By Danny restivo
Motorists driving north on U.S. Route 422 might get the impression that steel mills never left the city.
On the western half of the one-mile stretch to Girard, clouds of smoke emanate from enormous industrial facilities. Dump trucks carrying heaps of scrap metal are a common sight.
It’s a familiar image for many older Valley residents, but for Joel Mastervich, V&M Star president and chief operating officer, it should not be mistaken as the same old type of work.
“We are not your father’s mill,” he said. “It’s not even a steel mill; it’s a pipe mill, and the business we are in is not the same as it was back in the day. We are in the energy business.”
In October, the new $1.1 billion facility produced its first batch of steel pipe to be used in the extraction of shale gas.
As the high-tech plant ramps up production, Youngstown, Girard and V&M are collaborating in an effort to beautify the area along Route 422.
In the fall, Girard and Youngstown were selected to receive a grant from the Eastgate Transportation Enhancement Program. The program utilizes federal funds to finance projects that enhance the area’s transportation systems.
Girard will receive $85,000 to fund beautification efforts at Interstate 80 and Route 422, while Youngstown will receive $115,000 for landscape and community signs at state Route 711 and Route 422.
A V&M spokesman said the company pledged $11,500 to the Youngstown site, and Girard Mayor Jim Melfi said his city would receive $17,000 from V&M.
“These are excellent projects,” said Melfi. “The company benefits, but also the community benefits.”
Mastervich said projects such as this are important because people from all over the world travel to see the new state-of-the-art pipe rolling facility.
“When people see blight, it’s a big deterrent,” he said. “People come from all over and they look around, and the impression we want them to take away is very important to the area.”
Vallourec, the parent company of V&M, is a French-based company that has 51 production mills in 20 countries, according to its website. Many of those facilities are in Europe, which share a history similar to Youngstown’s.
“There are a lot of Rust Belt cities in Europe like here,” said Mastervich. “Vallourec has sincere interest in sustainability efforts in all their plants, and it means cleaning up of industrial sites.”
One of those efforts included working with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to identify vegetation that could be cleared along the Mahoning River waterfront. He said Roger Lindgren Way, named after the former president of V&M, runs one mile parallel to the river and has been cleared to make a more aesthetically pleasing picture.
“We took out the dried and dead brush, and you can actually see the river from the road now,” said Mastervich.
Outside of Joint Economic Development District between Girard and Youngstown, officials are hoping to create the image of an eco-friendly industry, without the backdrop of blighted homes.
Presley L. Gillespie, executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., said V&M has expressed interest in clearing more homes in the area. Gillespie said he met with V&M officials a couple of times, but an overall plan has not been laid out.
In 2009, V&M worked with Lien Forward Ohio, a Mahoning County effort to return vacant, abandoned, tax-delinquent homes to use. The organization concentrated on Brier Hill, which sits across Route 422.
Gillespie said V&M officials are interested in mimicking those efforts again.
“They are very interested in turning it up a notch,” said Gillespie. “We are certainly interested in working with one of our largest private investors in the city.”
Mastervich, Gillespie and Melfi all agreed that community support is vital to a cleaner corridor.
“We would like to get as much community interest as possible,” said Mastervich. “We don’t own the land, and we can’t do it all.”