Top Business Stories of 2019 Display Preferences of Readers
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — During no year since 1977, when Black Monday heralded the end of the local steel industry, as it had been known, has the Mahoning Valley seen the kinds of seismic shifts that occurred in 2019.
Not only did the unfolding year put a period to General Motors’ history of some 53 years of manufacturing automobiles in the Valley, but it also heralded the final publication of The Vindicator, which ceased operations as a locally owned newspaper just days after marking its 150th anniversary.
This year in review is built around coverage of stories within The Business Journal’s seven “Every Edition, Every Day” coverage areas. They are: Industry Report, Professional Services, Financial Services, Health and Wellness, Real Estate, Lifestyle and Entertainment, and Economic Development.
As such, our selections exclude notable political stories such as U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s quixotic quest for the Democratic nomination for president and Youngstown’s battle with the state of Ohio over its use of water and wastewater monies to fund development projects.
The long-dreaded closing of the GM Lordstown plant and its aftermath, unchallenged as the dominant story of 2019, straddle several coverage areas including Industry Report, Economic Development and even Real Estate. Stories ran the gamut, from covering the impact on workers, suppliers and vendors to stories on community-support campaigns and government efforts to encourage GM to allocate a new vehicle to the plant.
More recent stories have focused on Lordstown Motors Corp.’s acquisition of the Lordstown plant and its plans to build its electric truck, the Endurance, there and its purchase of the plant, backed by a $40 million mortgage from General Motors. GM also announced plans to reestablish a manufacturing presence in the Lordstown area, this time to make battery cells to support the electric vehicles it plans to manufacture.
Absent GM Lordstown, the major 2019 economic development story likely would have been the decision by TJX Companies Inc. to move forward, after battles in court and at the ballot box, with construction of a $170 million regional distribution center in Lordstown for its HomeGoods subsidiary.
In Mercer County, plans were announced for a 1-million-square-foot logistics center at a site that local leaders had pitched to TJX when it appeared the company was poised to pass on Lordstown.
Chambers of commerce in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania collaborated to host the Rising Rust Belt Summit, an effort to discuss solutions for common problems facing the region.
Clean Energy Future Inc., which developed the Lordstown Energy Center in 2018 and is working toward building a second power plant, announced it had canceled plans for a third such plant with enactment of legislation that provides subsidies to the nuclear power industry in Ohio.
Even as companies such as Trailstar and Novelis moved forward with completed expansion projects and upgrades, the slow rate of progress was questioned regarding the Auto Parkit plant headquarters in Warren and the Joseph Co. International “Chill Can” plant and research center in Youngstown.
While the transition in the newspaper industry is no secret to anyone – far larger markets than the Mahoning Valley have seen their daily newspapers cut print distribution by days – the news that The Vindicator would cease publication with its Aug. 31 edition left many feeling as though they had lost a family member.
Coverage included reflections by community leaders and former staff members and reporting on how remaining local news outlets as well as new ones planned to respond to the closing, including The Business Journal’s plans to expand coverage and Ogden Newspapers’ announcement it would begin publishing a Vindicator edition.
The owners of the Mahoning Valley’s two major shopping centers accounted for the year’s major real estate news.
Columbus-based Washington Prime Group announced a $30 million renovation to Southern Park Mall in Boardman, beginning with demolition of the former Sears department store. Plans include the creation of DeBartolo Commons, a greenspace with a bandstand, athletics fields and other amenities named for Edward DeBartolo Sr., who developed the mall.
One building in the Southern Park footprint, the former Dillard’s space, was bought for $8.9 million by the Cafaro Co., the Niles-based real estate developer with which DeBartolo co-developed Southern Park. Cafaro’s Eastwood Mall marked its 50th anniversary in 2019 and the company said it plans to move forward on its Enterprise Park project this year.
Meanwhile, LRC Realty in Akron announced it intends to acquire the Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage, Pa., with plans to incorporate the challenged retail property into that city’s proposed town center project.
Another real estate story that continues is 33 NYO Property Group’s divestment of its buildings in downtown Youngstown, including the former St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store and Penguin Place buildings in January, the Legal Arts Centre in October and the First National Bank Tower in November. Other properties remain on the market as NYO’s Dominic Marchionda awaits trial this year on corruption charges.
June saw the long-awaited opening of the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and the Raymond John Wean Foundation Park, the latest additions to downtown Youngstown’s growing list of quality-of-life amenities. Opening June 14 with a “first-look” event, the amphitheater had an inaugural season lineup that included Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire.
In December, the first event at the refurbished Robins Theatre in Warren took place in advance of its grand opening gala Jan. 9. Refurbished by developer Mark Marvin, the theater was near capacity as it played host to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute act First Snow.
At the end of December, the Youngstown Publishing Co., which produces The Business Journal, made good on one of its plans to expand in the wake of The Vindicator’s closing, and launched AfterHoursYoungstown.com.
HEALTH & WELLNESS
One of the dominant health-care stories was the emergence of the medical-marijuana industry in the region. Throughout 2019, harvesting centers, dispensaries and even research centers opened in the five-county area operated by companies including Green Leaf Medical of Ohio and FarmaceuticalRX. The Business Journal’s coverage also touched on legal and employment issues associated with the use of medical marijuana.
Several health-care providers launched or completed expansions of their services. Southwoods Health opened express care and spine and pain centers during 2019, while Mercy Health partnered with Youngstown State University to open Wick Primary Care, a clinic to serve YSU students, and it expanded its operations at its North Lima Medical Center.
Shovels turned up dirt in January on Orthopaedic Surgery Center’s new $7 million ambulatory surgery center in Boardman, which is now open.
Health-care news for the year also included the October conviction of Ryan Sheridan, former owner of Braking Point Recovery Centers in Austintown and Whitehall, after he pleaded guilty to charges from a 60-count indictment. He and five associates were charged in February with counts that included health-care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
United Community Financial Corp. – parent company of Home Savings Bank, one of the few remaining locally based financial institutions in the Valley – and First Defiance Financial Corp. in Defiance announced in September they have agreed to merge. Leaders of the two institutions – which will take on a new name once the merger is complete, expected in the first quarter of 2020 – say the merger will combine the best of the talent at both institutions, technology and processes. Home Savings CEO Gary Small assured that decision-making would remain local.
Meanwhile, businesses began to learn more about the financing opportunities presented by the new federal Opportunity Zone program. The Valley Growth Ventures microventure-capital fund made additional investments and announced plans to launch a second fund. Additionally, Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp. – which this year gets a new executive director, Teresa Miller – received a federal grant to initiate a new $2 million revolving loan fund that targets entrepreneurs in underserved populations.
Meeting at YSU in December for its quarterly meeting, JobsOhio announced that the London Stock Exchange Group would offer its Elite business training program to 20 Mahoning Valley businesses. That announcement came about a month after news that YSU and IBM would launch a workforce-accelerator program focused on information technology.
In addition, work advanced on the Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center. Although higher than anticipated bids have delayed construction, planners still hope for a 2020 opening date.
At YSU, the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University received the 2019 National Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
One of the most surprising stories of the year involved the unexpected regime change at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, which sacked its president and CEO, James Dignan, and replaced him with his predecessor, Tom Humphries, who served as “transition CEO” until a permanent replacement is selected.
Personnel changes also were in store at Score Youngstown, the volunteer-led business counseling service, with Ron Emery coming in as chairman and Stephen Poullas as vice-chairman. At the Youngstown Business Incubator, Stephanie Gilchrist returned to head its Women in Entrepreneurship program.
Pictured: Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre brings greenspace downtown.
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