Team NEO Reports $1.26B in Projects for 1st Half of 2021

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Efforts by Team NEO and its partners during the first six months of 2021 contributed to projects – including three in Mahoning and Trumbull counties – that will generate $1.26 billion in capital investment, $332.9 million in annual payroll and 5,117 new jobs, the organization said in a report released today.

Team NEO, a private, nonprofit economic development organization that promotes business growth and job creation in the 18-county northeastern Ohio region, outlined its efforts during the first half of the year and offered insights on what is to come in its Momentum Endures report.

The report provides examples that demonstrate Team NEO’s accomplishments and their impact, said Bill Koehler, CEO.

“Overall, we are very encouraged by the opportunity we have in northeastern Ohio to continue to build on our strong foundation as a place where products are made, things are made and services are provided at a very high level,” he said.

The list of projects announced during the first half of 2021 include Macy’s Corporate Services’ $29.9 million fulfillment center in North Jackson, Thomas Steel Strip’s $8.5 million investment in its Warren plant to position it for the rechargeable battery market, and Valley Food Inc.’s $4.4 expansion in Youngstown.

“I’m very pleased with the first half of the year. I think our entire staff is,” said Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, a Team NEO partner in the Mahoning Valley.

The results are “probably close to our best six-month performance ever,” he pointed out. Team NEO had “a great year last year,” but the report shows that the momentum was sustained through the first half of 2021.

Coviello cited a report from Ohio’s Office of Workforce Development that projects the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman metropolitan statistical area will show the most job growth among northeastern Ohio MSAs from April though October. The report indicates job growth of 3.22% in the local MSA, compared with 2.41% in the Akron MSA, 2.37% for Canton-Massillon and -2.32% in Cleveland-Elyria.

The report suggests that the strategies Team NEO has put in place are taking hold, Koehler said. This is indicated by the project-related outcomes, the increased number of available sites in its portfolio and its progress in deepening that portfolio, as well as the work being done around the talent gap issue and to address the barriers that people of diverse backgrounds often face, he said.

Upcoming area opportunities are related to distribution and logistics, Koehler said. Particularly as “the Amazon economy” grows, the region’s logistical advantages, including ready access to nearly 60% of the U.S. population within a day’s drive, will be important. Other opportunities include the food industry and advanced manufacturing.

Also, should a proposed ethane cracker in Belmont County be built, “Ready access to natural gas-related products ultimately will turn into all kinds of different chemical and plastics products,” he said. “That’s going to be a huge advantage.”

Coviello affirms the chamber is projecting the greatest job increases in logistics, distribution and warehousing. “We are optimistic there will be supply chain manufacturing jobs in the electric vehicle space,” although that doesn’t appear in the current data, he said. Lordstown in Trumbull County is home to two EV projects, the Ultium Cells plant and Lordstown Motors Corp.

Over the broader regional footprint, Team NEO sees significant interest in electrification across several industry segments, Koehler said.

“It is a real disruptor that we as a community have an opportunity to take advantage of because of the range of technology capabilities that we have, but also because of the different industry applications that exist here. So the combination of those two would be pretty powerful,” he said.

According to the report, Team NEO is in the process of building an inventory of 40 “readily available sites” by the end of next year, 20 of which already are identified and reviewed. That includes four sites in Trumbull County and two in Mahoning County.

Of those, nine are on Team NEO’s RightSites landing page on its website.

RightSites is an initiative “to promote some of the most competitive sites in our region for private investment,” said Bryce Sylvester, director of site strategies for Team NEO.

As opportunities arise to attract companies to the region or encourage ones that are already here to expand, expectations are “getting much higher” in terms of site amenities such as road access, infrastructure and workforce capabilities, Koehler said.

“They need to be in a position where they are confident that they can generate return on investment as quickly as possible,” he said.

That means doing everything possible to build an inventory of marketable sites, he continued. In the cases of sites with some flaws, they need to understand the issues “so they have the ability to make whatever financial assessment they’re trying to make and generate the returns that they need to justify the investment.”

Among the properties listed on the RightSites page already is the former BDM or RG Steel property, which is being acquired by the Western Reserve Port Authority. The 350-acre site is undergoing the JobsOhio SiteOhio certification, a statewide program to identify sites that are construction-ready.

“We’re very close to authentication,” Sylvester said.

Timelines to demonstrate if a site is viable for companies and consultants are “becoming righter and tighter,” said Walt Good, Team NEO managing director. That is especially true for international companies looking to locate an operation in this country. The greater the reduction of questions regarding viability of sites or the cleaner a property looks for them, “the more attractive it is,” he said.

Luring a heavy manufacturer to the BDM property is a “likely outcome,” according to Sylvester. “It is great to have sites that have access to big power, which the site does.” It also is “nimble,” so that it can be occupied by a single user or multiple businesses.

“The combination of those things really supports why we think it is a great site,” he said.

The BDM site’s rail access also provides a “strategic advantage” for heavy manufacturers that need to move a lot of product, Good said.

Team NEO representatives are in local discussions regarding the Ohio to Work initiative, a program to move unemployed Ohioans into jobs and fill workforce gaps that was piloted in Cuyahoga County last year. Team NEO said earlier this year it intended to introduce it locally.

“We are encouraged by the successes we’ve seen here in Cuyahoga County,” Koehler said.

“I’m hoping that we can get that launched in the next one to two months,” Coviello said. The chamber is working closely with the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition.

The goal of the report is “to use this as a way to hold ourselves accountable to our investors in the community whom we partner with in relation to the work we do,” Koehler said. It’s “critically important … that we own the things we’re really good at” and incorporate those capabilities into the fabric of the community and what other organizations do.

“Our intent here is to leverage our core strategies, build into the network our project work, technology adoption, talent and site work, and bring that to the table in ways that are complementary to their work, not redundant,” he said.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.