What former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, would not do for the predominantly Democratic Mahoning Valley, Republican President George W. Bush has done, namely, made the federal government a key participant in the Mahoning Valley's economic revitalization effort.
Last week's announcement that Youngstown is the first city in the country to receive a "renewal community" designation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should serve as a political wake-up call for this region's electorate. Not only was it a Republican president who made and kept the promise, but one of the chief advocates for Youngstown was a Republican senator from Ohio, Mike DeWine.
In August 2000, a day after he won the Republican nomination for president, Bush visited Youngstown and met with Mayor George M. McKelvey and several community leaders. He heard their pitch for an empowerment zone designation, but let it be known that he did not favor giving communities $10 million a year for 10 years, as the Clinton administration had done.
Rather, Bush said that he believed in providing federal tax breaks and other incentives to companies that locate in high-poverty areas and that hire individuals who live in those areas. Thus was born his "renewal community" initiative.
Unemployment: Twice during Clinton's tenure, the cities of Youngstown and Warren had applied for empowerment zone designation, with no success. Clinton had promised the voters of the region that his administration would respond favorably to such an application, given the high unemployment and poverty rates and the crumbling neighborhoods in the cities of Youngstown and Warren.
Despite numerous pleas from city officials and from this newspaper, the Democratic president seemed more interested in playing politics with the program, which accounts for the relatively wealthy cities of Cincinnati and Columbus sharing in the $3.8 billion in federal grants and other assistance. In 1999, 15 urban and five rural communities received the federal largess to spur job creation and neighborhood revitalization.
The Clinton administration argued that the applications from the two largest communities in the Mahoning Valley weren't competitive enough. We strongly disagreed with that conclusion -- and last week's designation supported our position. The designated areas have a 65 percent poverty rate and 45 percent unemployment, and 89 percent of the households are considered low income.
Sen. DeWine, who promised to help the region secure such a designation if he became a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, worked closely with McKelvey and other city officials to make sure that the Bush administration objectively evaluated Youngstown's application.
Downtown: The designation means millions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives for businesses that operate or locate downtown, in a section of the North Side along U.S. Route 422, and the Smoky Hollow neighborhood.
The city has waited a long time for this kind of helping hand from Washington and the onus is now on the mayor to prove Youngstown's detractors wrong. In that regard, McKelvey should bring together the best and the brightest in the field of economic development and assign them the task of developing strategies to lure businesses into the zone.