Chamber kicks off Project 360

By Don Shilling

Denise DeBartolo York and Anthony Cafaro Jr. have given their support to the fundraiser.

YOUNGSTOWN — The Regional Chamber is out to raise $1 million a year to upgrade its efforts to attract jobs and improve the community.

The chamber already has raised $500,000 toward this year’s goal, thanks to early support from the business community and area foundations.

Those attending a kickoff event Thursday at Youngstown State University included Denise DeBartolo York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, and Anthony Cafaro Jr., vice president of the Cafaro Co. and chairman of the Project 360 campaign.

“It is our hope that Project 360 will be the catalyst for a cycle of well-needed optimism in the Valley,” Cafaro said.

Shorty Navarro, owner of the Stadium Group of auto dealerships, wasn’t scheduled to speak but couldn’t help himself. He challenged the business community to band together to provide leadership and not to rely on politicians.

“Believe me, if we don’t get off our butt and get something done, nothing’s going to happen,” he said.

He said he loves the area so much that he would like to see the campaign raise $2 million a year to promote the Valley around the world.

For now, $1 million a year will do, said Tom Humphries, president of the chamber. It’s a big step up from previous campaigns that produced $400,000 a year.

The chamber previously relied on five-year campaigns to raise money but decided it would be better to approach businesses every year. Not only will yearly visits raise more money, but they also will help chamber staff tap into local resources and ideas, Humphries said.

The campaign’s goal is to assist projects that create 1,600 new jobs and $1.3 billion in investment this year. The chamber runs the economic development programs for Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Humphries said the chamber has to beef up its fundraising because other regions are spending more to attract jobs. Circleville, Ohio, which is one-tenth the size of the Mahoning Valley, is spending $1.5 million a year on economic development.

The name Project 360 is taken from 360 degrees, which is a full circle. The campaign’s slogan is “Approaching Our Valley’s Economic Development From Every Angle.”

The biggest part of the funding — $622,000 —will go toward creating jobs.

Humphries said the chamber plans to hire someone to oversee efforts to attract businesses to the area. This person is expected to have the contacts to develop relationships with executives globally, not just in North America, he said.

Cafaro said the chamber needs more money so it can send staff to develop relationships with people who are making site-selection decisions.

“The only way is to go out and sit in their office with a high-quality presentation to show that we are a professional and first-class community,” he said.

Walt Good, who has been leading the chamber’s economic development efforts, will continue to oversee the business retention and expansion programs.

The chamber intends to spend $140,000 a year from the campaign on its education efforts. The chamber now spends about $50,000 on those efforts.

It recently hired Angee Shaker, a former television anchorwoman, to lead the expanded effort. This includes developing relationships between the business community and the community college proposed for the area, improving efforts to train workers for jobs that area available in the region, and raising awareness of the importance of education in the area.

The campaign plans to spend $130,000 a year on improving the community’s image, which would be about $40,000 more than is spent now. New efforts will include promotional packages sent to national publications, as well as personal visits.

The chamber also wants to upgrade its advocacy spending from $30,000 to $50,000. This includes visiting officials in Washington and Columbus to talk about issues that affect the Valley.

The final component of the plan is to spend $58,000 on developing a support network for entrepreneurs. Humphries said the area has nine agencies that help new business start-ups, but there is no one to lead the entrepreneurs through the process.

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