Mahoning commissioners hope the local air cargo facility will generate jobs.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The hiring of an economic development specialist at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport has ended talk of Mahoning County's withdrawal from the Western Reserve Port Authority.
The port authority oversees operation of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and promotes economic development projects in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Each county contributes about $300,000 a year to cover the airport's operating cost.
Earlier this year, Mahoning County commissioners Ed Reese and David Ludt were thinking of pulling out of the port authority and either forming an independent one or linking with Columbiana County.
That was just after announcement of a congressional redistricting plan that cut Mahoning County in half, putting most of its population in a district with counties to the south. Reese thought Mahoning County might want to forge new economic development partnerships in that direction.
Reese and Ludt also said they are disappointed at what they see as a lack of accomplishment by the port authority in developing an industrial park around the airport.
"I want to see some jobs out there," Ludt said.
They changed their minds about leaving, though, when the port authority board hired Bruce E. Miller on Wednesday. Miller is former CEO of the Rickenbacker Port Authority in Columbus. He is credited with landing more than 50 businesses and $600 million in real estate development for an industrial park around that airport.
"I'm very happy," Reese said of the hiring. "I'm willing to give this guy a chance to do the same thing here."
He said local officials have long looked at Rickenbacker as a model of airport operation and development. Now the man who built that model is on board locally.
"If anyone can do this for us, it's him," Reese said of Miller. "If he can't, then I have some reservations about that being a full-time airport at all."
Though Ludt was not as enthusiastic as Reese in his opinion of the airport's future, he said he's willing to continue pumping money into the facility for another one or two years, but expects to see development soon.
"I want to see some movement out there," Ludt said. "The quicker, the better."
If he's not satisfied with the level of development within two years, Ludt said he might push for new faces on the port board.
Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock said she never favored leaving the port authority and would not have gone along with it. She thinks the port board has done a good job with limited staff, but agreed with her colleagues that it's time for results.
And like her colleagues, she believes Miller holds the key to unlocking the airport's potential.
"I think bringing in experts is the way to go, definitely," Sherlock said.
Ludt said he does not believe the airport has been marketed properly over the years. Still, he does not want to sever the ties that bind Mahoning and Trumbull counties to economic development.
That was good news to Trumbull County Commissioner Michael O'Brien and port authority President Reid Dulberger.
"It's important that the airport industrial complex keep the continuity of funding," O'Brien said, noting that he believes Miller will be the catalyst for booming growth.
"He's not just a deal maker, he's a deal closer," O'Brien said.
Dulberger said the port authority was formed specifically to promote economic development in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, so losing one would seriously crimp its effectiveness.
He agreed that the port board's main focus the past several years has been on the airport and not on industrial growth, but said that's changing.
He also agreed that Miller's experience and expertise gleaned from building the Rickenbacker facility will be invaluable in the push to promote the airport in Vienna Township.