Valley must tackle challenges and seize opportunities in ’18


It is clearly understandable why “happy” would not readily roll off the tongues of many in the Mahoning Valley to describe our region as it enters this new year.

After all, many of the tragic, disheartening and pessimistic social, economic and political waves that drowned out progress in our community in 2017 continue to gush furiously into 2018.

Among the most daunting challenges confronting the Valley through much of 2017 lie on the economic plain, including two of the region’s stalwart job-producing institutions.

The General Motors Lordstown Complex continues to reel from the major hit it took last year through the loss of more than 800 workers when its third shift was eliminated. Poor sales of its product – the compact Chevrolet Cruze – fueled by low gas prices and changing consumer tastes have placed the future viability of the complex in limbo.

All hands – from workers on the production floor to local, state and federal government leaders – must make jumpstarting plant operations a priority in the new year. Toward that end, we renew our call for President Donald J. Trump to live up to his pledge of injecting new economic vitality into our region by pressing GM leaders to pave the way for stability and growth at its Valley plant.

Elsewhere, the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna – the workplace for some 1,600 military personnel – faces a pivotal year as well. As we editorialized Sunday, robust and convincing support from the community and from leaders in Columbus and Washington on the need for a new and modernized fleet of cargo planes will be critical toward strengthening the base’s role as a community economic engine and a vital cog in our national defense.

ACTION NEEDED TO STEM OPIATE PLAGUE

But the challenges our community faces in 2018 stretch beyond the economy. The opiate epidemic that has ravaged the region the past several years also will require a continued and concerted push to quell. Maximum local, state and federal resources must be marshaled to assist in treating victims adequately, stanching the flow of illicit drugs and raising awareness of the tragedies the plague creates.

Politically, too, the Valley can count on more of the same disheartening news. In Youngstown, the evolving downtown development scandal involving misuse of public funds for private gain will grow in intensity as at least one former city official is expected to be indicted soon. Already, Dominic Marchionda, the head of the NYO Property Group, has been indicted on 105 bribery and corruption charges.

In Trumbull County, the corruption trial of longtime Mayor Ralph Infante is scheduled to begin early this year. His trial on dozens of charges tied to bribery and corruption will keep that familiar stain on Valley politics on public display for quite some time.

ROOM FOR OPTIMISM

Clearly, 2018 is rife with challenges. But not all is gloom and doom. On several horizons, varying degrees of optimism loom large.

As for economic development, the $1 billion Lordstown Energy Center nears completion and work will start in earnest on its twin Trumbull Energy Center natural-gas plant this year. In Youngstown, one of the largest industrial projects in decades – the Joseph International Co. chill-can plant – has begun hiring the first of its expected 250 employees for its East Side production and research center. In addition, the Youngstown/Warren Chamber has hinted at two large job-producing projects to be announced soon.

As for community development, all systems remain go in downtown Youngstown for opening the largest commercial enterprise since the Covelli Centre a decade ago. The new 134-room DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in the former Stambaugh Building will provide an exciting and bustling complement to other downtown rejuvenation efforts. In downtown Warren, restoration of the Robins Theater plus other retail and commercial projects promise much hubbub there as well.

Even in the political arena, hope springs eternal. Newly elected Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown has pledged an administration free of seedy shenanigans and public corruption. Elections for Ohio governor and congressional seats could serve as precursors to positive change in our state and federal governments for 2019 and beyond.

In sum, conditions are favorable for guarded optimism as we stand on the welcome mat to 2018. For optimal success, however, we must confront the vexing challenges that weigh us down and seize the momentum of new opportunities that can build us up.

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