Port Authority Contributes $100K to Lake to River

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Western Reserve Port Authority’s board of directors approved a $100,000 contribution to Lake to River Economic Development, the newly established JobsOhio district that will focus on economic development in Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties.

The vote and a ceremonial check presentation followed brief remarks by Lake to River officials at the WRPA board’s monthly meeting, held Wednesday morning at the port authority’s downtown offices.

The four counties operate differently than the other 14 counties in the Team NEO district, which they were affiliated with before Lake to River’s creation, said Alexa Sweeney Blackann, Lake to River’s interim CEO.

“We have our own media market. We have a relationship with Pennsylvania across the border,” she said. “It really made more sense for us to operate on our own.”

Blackann – who was joined at the meeting by Lake to River’s vice president of economic development, Sarah Boyarko, and vice president of engagement and investor relations, Mike McGiffin – outlined the the core competencies the new JobsOhio vendor, as she described it, will be responsible for in the market. Some of those, such as business retention and expansion project management, will migrate from the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

“The chamber will get out of the business of project management altogether,” she said. Also, workforce development and talent attraction “will be a huge focus as we move forward,” she continued. 

Alexa Sweeney Blackann, interim CEO of Lake to River Economic Development, speaks during Wednesday’s meeting.

Lake to River will benefit from being able to have “direct access and daily engagement with JobsOhio,” Boyarko said.

“We have pretty good engagement [as part of Team NEO] but might have had to go through a couple of steps to get to those folks previously,” she added. “The direct connection and the ongoing engagement is going to be key to our community succeeding.”

The port authority’s early financial support is “a big deal” because it will help Lake to River evangelize and “be in other rooms” to seek other investments, McGiffin emphasized.

When Gov. Mike DeWine allowed the four counties to branch off from Team NEO and form their own economic development district – “at the request of many of the people in this room,” McGiffin noted – the governor was offering something that local leaders had been requesting, “the right to take care of itself” in terms of growth and expansion within the local business ecosystem.

“This is a must-not-fail situation,” he said. “We’ve got a two-year runway, and we’ve got to make serious success.”

Primary Airport

Also during the meeting, WRPA staff reported on the ongoing efforts to designate Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport as a primary airport, which would increase its annual federal airport improvement funding allocation from $150,000 to $1 million, said Anthony Trevena, the port authority’s executive director. 

An amendment to award the airport primary airport status is included in the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 2024, which the U.S. Senate passed last week and hopefully will be signed into law this week, he said. 

“That was literally an act of Congress that is changing the way we’re considered,” Trevena said.

Pictured at top: From left are Sarah Boyarko, Mike McGiffin, Dave Detec, Marty Loney, Ed Muransky, Sam Covelli, Kathleen Kennedy, Alexa Sweeney Blackann, Sterling Williams and Rich Edwards.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.