By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The metropolitan areas of Youngstown-Warren and Sharon, Pa., experienced major economic growth during the 1990s, but not as much as the rest of the nation.
A study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Mayors states the gross metro product for the Youngstown-Warren area was $16.2 billion in 2000. The gross metro product is the value of goods and services produced in a metropolitan area.
That is a 62 percent increase compared with the 1990 figure of $10 billion.
"The size of our gross metro product is significantly larger than we would have guessed," said Reid Dulberger, executive vice president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. "But we didn't fare as well in the decade of the '90s as the rest of the nation."
More than half of that growth for the Youngstown-Warren metropolitan area, which includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, occurred between 1997 and 2000, the study states.
"There is positive news in that we've seen substantial growth over the past three years," Dulberger said. "The pace has increased during that time, which is a good sign."
Dulberger credits a diversification of the local economy, strong growth in the service-sector field and a rise in manufacturing output for the economic increase.
Here are figures: Still, the Mahoning Valley's economic growth between 1990 and 2000 lagged behind the national numbers. The median in the national survey was 78 percent growth with Las Vegas at the top of the list with 166.3 percent growth followed by Austin, Texas, at 156.4 percent growth and Laredo, Texas, at 144.4 percent growth.
The Sharon metropolitan area, which includes all of Mercer County, had a larger percentage growth than the Mahoning Valley. Sharon saw its gross metro product increase 71.4 percent from $2.1 billion in 1990 to $3.6 billion in 2000.
"We've experienced significant growth primarily because of the stability of the [steel] pipe and tube market," said Larry Reichard, executive director of the Penn-Northwest Development Corp., a Mercer County economic development organization.
Sharon's story: Reichard said the Sharon area also has added 5,000 to 6,000 manufacturing jobs in the past eight years.
"We've seen a number of small companies start up in the past decade that have grown to 30, 40, 50 people," he said. "It brings diversity and as an economic developer, I'd gladly take a dozen of those companies."
Even with the solid growth, Sharon has one of the smallest economies of any metropolitan area in the country. The $3.6 billion gross metro product puts Sharon at 283rd of out 319 metropolitan areas.
Small areas such as Elmira, N.Y.; San Angelo, Texas; and Dover, Del., have larger economies than Sharon does.
"We're small by comparison, but I find our numbers to be encouraging," Reichard said.
The study also compared the economies of U.S. cities to foreign nations.
Global comparison: Sharon's economy is larger than several Third World countries such as Cambodia, Guinea, Zambia, Congo and Somalia. Sharon's economy is also three times the size of the economies of Afghanistan, Laos, Mongolia and Swaziland.
If Sharon were a country, the study says it would have the 405th-largest economy in the world.
Even though Youngstown-Warren did not grow as much from 1990 to 2000 as Sharon, its gross metro product is nearly five times larger.
The Valley's economy is smaller than that of Iraq, Uruguay and Guatemala, but it still would rank 180th if it were a country. Youngstown-Warren's economy is larger than that of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Cuba, Kenya, Panama, Jordan, Jamaica and dozens of other countries.
Also, it placed 107th nationwide, beating out cities such as Spokane, Wash.; Green Bay, Wis.; Gary, Ind.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Reno, Nev.; and Roanoke, Va.