There was one winner in the high-stakes bid for a $970 million expansion project proposed by the parent company of Youngstown-based V&M Star Steel, and it wasn’t the city of Youngstown or the city of Girard. Rather, it was the Mahoning Valley. That’s because the project is symbolically larger than any one political subdivision and more important than any one public official.
While Youngstown and Girard were locked in political battle for almost 10 months over land and the sharing of tax revenues, residents of the region were left to wonder whether the old barriers to regional cooperation were just too high to overcome.
The announcement Wednesday that agreement had been reached after intense negotiations brought a sigh of relief, but also a sense of foreboding: We have a long way to go before regional cooperation is more than just a buzz phrase.
That it took so long for the two cities to resolve their differences suggests that the political leadership is in need of an attitude change.
A first step toward achieving that goal would be to learn a valuable lesson from the negotiations between Youngstown and Girard.
The lesson is this: Holding back information or providing incomplete details lead to distrust.
When Vallourec and Mannesmann Tubes of suburban Paris, France, announced that it wants to build a state-of-the-art steel-making facility adjacent to its Youngstown-based V&M Star Steel plant, it became clear that land in Girard would be needed. The transfer of land in and of itself was a major point of contention in the negotiations, but the talks took on a definite negative tone after Girard Mayor James Melfi found out that the amount of land wasn’t the 80 acres Youngstown officials had discussed from the beginning, but 191 acres.
Reporters had long used the 80-acre figure, and no attempt was made to correct the record.
Youngstown officials contended that the 191 acres were clearly identified on the maps that were used during the first presentation of the project. However, Melfi claims he did not find out the true acreage until a couple of months ago.
That caused so much animosity that all the other issues involved in the transfer of land to Youngstown became flashpoints in the negotiations. Hence, the sharing of tax revenues generated by the new plant became a major hurdle.
Full disclosure from the outset would have prevented the kind of public verbal jousting that occurred in recent weeks.
It is fortunate that cooler heads prevailed in the end and that elected officials realized the $970 million project is about the future of the Mahoning Valley and not about the parochial attitudes that have undermined regional cooperation.