Valley Partners Celebrates 45 Years of Community Collaboration

GIRARD, Ohio – For 45 years, Valley Partners has been serving the Mahoning Valley, helping the area recover from the loss of the steel mills and transforming into an innovative and evolving region.

But Executive Director Teresa Miller said the work it has done would not have been possible without past and current board members and staff, as well as partnerships the organization has made throughout the years.

So Valley Partners celebrated its own anniversary Thursday morning at the Provence Mills Event Center by honoring others.

“Collaboration is the key,” Miller said. 

Through the years, not only has the organization’s name changed from Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation to, officially, Valley Economic Development Partners Inc., but so has the work that it does. 

Valley Partners currently oversees 17 small-business lending programs and provides technical assistance to help small businesses succeed, especially businesses in minority and underserved areas.

“The work that we do at Valley Partners is extremely impactful. I’ve seen small-business owners cry while we are signing loan documents to give them their funding,” said Miller, adding the effort is all about creating jobs and helping small businesses start and grow.

From the industrial sites and railroads Valley Partners owned in the past to the small-business lending that is its focus now, the organization continues to evolve with the Valley.

“If you look at the composition of the businesses here, it really has changed over the decades,” said Julie Michael Smith, who has been a member of Valley Partners’ board for 16 years. “We had steel mills and large corporate headquarters in our community. … And now there has been a real transformation in our community, which although it has been very tough for the community at times, I think it has really strengthened the fabric of our community. We are now a community of entrepreneurs, innovators, responsive to emergent technologies, new technologies.”

Smith said the small businesses that provide services to others and provide jobs continue to support the Valley and the growth that is happening.

Left: Josh Toot, executive vice president, market president, at Premier Bank, and Teresa Miller, executive director of Valley Partners. Right: Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, and Teresa Miller.

As part of its celebration, Valley Partners gave out the Economic Development Impact Award, Banker Impact Award, Technical Assistance Impact Award, Small Business & Innovative Impact Award and the Paul Dutton Professionals Services Impact Award, which was named after the late Paul Dutton, who served the organization as legal counsel from the time of its founding.

Premier Bank was named the winner of the Banker Economic Impact Award, one of four banks nominated for their service to the community. Miller said Premier is always great to work with to finance projects.

Josh Toot, executive vice president for the region at Premier Bank, said the recognition shows the community sees how much Premier Bank is trying to make an impact through its foundation providing financial and volunteer assistance. Toot said even when Premier is unable to directly assist someone, it is great to know it can partner with Valley Partners to find a way to make something happen.

The Economic Development Impact Award went to the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

“They are always constantly giving awards to other people and honoring other people, and I think it’s wonderful that we get this chance to honor them,” Miller said.

“I think there are a lot of us who, just by being born and raised in the Mahoning Valley, have this sort of kindred spirit, this sort of fierce loyalty to this community,” said Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber. “I’m driven to help this community be a better place.”

Coviello said Valley Partners has been a key member of the collaborative team, and working with Miller and her team at Valley Partners has made a difference in the Mahoning Valley.

Left: Tanisha Wheeler, left, regional director of the Minority Business Assistance Center, and Tanay Hill, business resource advisor at Valley Partners. Right: Richard Bernacki and Aspasia Lyras-Bernacki, owners of Penguin City Brewing.

The Minority Business Assistance Center at the Youngstown Business Incubator was honored with the Technical Assistance Impact Award.

Tanisha Wheeler, regional director of the MBAC, said receiving the award puts a stamp on the hard work they have been doing to help fund and prepare businesses to take their next steps.

Miller said because it was so difficult to choose, the committee decided to give two Small Business & Innovative Impact Awards. One went to Penguin City Brewing, which Miller said is “an asset for the area” for allowing other organizations and businesses to hold events and fundraisers in its space.

“I’m always inspired by the people who want to work so hard to be here that it makes me also want to jump on that bandwagon and do the same for our community. I feel as soon as we bought this building, everything just opened up and the sky’s the limit,” said Aspasia Lyras-Bernacki, who co-owns Penguin City with her husband, Richard Bernacki.

Left: Mark Lamoncha, CEO of Humtown Products, and Teresa Miller. Right: Tim Petrey, CEO of HD Growth Partners, and Sallie Dutton, widow of the late Paul Dutton.

The other winner was Humtown Products, whose CEO, Mark Lamoncha, said when you support and inspire others, it somehow always helps you as well. Lamoncha is a proponent of opening up the business to youngsters and inspiring the next generation.

“Our young adults will be our next adults in our manufacturing professional arenas and for any professional arena,” Lamoncha said.

After winning the Paul Dutton Professional Services Impact Award, HD Growth Partners CEO Tim Petrey said, “Our organization would not be in the position of where we are without the support of this community. … What makes Youngstown special and what makes this broader community special is its ability to support its own and its willingness to step up and support those who are passionate about this community. … We fight hard for one another.”

Pictured at top: Teresa Miller, executive director of Valley Partners, speaks at Thursday’s event.

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