Workshop Focuses on ‘Redefining Economic Growth’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The prevailing wisdom about economic development and prosperity must be re-examined, a 40-year veteran in the economic development field says.

Donald T. Iannone, a consultant who has held leadership positions for Greater Cleveland Growth Association and, more recently, Growth Partnership for Ashtabula, will be the featured presenter today at “Redefining Economic Growth: Creating a New Narrative Around Prosperity in the Mahoning Valley.”

Iannone is writing a book in which he will detail “a new model for economic development that puts people and prosperity first,” a book based on research that will lay the foundation of his presentation, he says.

“He’s seen it all,” remarked Sara Wenger, economic development program manager at Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, one sponsor of the program.

“Anytime I ask him something he just explains it so easily and succinctly,” she said. “He really speaks in layman’s terms but is impactful.”

The economic development workshop will be presented at Youngstown State University’s Williamson Hall by Eastgate, Economic Action Group, Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp. Western Reserve Port Authority and YSU’s Regional Economic Development Initiative.

Seventy individuals who represent the economic development community, foundations, banks here and nonprofits, as well as local government officials, are registered to attend, Wenger said.

Iannone will speak on what done here works and what doesn’t as well as “what are we missing that other communities may be doing,” she said.

According to Iannone’s research, local and state economic development efforts have contributed little to prosperity, he said. Although such efforts have helped businesses and industries expand, grow and become more profitable, their success hadn’t raised the incomes of the population they serve.

“The prevailing narrative says that if we help businesses and industries to grow, people and communities will be more prosperous,” he told The Business Journal. “This is not necessarily true. Often business and industry growth occur at expense of wages and personal income.”

While Greater Youngstown has seen many positive developments, the region suffers from “a serious lag in prosperity,” he pointed out. He is not in the least surprised at the long-term lag in prosperity here and across the county. Prosperity hasn’t been “a real priority” for most development entities, which spend most of their time solving business problems and developing business opportunities that have nothing to do with increasing the wealth of communities.

“What does surprise me is that many people still believe in ‘trickle-down’ economics, that is, if they help businesses grow, prosperity will occur as an outgrowth of business growth,” he said. “We need to tackle the prosperity issue head-on and stop assuming that communities will grow richer because their businesses grow richer.”

Eastgate’s Wenger wants to help everyone speak the same language in economic development, she says, and to help officials understand what a primary job is and why it’s desired. A primary job produces goods and/or services for customers who are predominantly outside of a given community, thereby bringing money into that community. “I want to talk about what the multiplier of those job are, how they affect the tax base, things like that,” she said.

She also said that many development projects, not only here but also statewide, involve large capital expenditures but result in only a few dozen jobs.

“I would like to start that conversation about cost benefit a bit and return on investment – for instance, was that the best return on investment for the tax abatement,” Wenger said. Given the number of construction jobs some of these projects create, that might be the case, she said.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.