Local Chambers to Host Rising Rust Belt Summit

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As the leaders of three area chambers of commerce worked to become better acquainted with one another, they realized that their communities were, by and large, facing the same issues. That realization led to a regional conference this fall focusing on regional redevelopment. 

The inaugural Rising Rust Belt Regional Revitalization Economic Summit is planned for Oct. 6 and 7. Hosted by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce and Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce, it will be held at the Park Inn by Radisson in West Middlesex, Pa. 

The leaders of all three chambers – James Dignan, Youngstown/Warren’s president and CEO; Sherris Moreira, Shenango Valley’s executive director; and Alex McCoy, Lawrence County’s executive director – are all relatively new to their positions, with each having joined their chamber within the past three years.

“We ended up reaching out to each other more as a way of supporting each other in the newness of our roles,” Moreira said. They began meeting every couple of months and from those discussions discovered they had similar goals and viewpoints for the areas they represent.  

“It makes a lot of sense for us to work together,” McCoy said. As they discussed common challenges, they talked about doing a business expo or summit featuring speakers who would highlight best practices, share what was happening in their communities and educate people about what resources are available.

“We live in a global market and we have to look at things in a bigger way if we’re going to grow and change and evolve,” Moreira said.  

The fall event was inspired in part by a regional economic summit staged by the Dayton Business Journal, Dignan said. The three chamber leaders decided they should organize a similar event and Moreira “started running with it,” he said. 

“First and foremost, it’s coming together and building our sense of community,” he said. The intent is to stage the event annually.

The summit will be begin with a mixer the evening of Oct. 6, followed the next day by 18 sessions total: two plenary sessions and 16 breakout sessions. The four concurrent session tracks will cover economic development and entrepreneurship; community development and innovation; government development and education; and workforce development and retention.  

Lieutenant governors Jon Husted of Ohio and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania have been invited to address summit participants at the plenary sessions. The event also will feature areas for vendors and an entrepreneurial “Shark Tank”-style pitch session.  

“We’re still working on some of the nuts and bolts but it’s starting to come together,” Dignan said 

The purpose of the event is to both highlight local successes and bring in representatives of communities where things have been done differently “that might inspire new and innovative ways of thinking about some of the challenges that our communities have been facing,” McCoy said. “Communities that move forward accept responsibility for the way things are and the way things will be.” 

“There is still this mindset that we don’t have power, that we don’t have anything good going on here,” Moreira said. “We’re innovative. We’re creative. We’re survivors. This area has been through a lot and it’s still going and going strong.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.