Economic Development

Warren Now! Discusses What Makes City Attractive

WARREN, Ohio – About 40 community leaders gathered Thursday in downtown Warren to talk to residents about why residents want to stay in the city and what could attract young professionals as part of the Warren Now! initiative.

Warren Now is a collaborative of agencies that work in and with the city on economic development. They include the city of Warren, Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp., Trumbull County Planning Commission, Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp., Western Reserve Port Authority, Village Capital in Cleveland and Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

The initiative began earlier this year, said Melissa Holmes, program manager for Warren Redevelopment. Members of the economic development community “felt that it made sense to have monthly meetings, just to keep each other informed,” she said.

Out of those monthly meetings came the idea to hold quarterly public meetings to showcase resources available to assist businesses. The first meeting, held in June, focused on the financing organizations like MVEDC, Warren Redevelopment and Village Capital can provide, Holmes said.

As part of Thursday’s meeting, those attending had the opportunity to share their thoughts on the city by writing down what would make them remain in Warren. Many had their pictures taken with the ideas they had written down for posting on the Downtown Warren Facebook page, and the notes were hung on a wall at TBEIC.

The exercise aligned with the two community input sessions conducted in November to gather information from the public for the update of Warren’s comprehensive plan.

“It seemed like a nice way to continue that dialogue” in a more informal setting, Holmes said. “We’re getting good data out of this. It’s kind of a way for people to not feel like [they’re in] school.”

Such suggestions also “tell a little bit about why people would come here,” Rick Stockburger, TBEIC’s chief operating officer.

Mousa Kassis, international trade adviser at the Oho Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University, offered several suggestions of what might encourage people to stay, ranging from people living in harmony to good work ethics to efficient transportation.

Kassis said the exercise brought people together to discuss what they liked about the Mahoning Valley as well as to suggest what they might like to see in the future. “It’s very healthy,” he said.

In addition to being incorporated into Warren’s comprehensive plan, the data will be used to support efforts and initiatives to retain and attract young, midcareer professionals, said Genna Petrolla, economic development planner with Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

Eastgate and YSU’s Regional Economic Development Initiative conducted a study focusing on people between the ages of 20 and 45 in or from the region.

“One thing we’re seeing is a lack of midlevel professional jobs in the Valley,” said Sara Wenger, economic development program manager at Eastgate. “There’s entry level and there’s senior level. The people that we see that really want to move back are between the ages of 28 and 38 and there’s no opportunities for them.”

Petrolla acknowledged that she had a hard time finding a job when she wanted to move back to the Valley two years ago. Having a more educated workforce can attract more companies and having more information can expose some of the barriers people face in furthering their education, she said.

“We’re not looking down at what shaped this space or what was before. We’re wanting to make the Warren of tomorrow,” Petrolla said. “We can’t keep looking back on what was. We have to look forward to what is.”

Future Warren Now initiatives will depend on the needs of its partner agencies, Holmes said. “It’s very fluid,” she said.

Toward the end of the two-hour program, visitors had the opportunity to tour Modern Methods Brewing Co., which is under construction in TBEIC’s space across Dave Grohl Alley. Recently, three 100-gallon fermentation tanks were installed. They were made, founder Adam Keck said by an Ohio manufacturer.

State inspectors are expected to soon give their final approval for Modern Methods to start production, Keck said. Fermentation will take three to five weeks, and the tap room will have a soft opening sometime around the holidays, he said.

Keck said he envisions the Modern Methods tap room as a community space where people can learn more about the history of the area, and he plans to feature local artists and local musicians.

“In the 1800s, the pub was a central space of an exchange of ideas in our society,” Keck said.

Mike Keys, city community development director, said he was encouraged by the efforts of the young professionals involved with Warren Now and particularly the initiative’s use of social media to help attract others.

“What we want to do is attract young people. We need them to be small business entrepreneurs. We need then to start eating in our restaurants,” he said. The city already is seeing activity with the growth of the arts downtown and the openings of establishments like The Lime Tree, Nova Coffee and The Speakeasy Lounge.

“This is the future of Warren and we need to step out of the way and let the young people do what they do, and the biggest part of this is the social media part,” he added.

The generation of economic development professionals represented by individuals like Keys and Warren Redevelopment and Planning Executive Director Anthony Iannucci are very receptive to new ideas and are serving as mentors to their newer counterparts, Holmes said.

“They’re trying to really give us the tools and they let us go with this,” she said. “I’m really excited that we’re entering a new chapter in the city. You can see it right now in the downtown and it’s going to continue.”

Pictured: Melissa Holmes of Warren Redevelopment and Planning and Genna Petrolla of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.