Leaders Tout Successes, ‘Lay Out the Roadmap’ at Eastgate Meeting

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The new Lake to River Economic Development district will work to emphasize why the region is the best place to do business, its interim CEO said at the annual meeting of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

“We now have a direct partnership to advocate for our businesses, communities, our four counties, at the table with JobsOhio,” Alexa Sweeney Blackann said.

Lake to River is a new JobsOhio district that covers Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Blackann was a panelist during the Wednesday morning meeting at Stambaugh Auditorium.

Lynette Forde, president of The Youngstown Foundation, and Guy Coviello, CEO and president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, joined Blackann for a panel discussion about regional development.

Local leaders gathered at the meeting to review Eastgate’s successes “and lay out the roadmap for where we want to go next year and beyond,” said Jim Kinnick, Eastgate executive director.

The meeting allows the agency to talk about the good things going on and “how we’re winning as a region,” he said.

Erica Spaid-Patras, research director at the Greater Ohio Policy Center, provided an update of a regional housing study commissioned by Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

The meeting also included a presentation from Erica Spaid-Patras, research director at the Greater Ohio Policy Center, which is developing a housing strategy for Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

The study, contracted by Eastgate, will make data-driven recommendations to address housing needs in the two counties. It’s expected to be completed later this year.

One of the findings so far is that 20% of Valley homeowners and 42% of renters are housing-cost burdened. That means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs like rent, mortgage and utilities.

Attendees at the meeting, which numbered close to 300, also heard a presentation from John Elliott, chairman and CEO of Strategic Rail Capital, which did a logistical analysis of the region and found it is “better situated for industrial development and sees little distribution center demand.”

Elliott said the Lake to River region had strong industrial site demand but few large, ready sites. “The demand exceeds your supply,” he said.

During the panel discussion on regional development, Coviello said the creation of the Lake to River district will enable the Regional Chamber, along with Eastgate, to focus more on repopulation.

“Creating jobs is a very good thing, as long as there are people to fill the jobs,” Coviello said. 

Attendees listen as Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, speaks at Wednesday’s meeting.

The repopulation effort targets what those officials call the three Rs: retaining young people, returning people who have moved away and receiving newcomers.

The chamber is also looking at the housing shortage and emphasizing the quality of life in the region.

Forde said Valley Vision 2050, of which The Youngstown Foundation is a part – along with Eastgate, the Regional Chamber, the Western Reserve Part Authority and Valley Partners – is also part of the initiative.

She said the initiative came together over lunch when representatives of the entities were discussing some of the good things that came out of the pandemic, including additional community investment and people working together.

The were sitting in a room and decided: “Why don’t we all fund a study to look at all these opportunities – and how the community could come together across the region to fix some of the symptoms, and working together in a way that brings benefits to us for investing in workforce, being a place for businesses and corporations to come together, looking at entrepreneurship and providing the technical assistance that they would need?” Forde said.

That includes working with cultural institutions and the arts, she said.

Commissioners from Mahoning and Trumbull counties have contributed a combined $2 million to Valley Vision.

Part of the repopulation effort includes promoting the benefits of living in the Valley.

“When we talk to employers like FoxConn and Ultium [Cells], we’re getting comments about quality of life,” Coviello said.

In a call about two years ago with FoxConn, company officials said they approached software developers in Silicon Valley, asking what it would take to get them to relocate to the Valley, he said.

“What FoxConn told us is that you don’t have the quality of life that’s going to be successful for them,” Coviello said. 

Pictured at top: From left are Alexa Sweeney Blackann, interim CEO of Lake to River Economic Development; Guy Coviello, CEO and president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber; and Lynnette Forde, president of The Youngstown Foundation.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.