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Ex-Mayor could help Valley secure fed funds for airport

Published: Sun, June 24, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

As the Western Reserve Port Au- thority steps up its lobbying effort for a $780,000 federal grant that would be used to attract daily air service to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, the area may have a trump card in Washington.

The new deputy director of the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs is Jay Williams, the former mayor of Youngstown. In his new job, Williams will lead the Obama administration’s “local engagement with mayors, county and municipal officials across the country,” according to a news release announcing the appointment.

Williams had previously served as the executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers.

Just as he did not need a tutorial on the impact of General Motors Corp.’s Lordstown assembly plant on the Valley’s economy, Williams needs no introduction to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport or the port authority. As mayor, he was involved in the continuing push to upgrade the facilities and to attract a commercial airline that would provide daily service.

While in Youngstown — he left last August to join the Obama administration — Williams was interviewed many times by national reporters who were impressed not only with his redevelopment blueprint for the city, but also with the fact that the Youngstown-Warren metropolitan area has had one of the highest manufacturing growth rates in the U.S.

Forbes and Manpower magazines said the area was the fourth best place to find a job in the nation.

In 2010, Youngstown had the largest privately funded business expansion project in North America at V&M Star. Williams played a major role in the company investing $700 million in two manufacturing plants being built along Route 422 between Youngstown and Girard.

Oil and gas industry

With all this economic activity, it’s only a matter of time before companies doing business in the Valley seek daily airline service. The fledgling oil and gas industry in the region because of Utica Shale will require that the travel needs of out-of-towners be met.

The Obama administration cannot ignore this potential economic boom, which is why we believe that Williams’ involvement is appropriate. After all, his duties involve assisting local communities in their dealings with Washington.

The $780,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration would be used to pay an airline to keep it operating here for a year in case the service is not self-sustaining at the beginning. The port authority would provide matching funds of 35 percent, and in-kind contributions of $480,000.

The Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport has been without regular daily air service since 2002, but with the Valley poised to ride the crest of the new economy, the issue has taken on a sense of urgency.

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