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Funding secured for utility study

Will identify ways to improve infrastructure, collaboration

Federal dollars will help pay for a study that has the potential to boost the economic vitality of Trumbull and Mahoning counties and, perhaps, help shed some of the parochial attitudes when it comes to providing businesses utility services.

Eastgate Regional Council of Governments next week expects to start the process of picking a consultant to lead what’s expected to be a six-month review of the two-county region’s water, wastewater and electric infrastructure.

It will look at “improvement opportunities from an infrastructure standpoint and improvement opportunities where we would be able to act more as a region versus individual communities,” said Jim Kinnick, Eastgate’s executive director.

A regional utilities management system also would streamline development approvals and permits.

The Voltage Valley Entrepreneurial Ecosystem – Regionalization Study received a boost Thursday with $50,000 in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an economic development agency of the U.S. government and 13 state governments, including Ohio.

It is estimated to cost about $100,000 to complete. Eastgate is pitching in the balance from its other planning dollars.

A consultant should be on board as soon as the end of October with the study starting the next month. The initial phase will include getting input from stakeholders the likes of community officials and utility providers.

It also will include examples of other communities that have undertaken similar collaborative initiatives to show how those models work and how they arrived there, Kinnick said.

“It’s important that we become more user-friendly when it comes to outside businesses we are trying to attract to the area. We want to limit their obstacles as they make a determination whether they will locate their business or industry in this region,” Kinnick said. “If we can expedite the efforts when it comes to water and wastewater, which is very important to businesses these days, we think we can elevate this region when it comes to site selection.”

It might also help communities stabilize water rates “on one consistent model that works for the region versus several models that go through several different communities,” Kinnick said.

Buy-in amongst local officials could present a challenge, however.

“The easy part is the study. Implementation of the plan will be the challenge. As a regional entity, we will work with other regional partners we have, the (Western Reserve) port authority, the (Youngstown / Warren Regional) chamber. We’ll call on our legislators to work with us and our communities to work with us and our business leaders in the community to work with us and hopefully we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to prosperity by working together,” Kinnick said.

Said Guy Coviello, president / CEO of the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber, “while we have had a nice run on economic investment and job creation over the last 20 or so months, future success will stifled if we don’t improve our utility systems. We’re fortunate that Eastgate has stepped up to get the data assembled that will lead to a solution.”

The funding is part of $46.4 million that ARC awarded to support 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties through the commissioners Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative.

In Ohio, $6.3 million was awarded to several entities, including another $50,000 to Struthers for its Reimagining Struthers proposal to study the potential of the city as a green manufacturing ecosystem.

The scope includes Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties, Hancock County in West Virginia and Beaver, Lawrence and Mercer counties in western Pennsylvania.

The strategic plan will guide the development of CASTLO Community Improvement Corporation industrial park in Struthers as a green industrial manufacturing hub for research and development.

In addition, the plan will assess the feasibility of reviving dormant industrial infrastructure to support such an ecosystem to bolster job creation, business and product development in the project region.

“These projects are great examples of how government can work to bolster efforts on the ground in our community to dominate in the clean energy economy. The green energy industry is not only a major key to reigniting American competitiveness, but also to reigniting our workforce here in northeast Ohio,” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, said.

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