Home builders see bright future for city

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YSU President David C. Sweet

By Shelby Schroeder

Home builders were offered encouraging words about the economic future.

BOARDMAN — Education and banking leaders said a promising future awaits Youngstown at the 62nd annual meeting of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association.

Steve Lewis, the president of First Place Bank, and David Sweet, president of Youngstown State University, spoke as special guests at Tuesday’s gathering at The Georgetown. The two presented their views of the current financial crisis to a crowd of around 200 men and women in the home building market.

Paul Dieter, the president of the Mahoning Valley chapter of HBA, said Lewis could offer concerned consumers a “silver lining” during the economic downturn, to which Lewis responded realistically.

“I think at the end of the day, we need to reflect on where things began,” said Lewis, who has seen his own bank’s stock prices drop by 75 percent recently.

He said that following a push for home buying in the 1990’s, along with an unquestioned growth of Freddie Mac’s and Fannie Mae’s lending practices, the housing bubble burst. But the current situation, he said, is not the nation’s worst.

“People are comparing what’s going on now with [what happened during] the Great Depression,” he said. “I don’t get that.”

Lewis expressed wavering optimism over the government-planned bailout, but said the nation is on the right track by injecting money into troubled banks. “You can’t fix the national economy unless you fix the banking economy first — it’s that simple,” Lewis said.

Lewis said home buyers shouldn’t fear the market; the Valley has strong community banks with plenty of money to lend.

Before passing the microphone to Sweet, Lewis added that everyone can learn from the nation’s high rate of foreclosures: don’t take out loans for more than you can afford.

“Homeownership is not a right; it’s a privilege; it’s a responsibility,” Lewis said. “You have to earn that privilege.”

Sweet took stage with an agenda of encouraging words for the crowd, highlighting the role of YSU in the city’s economic turnaround.

Now, almost nine years into presiding over the university, Sweet recalled the progress both the school and city have made. He said he is confident that the progress will remain undeterred, if not slowed, in the face of dire news about the economy.

Sweet listed a few reasons for his optimism.

First, he said, Youngstown is unique in its progressive approach to city planning, namely Youngstown 2010.

The city has “a civic vision and the will to implement it,” Sweet said.

As YSU brings in ever-increasing numbers of students — proven by its current 14-year high enrollment — economic forces are brought to the center of the city. In turn, plans to make the city more hospitable nurture the school’s growth. Sweet said a sign of this partnership can be found in yesterday’s ground- breaking of the new business college at the university.

Tying into plans to expand the school, he said businesses and residents are fortunate live in a small city with an expansive infrastructure.

Last, he said a beacon of hope for the future, if any, is the powerful resource of strong-willed government officials such as Congressman Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17.

He thanked Ryan for his efforts to strengthen and grow YSU and the rest of the public school system, which Sweet said will nourish the local economy.

“I believe we have the partnerships and the plans that will move this Valley forward,” Sweet said, and “YSU plans on playing a greater role in the economic development of the city.”

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