Economic Development

Kent State Considers Airport for Drone Program

WARREN, Ohio – The Western Reserve Port Authority is talking with Kent State University about using space at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport for a training program.

Maureen McFarland, director of Kent State’s aviation program, is expected to visit the Vienna Township airport in July to “have a conversation about utilization of our airport,” John Moliterno, WRPA executive director, told board members Wednesday.

“We’re happy to entertain them and have them come here and talk about how we can partner potentially with Kent State,” he said at a meeting of the port authority’s aviation and economic development committees.

The airport’s assets would likely be used for a drone program for Kent State University at Trumbull, said Lance Grahn, dean and chief administrative officer of the campus.

“This is at present an exploratory process,” Grahn said during a phone interview following the meeting. The discussions are part of an effort to look at how the university campus in Champion Township can more effectively serve the Mahoning Valley.

Discussions with KSU have been going on for a couple of years, Moliterno said. Among the airport’s assets that it could offer the aviation program are a Federal Aviation Administration control tower, longer runway and National Weather Service Station.

“We’ll certainly put this on the table as a way in which to bring the world-class aviation program from Kent State to Kent State Trumbull,” Grahn said. He also was pleased to learn that there might be a building available at the airport the would be “a perfect place for a drone technology or drone maintenance program,” he said.

Grahn envisions connections with the Youngstown Air Reserve Station and the 910th Airlift Wing, which shares facilities with the airport, as well as America Makes, the Youngstown Business Incubator and the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics and its aviation maintenance program.

During the economic development committee meeting, board members received an update on the port authority’s joint project with Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. and other projects.

YNDC and the port authority are developing the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley’s former distribution center on Glenwood Avenue in Youngstown to house several small businesses.

“There’s definitely some prospective tenants very interested in that building,” said Anthony Trevena, WRPA’s director of economic development and head of its Northeast Ohio Development and Finance Authority. “We probably can have two-thirds of the building filled pretty fast.”

The port authority borrowed $125,000 to purchase the building and closed on it May 22, Trevena said. YNDC personnel “went in that day” and began cleaning the building and property, he said.

The project is “definitely moving a lot faster than I thought it would,” Trevena said.

This week the city of Youngstown and YNDC received a $150,000 CommunityWINS grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation to support renovating the building. I

“Our goal is to have tenants sometime this fall,” said Ian Beniston, YNDC’s executive director.

Interior renovations will depend in part of what tenants are taking the space, Beniston said, while outside work will include redoing the parking lot.

A separate $25,000 grant will be used to provide training for entrepreneurs, Trevena said. YNDC will eventually purchase the building.

At Trevena’s request, the economic development committee recommended increasing to $900,000 the amount the port authority is authorized to borrow for purchase and renovation of the Harshman Building downtown. The increase, up from $675,000, is to cover the cost of renovations for anchor tenant Eastern Gateway Community College and the remaining space for another tenant, which the port authority has not identified.

WRPA’s public finance manager, Sarah Lown, also reported on discussions with the city of Struthers on a potential Tax Increment Financing agreement.

Under the agreement, the WRPA-managed Castlo Industrial Park and the city would split the new property tax revenue generated by Aqua Ohio’s Mahoning Valley operations center, which opened last year.

The city and the industrial park would use the approximately $300,000 in new tax revenue to leverage for additional funds for infrastructure improvements in downtown Struthers, Lown said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.