Will Valley Benefit from Convention in Cleveland?

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Money is the lifeblood of politics and nowhere is this more visible than at the major parties’ quadrennial national conventions.

In 2012, the Republicans infused $214 million in direct spending into the economy of Tampa, Florida, where they nominated Mitt Romney as their standard bearer, a University of Tampa study found, and another nearly $200 million indirectly into that region’s economy.

How much more will be spent in Cleveland is unknown, although Cleveland State University will conduct its own study later this month when GOP delegates, officeholders, the lobbyists who entertain them and the reporters who cover the hoopla open their wallets, purses and checkbooks.

And with the convention just more than an hour’s drive away, the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber is looking to bring some of that lifeblood to the Mahoning Valley. During the four days of the convention – July 18 through 21 – the chamber’s display there will feature a life-size 3-D printed bobblehead of presumptive nominee Donald Trump “inside the security zone next to [Quicken Loans Arena],” says Guy Coviello, chamber vice president of government affairs.

The chamber’s Victory for the Valley campaign – the display, the bus trips and the site selector tours – cost about $300,000, money provided mostly by local sponsors who will be on the bus to Cleveland.

On July 19, four buses of business leaders from the Valley will travel to the convention for a lunch hosted by the Regional Chamber. Those going – including representatives from MS Consultants, Warren Fabricating Corp., Humtown Products and Aim NationaLease (which is transporting the bobblehead) – will be given an itinerary with other events to attend in the afternoon. That evening, the chamber and its members will attend the Governor’s Reception at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Later in the week, the chamber will host a dozen site selectors ­– real estate agents who represent large corporations – and offer tours of several sites throughout the area. And it will host “very exclusive events for them in Cleveland,” Coviello says. The site selectors will be flown from Cleveland to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and back.

Victory for the Valley, Coviello explains, is a development initiative to draw attention to the area. Already the bobblehead has generated “incredible attention” from media, including a TV crew from the Netherlands. Reporters from the Nikkei Asian Review are also doing a story on 3-D printing and Youngstown’s role in the maker movement.

“I expect millions of dollars in earned media from the bobblehead project,” Coviello says.

Beyond that, however, the results of the Victory for the Valley campaign may not be known for years – even decades, Coviello says. It’s entirely possible, he says, for a site selector to match a client with a site in the Mahoning Valley 20 years down the road.

“This is once in a lifetime. If you don’t take advantage of this, you’ll never have another chance,” he says.

For those traveling to Cleveland, the immediate impact will most likely come through networking and meeting potential clients, he adds.

“The benefit for our sponsors is they’re supporting our development initiative. If that’s successful, it will bring people who are part of their supply chain here,” he says. “It will bring in the customer base or a factory or an insurance company. It’s all long-term economic benefits.”

On the business side of the convention – which is to say politics – Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe says the biggest impact here will come from meeting party officials and other party members.

“It’s a chance to meet with party leaders and help them understand what’s going on in our neck of the woods,” Munroe says. “Once you’re on the convention floor and talking, the geographic advantage is neutralized.”

Munroe, along with two other delegates and three alternate delegates from the district, will stay at the Doubletree by Hilton in downtown Cleveland with the rest of the Ohio delegations. Most delegations will be staying in the Cleveland area, although some, such as the Michigan, Puerto Rico, Utah and Northern Marianas Islands groups will be staying in Akron. California’s delegates will stay at the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, 59 miles west of the convention.

In the Mahoning Valley, hotels have seen few bookings related to the convention, although they expect an increase starting the weekend before.

“We’re a bit far away and outside of the bubble,” says Ryan Dewberry, general manager of the Courtyard Marriot in Canfield. “We’re anticipating a busy week because of transient business. Cleveland’s been booked for almost a year, so any person doing business is going to have to go further out of that zone to find some place to stay.”

Closer to the turnpike, Candlewood Suites in Austintown was in talks with the convention to book 20 rooms and 60 at its sister hotel, Holiday Inn Express on the opposite side of Interstate 80, but talks fell through, according to Candlewood general manager Andrea Gleussner.

“As it gets closer, we’ll definitely see it pick up. That’s what we’re hoping for, anyway,” she says. “[There’s] nothing I know of as of right now. We do have rooms on the books, but I can’t tell if it’s specifically for the convention.”

During the week of the convention, Youngstown- Warren Regional Airport will see a pickup in air traffic. YNG is one of the gateway airports where chartered aircraft will be pre-screened by the Transportation Security Administration before they fly into Cleveland. Airport Executive Director Dan Dickten says airport operations will be barely affected.

“It’s more so for the businesses here at the airport, like our fixed-base operator, Winner Aviation,” he says. “There’ll be, maybe, an additional 40 or 50 aircraft coming in to get fuel and screened before heading up.”

Most of those seeing an uptick in business are involved with the 1,200 events that surround the convention. Limousine companies are fully booked, Coviello says, noting that the chamber had to quickly figure out how many buses it needed after Fab Limousine received requests from a company in Cleveland that asked to lease its vehicles for the entire week. Caterers are also in-demand, as are production companies, he adds.

“If you have a wedding that week and haven’t booked a limo, you won’t get one. I believe all the local transportation companies are full that week,” he says. “Trucking companies with refrigeration units are in huge demand because of all the parties around the convention.”

For those traveling to the convention, expectations are somewhat dampened because an opportunity like this has never been available so close before. Upward of 50,000 visitors – media, business leaders, lobbyists and protestors – are expected to make their way to Cleveland.

“Never having been to something like this, I’m all questions. This is new for us,” says Mark Lamoncha, owner of Humtown Products in Columbiana.

Lamoncha isn’t sure exactly what he’ll do the day he spends in Cleveland, he says, but aims to return with new knowledge.

“The events we’re going to are more informative. … I don’t think you can be a strong business if you don’t have the knowledge,” he says. “Unexpected meetings with business people can happen, but more than anything we want to be up to speed with what plans political figures have to keep manufacturing moving forward.”

Humtown printed the body of the Regional Chamber’s Trump bobblehead. Freshmade 3D, a portfolio company at the Youngstown Business Incubator that prints rare car parts, printed the head and will also travel with the chamber to Cleveland.

Since the bobblehead was announced, Freshmade has seen some publicity from the project.

“This project has already been huge for us and we’ve been contacted for interviews by publications that deal with automotive restoration,” says CEO and co-founder Rich Wetzel. “As long as someone’s watching [the bobblehead], I’d like to go out and do some networking. It’s something that’s invaluable for us.”

The one day, July 19, that most Mahoning Valley businesses will spend near the Republican National Convention affords them a window to get the most out of their time there. And that, Coviello says, is where the chamber can be a big help.

“It’s important that it’s known that our business leaders are there and that our presence is felt,” he says.

Pictured above: The Regional Chamber will have a life-sized bobblehead of Donald Trump on display at the convention.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.