 billion missile defense project at Camp Ravenna.

“Those of us who were on the trip will have to do some follow-up contact, just to make sure that our priorities remain on everybody’s radar,” Coviello said. “Some of that follow-up might mean one or a small group of us might need to return to D.C. to keep the federal officials focused.”

Wednesday’s schedule largely consisted of meetings with members of Congress and a session with Air Force Undersecretary Matthew P. Donovan. Participants in Thursday’s White House gathering met with the deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, and Douglas Hoelscher, special assistant to President Donald Trump and deputy director of intergovernmental affairs.

Wheeler, a former adviser to the late U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, understands Ohio’s cities, said John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority. “That could be a real positive for us,” he added.

Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, spoke with Wheeler for about 10 minutes to explain what local leaders were trying to accomplish with the Mahoning River. The EPA deputy administrator was familiar with the river and “offered a couple of people to reach out to” regarding the project, he reported.

“The opportunity to get in front of officials at his level and them hear what we’re trying to do in the Mahoning Valley is certainly a help,” Kinnick said.

Kinnick was able to spend time with Hoelscher to discuss the application Eastgate is preparing to submit to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – or BUILD – Discretionary Grants program for the proposed SMAR2T – Strategic Medical, Academic, Residential, Recreational and Technology – corridor project.

Hoelscher offered to talk to DOT representatives on the local applicants’ behalf but cautioned that only one in every 10 BUILD applications is likely to be funded, Kinnick said.

Thursday’s meetings provided “a good opportunity” for Kinnick and Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown to articulate the opportunities for the Mahoning River and the BUILD application, Coviello said. The two local officials “did a standup job” stating their case and had a good meeting with the EPA and White House officials.

“We are set to have a follow-up with the EPA regarding the river and the White House team member took the SMAR2T corridor handout with him, so I thought we made a lot of progress,” he said.

Presenters for the delegation did a good job speaking on topic, Moliterno said. “They all spoke very appropriately, asking the right questions at the right time,” he said.

Others on the trip also felt it was a positive experience. Brown said he found the discussions t“very productive.” Washington officials were “very receptive” to local concerns and he made several contacts who can be helpful on the issues the delegates championed on the trip.

Dr. Lance Grahn, dean of the Kent State University at Trumbull campus, said the fly-in was “an important use of our time and energy and, yes, money.” Securing support for the Camp Ravenna missile defense site, YARS and Mahoning River restoration efforts are “significant steps” in the Valley’s ongoing recovery.

Mark Lamoncha, president and CEO of Humtown Products, said that on a scale of 1 to 10, the trip rated as a 12. Humtown was one of the sponsors for the trip.

“I felt like we were doing business more than we were doing government,” Lamoncha said.

He was impressed, he said, with what he characterized as the “servant leadership” they encountered. “I don’t know that it’s always been that way. It was refreshing.”

“They were very willing to listen and they listened to understand. They were very receptive,” said Michael Schrock, Mahoning Valley regional president for Chemical Bank.

Participating in the fly-in “was important for anybody who has a vested interest in the development of the Valley to attend if they were able,” Schrock said. He praised the regional representation from business and political leaders.

Throughout the trip, officials the delegation encountered were “very receptive,” said Kinnick, adding how important it is for people from areas like the Mahoning Valley “to come to Washington to voice their needs and voice their opportunities.”

Added Schrock, it became evident that Valley leaders “need to continue to have a connection with our public officials here in D.C. If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. So we need to be in sight so we’re in mind.”

U.S. Reps. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, and Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, praised the local effort.

“The fly-in was a great example of elected officials and business leaders coming together and putting politics aside to advance important issues that impact the economic development and quality of life for the hardworking people we serve in the Mahoning Valley,” Johnson said.

“A new missile defense site is more important than ever, and Camp Ravenna’s location and existing infrastructure make it an ideal location,” he added. “We’ve made our case to the Department of Defense – an excellent case I think – and I’m hopeful we’ll be receiving great news soon.”

Ryan said he and the chamber delegation had several “robust meetings” during the trip. “I look forward to continuing to work closely with them to build on our successes and transform the Mahoning Valley into a better and more prosperous community for each and every one of us.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.