Port Authority Rejects Chamber Takeover Bid

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber pitched a proposal to take over management of the Western Reserve Port Authority as the agency conducted its national search for an executive director.

The port authority board of directors discussed the chamber proposal but did not bring it to a formal vote. Had it been approved, the chamber would have become responsible for hiring an executive director and port authority  staff would have become employees of the chamber.

“It’s very clear that the chamber was looking to take over the port authority, which was not something that the board was inclined to consider,” said Ron Klingle, board chairman, when contacted Monday by The Business Journal.

“The port authority believes that we can operate very well together but as completely separate organizations,” he added.

The Western Reserve Port Authority was organized more than two decades ago to operate Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and is funded by a tax on hotel occupancy. For the first six months of this year, the port authority received $203,339 from Trumbull County and $461,771 from Mahoning County.

The agency operates as an independent unit of government, authorized by Ohio law, to “conduct the traditional water, air and other transportation activities, as well as own property and provide financing for local economic development initiatives,” its website states. Its economic development division provides business financing through bonds, loans, infrastructure, brownfield and workforce training programs.

On June 24, directors hired  John Moliterno as  executive director. Moliterno, who served as interim executive since September, was selected from  seven candidates the board interviewed. He is a past chairman of the WRPA board and was the chamber president and CEO from 1987 to 1997.

In a letter dated May 12 to the  port authority board, the chamber president and CEO, Thomas Humphries, requested the “opportunity to provide management and leadership oversight” to the port authority, serving as its executive director “on a contractual basis. …

“Not only does the chamber have the ability and experience in all of the qualifications you are seeking, but we may also quickly and efficiently implement necessary resources, providing you with major advantages,” Humphries wrote. Such an arrangement “exists in a number of organizations that the chamber manages,” including the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp.

According to the proposal, which included a PowerPoint presentation, the chamber would hire an executive director who would be an employee of the chamber but “report to and serve” the port authority  board. At one time the chamber did operate the port authority under  contract, the chamber noted. Its proposal did not suggest how much it should be paid for again providing management services.

The chamber would have divided the port authority into three sections: aviation operations, which would include “any air or land use” on the airport’s property; military relations, which would involve promoting Youngstown Air Reserve Station and efforts to maintain that base; and finance development, which would focus on economic development projects and financing opportunities.

The proposal touted the chamber’s relationships with government officials and business leaders, knowledge of the community and experience in economic development programs and services, as well as its ability to manage public relations and news conferences. The proposal cautioned that the amount of time to bring an executive director on board and to acclimate that individual would be “expensive” compared with the chamber’s proposal, as the chamber could “immediately progress” on the port authority’s goals.

With operational oversight removed, the port authority board “would be able to focus less on daily activities and more on long-range planning,” the chamber said.

The advantages of the proposal included the size of the chamber organization as its status as the “lead economic development organization of the Mahoning Valley,” Humphries said Monday.

The chamber is affiliated with JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development agency.

The chamber would have kept in place Dan Dickten, the port authority’s director of aviation, Humphries said, and would have moved Vito Abruzzino, who the chamber retained to spearhead the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission, into the military relations role.

Humphries said he received a call from the port authority the day Moliterno was hired notifying him that the board had considered the chamber’s proposal but “felt it was better if they go in the other direction” and took the action it did.

According to Klingle, the board’s discussions did not result in a formal motion to consider the chamber’s proposal.

“We appreciate the proposal but all in all it was a huge step,” Klingle said. “The new direction we’re going in, with everything that we’ve been involved with including the new director search and how we’re going to restructure economic development, we have confidence we’re going to do quite well moving forward.”

Once everything is in place, the port authority can work “very closely with” the chamber but as two distinct organizations, he added.

“I’m afraid if we were to go down this path, it was something that was so different than what the purpose of starting the port authority was in the first place,” he said. “It was never intended to be part or an arm of the chamber of commerce. It should operate independently but at the same time work together with the chamber.”

CLICK to read chamber proposal

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