2013 holds the promise of a bright future for the Valley

Two years ago, we rang in the new year on an optimistic note because of our firm belief that the solid economic foundation laid in 2010 would begin to pay dividends.

Considering that the country was in the midst of a major recession, we might have seemed na Øve or, at least, unjustifiably positive about the region’s future.

But, when 2011 was relegated to the history books, we took pleasure in the fact that our optimism was not misplaced.

The Mahoning Valley had a good year then — just as it had a good year in 2012. And that’s not only our assessment. We heard from national economists and think tanks whose job it is to figure out which regions of the country are on an upward trajectory and which ones are not. Report after report placed the tri-county area of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties high up on the list of strong economic performances.

Through 2012, The Vindicator published numerous stories about significant private investment in projects ranging from auto manufacturing, to pipe making, to gas and oil exploration, and the participation of the federal and state governments in other economic development initiatives.

Thus today, the Mahoning Valley is well positioned for a bright future.

Indeed, if all of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place — we would be surprised if they didn’t — this region will continue to make national headlines.

Consider what has taken place at the V&M Star project along route 422 on land spanning Youngstown and Girard.

Huge private investment

In our editorial in January 2011, we talked about the $650 million investment by the French company Vallourec in a state-of-the-art pipe-making plant next to the existing V&M Star steel mill in Youngstown. The $650 million figure was correct at the time, but by the end of 2012, Vallourec’s investment had risen to more than $1 billion. That’s billion with a “b.”

It is also noteworthy that the steel pipe it produces will be used for the Marcellus and Utica shale exploration.

And speaking of shale, this part of the state is at the epicenter of what many experts are calling a potential gas and oil boom. Major exploration companies, including the transnational giant BP, have established a strong presence in the Valley. Local landowners are realizing newfound riches with the leasing of mineral rights.

We also went out on a limb and said that the future of auto manufacturing in the Valley was set with General Motors Co.’s Lordstown assembly plant producing the top-selling compact Chevrolet Cruze.

We weren’t exaggerating. GM, which had invested $350 million to upgrade its Lordstown plant, announced last year it would build the diesel version of the Cruze in the Valley, and later in the year came out with this: The Lordstown plant has been selected to build the next generation of GM’s compact model.

The opening in September of the $70 million National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute made international headlines. The fact that 65 colleges, universities, private companies and nonprofit organizations in this part of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia chose downtown Youngstown to establish the institute is a testament to Youngstown State University’s STEM College, the Youngstown Business Incubator and Congressman Tim Ryan’s unrelenting effort to create a tech belt from Pittsburgh to Youngstown to Akron and Cleveland.

But, with the economic winds to our backs as we begin 2013, there are challenges that will test our mettle.

YSU president

One of the most obvious is the appointment of a successor to YSU President Dr. Cynthia Anderson, who is retiring on July 1. The board of trustees have the unenviable task of finding just the right person to guide the open admission, urban institution into an uncertain future for higher education in Ohio.

The wrong decision could be costly to YSU, not only in terms of state funding, but its mission as a university that provides the opportunity for a degree for many students who are the first in their families to continue their education after high school.

The Valley must also come together to prepare a defense for an attack on the Air Reserve Base that will undoubtedly come from other parts of the country when the Pentagon’s budget is cut.

The Youngstown City School District could well be facing a state take over if its academic performance does not improve. The system is under state-mandated academic watch.

On the political front, while the excitement of the 2012 presidential election will not be replicated this year, the mayoral race in Youngstown will generate a lot of interest. The onus is on city voters to insist that the candidates clearly articulate their visions and offer solutions to the many problems that plague the city.

Overall, however, the Valley’s future is bright.

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