2003 offers Valley residents chance to celebrate the new

If 2002 was the year of cleansing in the Mahoning Valley -- we got rid of a corrupt congressman, didn't we? -- then 2003 should be the year for new beginnings.
Let's start with the fact that for the first time in almost two decades, James A. Traficant Jr. will not go to Washington in January as this region's representative. Instead, former state Sen. Tim Ryan of Niles and Congressman Ted Strickland of Lucasville will represent Mahoning, Trumbull and Colum-biana counties in the House.
Indeed, having two members of Congress working on behalf of the Valley is a new political beginning of sorts. Congressional redistricting took what was the original 17th District -- Traficant, D-Poland, was first elected to the seat in 1984 -- and reconfigured it into the 17th and the 6th.
Thus, the tri-county area now has two Democratic congressmen, instead of one.
This year should also provide a new beginning for the region in terms of its economic revival.
The start of construction in the fall of the civic arena in downtown Youngstown represents not only a $26.8 million investment by the federal government, but a significant private financial commitment from the developer, FaulknerUSA (formerly Landmark Organization) of Austin, Texas.
Once it is up and running, the arena will be the kind of sports and entertainment venue mostly found in major metropolitan areas.
The new beginning should also be evident in the school building projects that have resulted in millions of dollars from the state coming into the Valley.
As construction progresses at General Motors Corp.'s Lordstown assembly plant, 2003 will offer real evidence that the future of auto manufacturing in this region is secure for the foreseeable future. GM's decision to build the next generation of its compact cars is proof that regional cooperation is not just a theory and that such a coming together of the private and public sectors will be rewarded by the state.
Incentive package
Ohio offered the world's leading automobile manufacturer a lucrative economic incentive package that GM officials acknowledged was superior to those submitted by other states vying for the new product.
Regional cooperation may also get a chance to flourish if Mahoning, Trumbull and, perhaps Columbiana counties are able to take over the now closed private prison on Youngstown's North Side and operate it as a regional jail.
And then there is the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, which remains a viable entity and an important economic development tool, even though there is no commercial airline service. Commissioners in Trumbull and Mahoning counties have made the right call in continuing to provide financial support, but the Western Reserve Port Authority must make the facility self-supporting sooner rather than later.
For Youngstown State University, the construction of a student apartment complex in Smoky Hollow represents a new beginning in terms of redefining the institution's role. While YSU continues to be a commuter college, having another 400 students living just off campus certainly opens the door for a significant increase in enrollment.
But 2003 will also see a continuation of the federal government's crackdown on government corruption and organized crime in the Valley, but by all accounts the investigation is winding down.
Criminal indictments are expected in Trumbull County, but the number will not come close to 70 or so officeholders, mobsters and others who were caught in the FBI's Dragnet in Mahoning County.
Slowly, but surely, we're shedding our image of a region run by corrupt politicians and controlled by organized crime. That certainly qualifies as a new beginning.

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