Partners Celebrate Collaboration on $155 Million Grant Effort

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Glasses of champagne were raised Friday afternoon at America Makes as Emil Liszniansky, a principal with Envision, a Cleveland consulting firm, hit the button on a laptop computer, submitting an application for $155 million to support projects in a four-county region.

A regional partnership consisting of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Western Reserve Port Authority, Columbiana County Port Authority and Ashtabula Port Authority submitted the application to the Appalachian Community Grant Program. In June 2022, Ohio General Assembly and Gov. Mike DeWine allocated $500 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the grant program, which is open to Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties.

The partners are seeking $155.8 million to help fund 41 projects, numbers that Jim Kinnick, Eastgate’s executive director, acknowledged fluctuated until the last minute as projects were combined and, in one case, dropped.

“I challenge anybody to find better projects than ours,” Kinnick said.

Past regional collaborations such as the Operation Save Our Airbase Reservists to preserve Youngstown Air Reserve Station have centered on priorities that were “forced upon us,” said Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber. 

“We have a blank canvas in this case,” he said.

The partners set themselves apart from other applicants by bringing together public, private and philanthropic organizations on a single application rather than “sending dozens or hundreds of disjointed applications.,” Coviello said.

Kinnick recalled that when he worked for the Ohio Department of Transportation before joining Eastgate eight years ago, the “knock on the Valley” was that everyone operated in their individual silos. He encountered the situation firsthand when he joined Eastgate.

“I cannot believe the transformation we’ve taken as a region,” he said.

Program Criteria

To qualify for the grant program, projects must address at least one of three priorities identified in House Bill 377, the state legislation that established the grant program: infrastructure, workforce or health care, according to documents from the Ohio Department of Development, which oversees the Governor’s Office of Appalachia.

Additional criteria include having a transformational impact on communities, being responsive to issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and projects feasible for completion by October 2026.

Kinnick, who said a full list of the projects included in the application would be shared Monday, identified several of the projects and initiatives that made the cut, including revitalization initiatives for downtowns along the Mahoning River, workforce development and assisting two “mega sites” in Ashtabula County.

“It’s hard to balance what’s transformational to some communities with translational to the region. But I think we got a good mix,” Kinnick said.

State Rep. Nick Santucci of Howland, R-64th, reflected during the event that he was familiar with several of the projects included in the application from when he worked at the Regional Chamber.

“It’s amazing to see the full circle transformation and where we are, where we were when I was working on these projects and where we’ve now become,” he said. “I’m so proud of the collaboration and the potential of our region.”

Representatives of the organizations, as well as the entities for which the funds are being sought, attended the event.

State Rep. Lauren McNally of Youngstown, D-59th, was not there but sent a letter of support for the 18 projects in her district to John Carey, director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia.

“These are all projects that, if funded, are ready to hit the ground running and be completed by the 2026 deadline imposed by the grant program,” McNally said in announcing her support. “I’ve had lots of meetings with community leaders and developers working on these projects and am assisting in connecting them to additional state resources where it makes sense and advocating on their behalf at the state level.”

The Projects

One of the projects the chamber is seeking funds for – $400,000 – is building out space in Mahoning and Trumbull counties to house people who will be hired to assist with workforce development in the two counties as part of a broader effort that also will include Ashtabula and Columbiana counties. Additional funds are being sought for a workforce welcome center to assist people, including immigrants, coming to the area. 

The application also includes funding for the Mahoning Valley’s two main business incubators, Youngstown Business Incubator in Youngstown and Brite Energy Innovators in Warren.

YBI is seeking $10 million to renovate space to accommodate additive manufacturing companies.

“We’re working with the local community, including America Makes, to get additional space for advanced manufacturing and additive manufacturing companies,” said Barb Ewing, CEO of the YBI. “We’ve got a couple companies that are ready to graduate into larger space, and we need space to be able to attract new companies.”

Brite is seeking nearly $6 million to renovate its downtown facility to maximize the usefulness of the space, said Rick Stockburger, Brite president and CEO.

“One of the things that we found during the pandemic was that having all Ultium Cells employees in our building utilizing that for workforce development was a big opportunity for drawing companies to the Mahoning Valley, as well as being able to use our facility to train them and bring them to downtown Warren so they can utilize downtown restaurants and all that good stuff,” he said.

In Ashtabula County, Improvements at a site in Conneaut, would open 500 acres for commercial development, said Greg Myers, executive director of the Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County. The second project, in the city of Ashtabula, is for a 400-acre former industrial site within an 1,100-acre site that would be suitable for attracting opportunities in the battery supply chain, chemicals, energy, automotive, metals or manufacturing, he said. 

“It’s going to put the region in a much more competitive position to attract some of that big investment that we’re seeing interest in Ohio,” Myers said.

Another initiatives would expand available space at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport to build out an ecosystem focused on aviation, said Anthony Trevena, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority.

Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics has operated a campus at the airport for several years, and the port authority, in partnership with Eastern Gateway Community College and Kent State University, is in the process of launching a flight school. Another four tenants also are interested.

The port authority is seeking funds for the former Family Home Medical building on Belmont Avenue, which it acquired from Steward Health Care. Although other potential uses for the property have been considered, WRPA is looking at developing it to provide services to veterans in partnership with Mahoning County.  

Also Seeking Funds

In Lowellville, Mayor James Iudiciani is requesting funds for the completion of the Stavich Bike Trail and for Riverfront Park improvements, including installation of a walk and bike path and a playground area. 

Both the Mahoning Valley Historical Society and Trumbull County Historical Society are seeking funds to assist with two recently acquired buildings.

MVHS has applied for $2.9 million to cover “a great deal of the exterior upgrade” needed for the former IBM Building on East Federal Street, which the historical society acquired last month, said Bill Lawson, executive director. The society also plans to open a new exhibit space on the ground floor.

“The building is 43 years old. It’s been very well maintained, but a lot of the materials are still aging,” he said.  

The Trumbull County Historical Society is seeking $4 million for restoration of the Main Avenue building in Warren where it plans to open a science fiction and fantasy museum, executive director Meghan Reed said. If the funds are awarded, the goal would be to have the project under contract in 2024 and have the new museum open to the public in 2026.  

“It will be a huge piece of the Phase 1 that we need to get that project done,” she said.

‘Celebration of Collaboration’

The local partners worked with their consultants for about a year to determine what proposals would be included in the application. Any that had right-of-way or environmental concerns that could affect the ability to meet the October 2026 deadline were left off, Kinnick said.

“We didn’t want to send down to Columbus anything that couldn’t fly,” he said.

Kinnick and Coviello lauded the community effort that resulted in the application.

“This is really a celebration of collaboration – communities coming together working for a common goal or priority,” Kinnick said.

“It is out of the ordinary to have a major event for a grant that’s only just now being applied,” he said. “We are not celebrating the grant application. We are celebrating the fact that this community came together, identified our top priorities and reached a consensus around how we tackle them.”

Pictured at top: State Rep. Nick Santucci, Guy Coviello, Emil Liszniansky and Jim Kinnick.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.