Mahoning Valley has an ally in the Obama administration

If Jay Williams, deputy director of the U.S. Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and former mayor of Youngstown, returns next year to address the regional chamber’s Economic Forecast Breakfast, he’ll be sporting an even more impressive title: assistant secretary of Commerce for economic development.

Talk about the region having a friend in a high place.

Indeed, based on Williams’ keynote speech last week at the chamber gathering, the Mahoning Valley will serve as an important point of reference as he directs the Economic Development Administration. Senate confirmation of President Obama’s nominee is imminent. Williams has already won the approval of the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works.

In his comments to local business leaders, Williams, who was mayor from 2006 to August 2011 before joining the Obama White House as executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, described the region as a laboratory and a bellwether for innovation and economic development.

“There’s that ability and that willingness to do that here because, sometimes, it’s out of necessity,” he said. “Things that are successful here really bode well for the rest of the country.”

The region should embrace the idea of being the economic development laboratory for the rest of the country because it means we can make a strong case for increased federal dollars to continue the innovation Williams talked about.

Indeed, the Obama administration already has proof that the Valley is a good investment — with the rousing success of the still infant America Makes, formerly the National Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Institute.

The federal government invested $30 million to help get the project off the ground. The downtown Youngstown institute, which is developing new manufacturing technologies that lower overhead and encourage businesses to hire more domestic workers, has attracted national and international attention.

Regional consortium

The $70 million entity was launched in 2012 by nine research universities, including Youngstown State, Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve, five community colleges, including Eastern Gateway; 40 companies and 11 nonprofit organizations in the Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh Tech Belt. The regional participants put up $40 million.

President Obama obviously is aware of what’s going on in Youngstown. He mentioned America Makes twice in speeches this month.

Williams also talked about General Motors’ Lordstown assembly plant that is producing the top-selling Chevrolet Cruze, and Vallourec Star, which is making steel pipe for the oil and gas industry in its $1 billion-plus manufacturing facility along U.S. Route 422 on a site spanning Youngstown and Girard.

Given that Williams, as the mayor of Youngstown, was instrumental in Vallourec Star’s parent company, Paris, France-based Vallourec, selecting the Valley for its state-of-the-art plant, he can be expected, as head of EDA, to ensure that the company doesn’t fall victim to unfair trade practices, such as the dumping of steel pipe by this nation’s so-called trading partners.

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