Economic Development

‘Can’t Chase Smokestacks,’ Ryan Tells Mayors

WARREN, Ohio – U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan told a coalition of mayors and area leaders the region needs to get in front of industries such as electric vehicles, renewable energy and artificial intelligence for the tidal wave of future jobs.

“We can’t chase smokestacks. We have to stop chasing the past. What’s coming in the future and how do we position our community to get the surf board out and ride the jobs of the future?” Ryan, D-13 Ohio asked the audience.

Ryan, who sits on the Appropriations Committee and is second in command of the Defense Subcommittee, said the area’s growth is sparking interest with defense contractors.

“With Defense Committee stuff in last two- to three months, contractors — out of the blue — are calling us. We want to move some of our operations to your community. They see what’s happening. It’s tough because everyone wants it to happen tomorrow, but we want to make sure we’re ready,” he said.

The congressman did not provide further details, but said, “The defense committee controls $789 billion, which goes into research to health care and building projects. Over 100 companies in this neck of woods are supplying defense companies. For us to be in this position is a significant advantage.”

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, was the keynote speaker at the Mahoning River Corridor Mayors Association Friday held at Covelli Enterprises in Warren. While he focused on his 2020 legislative agenda, he also talked about his strategy when he was first elected to Congress and how some of those visions are just now coming to fruition because economic growth and progression takes time.

By creating the tech belt initiative in 2007, creating an additive manufacturing hub and establishing business and energy incubators, the area has been able to move the needle to create future economic development. He praised the mayors and other elected officials and businesses for collaboration to get several projects done. He also said the Western Reserve Port Authority is valuable tool for future growth.

He cautioned leaders not to lose sight of the importance of quality of life issues as it is interconnected to economic development.

“If you don’t have quality of life for these young people to come back here they’re not coming,” he said. “They want a high quality of life.”

An example is developing the Mahoning River, and the importance of Mahoning River Corridor Restoration plan moving forward and removing dams along the river. The congressman said $1.5 million was allocated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clear brush and down trees in the river along with $10 million for the dams to restore its natural flow.

Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz said his city is behind the initiative.

“We are working on some investments for our downtown revitalization and we’re using this initiative as a tool to drive more traffic in our downtown area,” Mientkiewicz said. “We are ready to go with cleaning up the public right away along the river and installing a kayak/canoe launch. We’re ready to go.”

Ryan shared statistics on importance of outdoor recreation as it creates 6.1 million jobs, and Americans spend $82 million on water sports and $142 million on camping

“If you want the young worker to stay here, you’ve got to have these opportunities,” he said.

Several mayors talked about the effects of unfunded government mandates and the burden on local communities. Girard Mayor James Melfi cited the $21 million his city needed for a mandated upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant.

Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown asked about money for infrastructure, and Ryan said transportation infrastructure conversations are happening.

“We have to find a way to pay for it. There is talk about raising gas taxes,” he said.

The last gasoline tax increase was in 1993. The tax goes into a trust fund that gets spread out for projects every five years.

“Now might be the time with interest rates so low, for borrowing money for investments like this at a very low interest rate isn’t necessarily a bad idea,” he said. “It would have an economic impact and jobs would be created.”

Other legislation the congressman introduced would expand health care to first responders who retire early. He explained that many police and fire personnel retire in their 50s. The bill would let theme receive Medicare, saving local communities on health insurance.

His legislation also would allow money used to remediate blight from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development to be used for commercial buildings. An example is the old St. Joseph Hospital in Warren. Currently money for demolition can only be used on housing.

Other mayors in attendance included Nick Phillips, Campbell, Deidre Petrosky, Cortland, Ben Kyle, Hubbard, Arno Hill, Lordstown, and Richard Duffet, Canfield.

Pictured at top: U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan addresses a meeting of the Mahoning River Corridor Mayors Association Friday at Covelli Enterprises in Warren.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.