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Shift in thinking to more regional collaboration

Shift in thinking to more regional collaboration

As recently as five years ago, a sense of parochialism pervaded the Mahoning Valley. Individuals and groups — economic development, nonprofit and others — worked in silos, but still with the goal to better their communities.

The paradigm, however, has begun to shift, yet with the same end in mind. More and more, the walls are being removed and officials and agencies have endeavored to collaborate more — to do things in a new way to advance the region.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the shift began to happen, but there are a few key moments.

“At relatively the same time, a new generation of leaders took the top positions at critical organizations, and we came together and said to each other, we are going to do it differently,” Guy Coviello, president / CEO of the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber said.

Coviello is among the group. So is Jim Kinnick, executive director at Eastgate Regional Council of Governments; Teresa Miller, executive director at Valley Economic Development Partners; and Lynnette Forde, president of the Youngstown Foundation.

John Moliterno, former chief executive of the Western Reserve Port Authority, was part, too, before his retirement. Moliterno’s successor, Anthony Trevena, executive director of the agency, is all-in, too.

MOMENTS

Kinnick is in his ninth year leading Eastgate.

“I really felt the shift in the pendulum when James Dignan was the leader of the chamber. I can distinctly remember him several times sitting down and asking, how can we help you,” Kinnick said. “That’s when I felt the pendulum swing. He met with me several times, and said, ‘how can we at the chamber help you?’ ” Kinnick said.

That spirit continued when Coviello took the reins at the chamber and as other partnerships with the port authority, philanthropic organizations and the business community grew and became stronger.

All the arrows, so to speak, started to point in the same direction of a shared vision to collaborate and work together, Kinnick said.

Another key moment was in June 2021. That’s when local government leaders, economic development representatives and private sector officials met at the Grand Resort in Howland to discuss a regional approach to planning the use of American Rescue Plan funds.

“That started the discussion on team building and collaboration,” Kinnick said, adding he agrees getting those people in one room showed a willingness to cooperate.

In November, regional economic development partners, elected officials and other area leaders met to celebrate a $155.7 million grant application to the state to fund transformational projects across four northeast Ohio counties.

The event, however, was less about filing the mega request, but more about the 13 months of collaboration among people in Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties to develop the 41-project list.

Kinnick admitted there’s no cause to celebrate a grant application, “but this was important to show not only to our region, but to Columbus, here we come with an application that regional leaders came together” with local community leaders on an application that spans four counties.

Coviello also pointed to — and said he is impressed by — the willingness of commissioners in Trumbull and Mahoning counties to devote a considerable amount of money to what’s called Valley Vision 2050.

The plan is designed to stabilize and expand existing businesses; increase public awareness of arts and cultural industries; increase public participation in workforce training; expand education and employment opportunities; and increase stability of nonprofit organizations and businesses.

Trumbull County commissioners in December agreed to provide $500,000 to the effort immediately and another $500,000 in mid-2024 if the organizers can show progression in their goals.

Mahoning County commissioners in November pledged $1 million.

Commissioners who voted to support the plan, Coviello said, are looking beyond their political cycles. They also didn’t make it easy to get the money by holding the effort accountable to produce results.

“I’m a Trumbull County resident and it makes me feel good they are protecting my tax dollars,” Coviello said.

Yet another sign the thinking is starting to shift was summed up by port authority board member Ed Muransky when the board in December agreed to sell a portion of the former RG Steel property in Trumbull County to Fortune 200 company Kimberly-Clark.

He called the development a “great day, positive for our Valley” that would have a far-reaching positive impact across the region.

“And I think the biggest thing to take away out of this is the new wave in our Valley of everybody working together and not having any problems stand in our way of getting something done when it’s the right thing for the Valley,” he said.

“It’s just an example of what can be done if we are ‘we’ and hopefully this is the beginning of a lot of other things,” Muransky said.

WINS

Getting this far has been a slow grind, Coviello said, and “by no means is it done.”

“We have a lot more teamwork and organizations aligned and cooperating than I think we have had in our history, but there is still a lot more not on board yet,” Coviello said.

Why?

For some, he said it might be that it’s more difficult to trust and for others, it could be a challenge to see that success is shared. Kinnick said some people may feel excluded, but, he said, he welcomes their participation and input in the movement.

Coviello and Kinnick said stacking wins will go a long way toward continuing the shift in thinking.

“I think everybody wants to be part of success, wants to be successful,” Kinnick said. “Seeing the group working together hit on things, I think now that is certainly changing the mindset to, ‘Hey, wait a second, I don’t need to be working alone, I can ask for help.'”

Have an interesting story? Email Business Editor Ron Selak Jr. at rselak@tribtoday.com.

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