Overseeing the helm in Valley’s newest venture

Lake to River announces staff

YOUNGSTOWN — Lake to River Economic Development, the newly formed JobsOhio economic development region, has named seven people to its staff.

Announced in April, the region — the seventh network region of JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development corporation — is Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties.

It’s job is to stimulate job growth and business creation across the four counties, which were previously part of Team NEO, another of JobsOhio’s affiliates.

The staff members are:

•   Alexa Sweeney Blackann, interim chief executive

Sweeney Blackann is the former president of Sweeney Chevrolet and Sweeney Buick GMC in Boardman, and currently a consultant to #1 Cochran, the Pennsylvania-based dealer that purchased the dealerships in 2023.

She serves on the board of directors for the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber, BRITE Energy Innovators, YSU Foundation, Better Business Bureau and Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation, and chairs the Impact Committee for the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

In addition, she is a trustee for the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.

•   Sarah Boyarko, vice president of economic development

In the role, Boyarko leads all aspects of the economic development team. She spent nearly 18 years at the regional chamber, where she held a variety of executive level positions, including chief operating officer and senior vice president of economic development.

Under her direction, the chamber’s economic development team managed 214 projects that resulted in $6.2 billion of private investment and the creation of 10,178 new jobs throughout the Mahoning Valley.

She is a 2009 graduate of Leadership Mahoning Valley, a 2009 honoree of the Mahoning Valley Young Professionals’ 40 Under 40 Award, is a member of the National and Western Reserve Chapters of the Society for Human Resource Management and sits on several Mahoning Valley boards and committees.

•   Michael McGiffin, vice president of engagement and investor relations

McGiffin leads activities regarding private investment and stakeholder engagement.

He most recently served as president for the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber Foundation, where he also oversaw operations of the Warren Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Foundation and Warren Area Chamber of Commerce Education, Civic and Cultural Foundation.

Previously, McGiffin served as a project manager for Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s OnRamp to Remote Learning initiative, chief strategy officer at Stambaugh Auditorium and director of events and Special Projects for the City of Youngstown.

•   Matt Falter, director of talent engagement

Falter manages the Regional Workforce Coalition and is responsible for coordination of the regional talent strategy.

Previously, Falter worked as director of business solutions for the Workforce Initiative Association in Canton.

He has more than 24 years of private and public sector experience in economic and workforce development, including roles with Thomas P. Miller and Associates and the Ohio Department of Development.

•   David Wilaj, director of project management

In the role, Wilaj will partner with JobsOhio and local communities to support the retention and expansion of local companies and the attraction of new investment to the four counties.

He most recently served in a similar role for the regional chamber, where he also oversaw the launch of the Mahoning Valley Logistics Council.

•   Jason Neal, director of site strategies

Neal will work with JobsOhio and local stakeholders to identify and market available buildings and sites in the lake-to-river region to support business expansion and attraction investment.

He previously worked with the Kentucky Cabinet of Economic Development and Euphrates

International Investment Company.

•   Michelle Phillips, director of research

Phillips gathers, analyzes and reports data relative to the area’s economy, demographics and quality of life.

For the previous 25 years, she served in a similar role for the regional chamber, where she also provided business counseling services to entrepreneurs.


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