Conversation on federal funds use worth having, officials say | News, Sports, Jobs

It’s being called a generational opportunity for the Mahoning Valley– about $260 million headed this way in the latest pandemic-related funding package — but will leaders here cast aside parochialism and commit to investing, at least some, on the greater economic development good of the region?

It is, at the very least, a discussion worth having, economic development leaders and the region’s congressman said.

“We should at least have a conversation on thinking big. Maybe it’s broadband, maybe it’s some other initiative. Maybe it’s something we can do out in Lordstown with Voltage Valley, but I think we need to have that conversation,” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, said. “Something that no community can do on its own, but would benefit all communities by growing the economic pie.”

The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed into law last week by President Joe Biden provides assistance to governments across the U.S. on a grand scale; it’s an $11.2 billion economic shot in the arm for Ohio governments.

And it provides a bit more flexibility in how the money can be spent than in previous pandemic relief bills. Funding can be used to continue the response to the viral outbreak, offset revenue loss, bolster economic recovery, offer premium pay for workers, and fund local infrastructure projects like sewer, water and broadband.

PUSH THE PAUSE BUTTON

Guy Coviello, president / CEO of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, said before local governments start spending the money, “we should all come together and use this stimulus money as an investment” to overcome obstacles to economic advancement.

The barriers, he said, are workforce and utilities infrastructure.

Already, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments is planning a utilities infrastructure study for the region “that will really develop a strategy so we really act more as a region versus individual communities,” Jim Kinnick, Eastgate’s executive director, said.

It’s planned to “examine the abundance of resources and our shortcomings, then develop that so it’s easier for businesses, so the area is more attractive to businesses by having a footprint and a foundation laid out,” he said.

The study will look at water and wastewater utilities. When the study is complete, funding would be sought to implement the recommendations.

“I would hope Youngstown, Warren, Trumbull County, Mahoning County, we all get an opportunity to talk as a region … I’m sure they’ve got needs in their own communities, but I would hope we could carve out some money or some funds to build on a regional strategy we are in the process of building out,” Kinnick said.

Governments last week learned of the funding amounts they will receive.

Youngstown is expected to get $88.6 million, which is more than what is going to Mahoning and Trumbull counties combined. It’s estimated Mahoning County is getting $44.3 million; Trumbull County, $38.3 million; and Warren, $29.7 million.

Townships also will receive funding, with some local ones in line to obtain significant amounts, through the bill.

Many, if not all, are still working through details and making priority lists. Still, it’s worthwhile to ask the question about having the regional conversation, Kinnick said.

“Without a doubt. I’m not going to step on toes, but we’ll reach out as a regional entity and see if we can assist or facilitate meeting as a larger group and share some direction,” he said.

THE FUTURE

Coviello said the chamber, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and the Western Reserve Port Authority — three regional agencies whose development work isn’t bound by borders — are ready to take the reins and lead to help “wisely invest this windfall.”

Kinnick and Anthony Trevena at the port authority are on board and willing to broker those conversations.

“There are all kinds of conversations to be had and that is just one,” said Trevena, the port authority’s chief operating officer.

Rick Stockburger, president / CEO of BRITE Energy Innovators in Warren, Ohio’s only energy storage and clean energy business incubator, said having the conversation “would be the least we could do.

“This money could be the pot that starts to galvanize toward a regional economic development plan that is future facing and is part of what we believe is the new economy for Voltage Valley,” Stockburger said.

Voltage Valley increasingly is becoming the nickname given to the region because of the investments in, and hope and prosperity surrounding, the electric-vehicle industry. It’s part of the Valley’s ongoing transformation from its Steel Valley and Rust Belt nicknames — the former due to the region’s once-thriving steel industry and the latter given to conjure images of decaying mills after steelmaking’s demise.

Its epicenter is Lordstown with the development of Ultium Cells LLC, the $2.3 billion joint venture of General Motors and South Korea’s LG Chem to mass produce electric-vehicle battery cells and Lordstown Motors Corp., which wishes to launch an electric pickup truck later this year.

But Ryan also noted other regional advancements, including the work being done by the Youngstown Business Incubator and America Makes, the national 3-D and additive manufacturing accelerator in Youngstown.

With this good deal of money, “it maybe an opportunity to do something big and bold,” in the Valley, Ryan said, but it has to make sense given the individual communities all have issues that need addressed.

“I’m just trying to plant the seed. There are a lot of needs, but this is a really once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something big so we should at least have the conversation,” Ryan said.


It’s being called a generational opportunity for the Mahoning Valley — about $260 million headed this way in the latest pandemic-related funding package — but will leaders here cast aside parochialism and commit to investing, at least some, on the greater economic development good of the region?

It is, at the very least, a discussion worth having, economic development leaders and the region’s congressman said.

“We should at least have a conversation on thinking big. Maybe it’ broadband, maybe it’s some other initiative. Maybe it’s something we can do out in Lordstown with Voltage Valley, but I think we need to have that conversation,” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, said. “Something that no community can do on its own, but would benefit all communities by growing the economic pie.”

The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed into law last week by President Joe Biden provides assistance to governments across the U.S. on a grand scale; it’s an $11.2 billion economic shot in the arm for Ohio governments.

Read Sunday’s Vindicator to see what leaders think about creating a regional pot of money from these funds.

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