Valley economic leaders chat with Fed chairman
By RON SELAK JR.
The customer base for minority-owned small businesses, specifically black-owned small businesses, wasn’t wide enough to sustain constant cash flow when the viral outbreak struck, undoubtedly causing them to feel the economic pinch brought on by the pandemic.
“So with there being a lot of individuals who were laid off, incomes not coming in, those businesses were actually feeling that. Essential workers who are underpaid, they weren’t getting what they were used to getting as clientele,” said Carmella Williams, director of diversity and inclusion at the Youngstown Incubator.
To add to the issue, expos and conferences — those large-type events small businesses rely on for face-to-face interaction with customers — were canceled, so the incubator started training opportunities to show those owners how to pivot, she said.
“A lot of the time we saw that there wasn’t a website or they didn’t have a digital media presence, so we helped them to do that,” said Williams, who also owns Carmella Marie Inc., an all-natural hair care company.
“Also what we were able to do was to provide cross marketing opportunities to businesses who might not have a had a predominantly white customer base outside of the black and brown communities. So by doing that, more of the community became aware of them and as a result could support them,” Williams said.
The ability to quickly help struggling businesses and manufacturers, the hardiness those businesses and manufacturers exhibit going back to the collapse of the steel industry, and what’s next in store to continue to grow and develop were discussed by Williams and other local officials Friday with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Cleveland Fed President and CEO Loretta J. Mester.
The 90-minute video conference, “Building a Resilient Workforce,” focused on the impacts of the pandemic to the Youngstown-area workforce and other economic catastrophes, including the gut-punch November 2018 announcement that General Motors was closing its Lordstown assembly plant, dislocating about 1,500 more workers after already eliminating two shifts of about 3,000 workers.
Also joining were Jessica Borza, executive director, Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition; Sarah Boyarko, chief operating officer, Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber; Jamael Tito Brown, Youngstown mayor; Jim Tressel, president, Youngstown State University; and Nick Chretien, program manager for the Economic Action Group.
“Conversations like this are incredibly valuable to us because they give context to reams of data and definition to this huge United States economy that we have, and they also help us solve problems on a practical level,” Powell said.
The result of the experience of the disappearance of the steel industry and the slow workforce reduction at the assembly plant helped in a way to diversify the community regarding investments, job opportunities and payroll.
“Because of this, had General Motors closed 20 years ago let’s say, the impact could have been much more significant to the automotive supply chain as well as service providers,” said Boyarko. “Many of the companies have diversified their own products within that industry as well as the companies that they sell to or work with.”
Immediately after the announcement, the chamber and its partners developed a list of more than 100 companies with open positions for displaced workers, plus Eastern Gateway Community College offered free tuition for affected assembly plant and supply chain workers and their family members for training and education.
The manufacturers coalition over time has focused on training less skilled workers and making sure “there is a really good connection between the demand that exists” in the manufacturing base and partners in education and training.
There has been work with EGCC, YSU and local career and technical centers to “build a system of education and training programs that are really in tune with the competencies that are needed by our manufacturers locally so we really have high quality programs that also complement one another,” Borza said.
This helps people get the skills they need in a shorter period of time to start work and then continue education and skill acquisition “so they are also building their earning potential and kind of stacking those credentials on one another,” she said.
The discussion was the first of a two-part series of Youngstown-focused events.
There are plans for a second, in-person event tentatively set for the fall.