Williams Says YBI’s Results Justify EDA’s $3M Investment

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There was much discussion among the Economic Development Administration’s staff regarding whether the agency’s administrator should come to his hometown for today’s announcement at the Youngstown Business Incubator.

EDA is headed by Jay Williams, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, who served as Youngstown’s mayor until from late 2005 until August 2011, when the Obama administration selected him to serve as executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers.

He will be in town this morning for the press event announcing YBI’s acquisition of the former Vindicator office building. In 2014, EDA awarded a $3 million grant to the incubator for the project.

Williams was sworn in as assistant secretary of commerce for economic development last May. He also has served as deputy director for the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

“It was interesting,” Williams remarked during a phone interview. There was “discussion and debate” among the EDA staff regarding whether his presence would be appropriate.

“They wanted to make sure the optics were right and there was no perceived conflict of interest,” he said.

An EDA grant to YBI in 2006, during his first term as mayor, leveraged $600 million in investment and created hundreds of jobs in the Mahoning Valley, he said.

Those results are “a testament to why the investment” the federal agency is making now is warranted, he said.

Jim Cossler, YBI’s CEO, and Barb Ewing, its chief operating officer, “have demonstrated how effective an investment in this project is and we’re excited about what this will mean for Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley for many, many years to come,” Williams said.

This morning’s event will mark Williams’ first visit to Youngstown in his official capacity as EDA administrator today. Last October, he spoke at a recognition event for the eCentre@LindenPointe in Hermitage, Pa.

YBI will open the fifth building of its downtown campus in the former Vindicator building. Renovation of the building is expected to cost $6 million, Cossler said Tuesday (READ STORY).

YBI plans to use the building to house incubator graduates and for advanced manufacturing space, specifically additive manufacturing. Another YBI building houses America Makes, which focuses on additive manufacturing.

“I just couldn’t imagine a better event,” Williams said.

He noted the momentum established with America Makes and the growth in manufacturing jobs during the Obama Administration, which he said is largely attributable to growth in exports. The administration is now seeking trade promotion authority from Congress.

“As companies matriculate through the incubator and America Makes and grow and develop, they will also have new export opportunities. That’s significant,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of things that make the timing of this event very effective and timely.”

Returning to the Mahoning Valley for the event is “gratifying and humbling,” Williams said. The progress being made here is the culmination of efforts going back to the administration of former Mayor Patrick Ungaro and the things he had to face in terms of just trying to stabilize the city’s economy, he said.

Williams also credited Ungaro’s successor, George McKelvey, in whose administration Williams served as community development director, for opening Federal Street, developing what is now the Covelli Centre and other deals to help bring downtown back.

“I was honored to be able to pick up the torch after Mayor McKelvey’s term and accelerate that,” working with downtown developers including Dominic Gatta III and Dominic Marchionda, he said. At the same time Cossler and his team at YBI were working steadily to develop the incubator, which last year was named the top university-affiliated incubator in the world.

“Whatever small role I played, there was so much credit to go around,” Williams said.

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