This is the nonprofit organization's first expansion outside Columbus.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Inna Kinney disagrees with local people who say they're waiting for the city to bounce back from its economic problems.
"I think it's already back," says Kinney, of Columbus, president and founder of Economic and Community Development Institute. "I think a lot of people don't realize how far along you've come."
Kinney was on hand Thursday to celebrate the grand opening of ECDI's new Youngstown office on West Federal Street. It's the institute's first expansion outside Columbus.
ECDI is a nonprofit organization, supported by federal, state and local funds, that supports individuals, families, businesses and communities in economic and social projects.
In Youngstown, ECDI will help small businesses to thrive, show low- and moderate-income renters how to purchase and keep homes, and assist in building a skilled work force.
"Our goal is sustainable economic impact," Kinney said.
Steve Fireman, president of ECDI's board of directors, said the institute has helped cabdrivers, restaurateurs, day-care center operators and caterers by providing financial literacy training and micro loans. The goal is to move people away from welfare programs and into jobs of their choosing, he said.
ECDI also promotes individual development accounts, in which a person saves a fixed amount of money, then receives matching amounts from other sources to use in business, as a down payment on a home, or for continuing education, Kinney said.
Why ECDI was created
Kinney was motivated to create ECDI after watching family members and friends start businesses that ultimately failed. It wasn't because they had bad ideas or were lazy, but because they lacked cohesive business plans and access to capital, she added.
Since she first visited Youngstown last July, Kinney said she has been surprised by the beauty of downtown architecture and residents' love of community.
"Youngstown is a myth to many people in Ohio," Kinney said. "I feel like it's the best-kept secret."
Robert Rupeka, who as vice president of ECDI Northeast is responsible for the Youngstown office, said he wishes the city's post-steel era recovery moved more quickly. Rupeka grew up here and worked in downtown Youngstown for 12 years, most recently as administrator of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Rupeka also believes the community is at a point in its growth and recovery that makes it a "great environment" for ECDI's services, he said.
Mahoning County supplied grant money for ECDI to open a Youngstown location, and the city gave the institute office space in 20 Federal Place (former Phar-Mor Building), which is city-owned, Kinney said.