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Mahoning County invests $1M in Valley Vision 2050

YOUNGSTOWN — The Mahoning County commissioners Thursday allocated $1 million from the county’s general fund to “Valley Vision 2050,” a regional economic development initiative.

Commissioner David Ditzler called it “an opportunity to do things that try to set the stage for the future.”

He said the closest commissioners have come to doing so was the ability to allocate American Rescue Plan funds to help the community move forward “because you can’t stand still. If you’re not moving forward, you are falling back.”

So when the Mahoning Valley Partnership, which consists of five area economic development organizations, came to the commissioners seeking funding to create a vision for the Mahoning Valley for decades to come, it had a lot going for it, Ditzler said.

The groups involved were Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Valley Partners, Western Reserve Port Authority, Youngstown Foundation and Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber.

Ditzler said the presentation was “from people that have been involved with boots on the ground for a long time in the Valley, and they have a great reputation. They have a great background.”

He added the commissioners learned about a study by Ernst & Young that involved focus groups, 38 interviews, about 80 participants and 60 organizations offering ideas on how to make the Mahoning Valley more economically competitive.

When considering something like this, Ditzler said it’s necessary to look at problems from the past and prevent problems in the future, but “you have to plant seeds. None of us can fix everything that is wrong today, but if we plant seeds … in places where it’s going to have an impact on our children and our children’s children.”

Ditzler said he hopes the Valley Vision 2050 plan partnership is “one step that moves us in that direction to really make an impact on Mahoning County and the Mahoning Valley.”

He said he hopes it “kind of primes the pump to get … everybody around in the same mind set so that collectively we can work together.”

Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber said the initiative brings together public, private and philanthropic sectors in a cooperative way he has never seen in his lifetime.

“We are looking at growing our economy, growing our quality of life … as community responsibility,” he said.

Coviello said later that a key starting point is to create a Valley Vision committee “that is bigger than us so that we get more stakeholder input.” That would include the county commissioners.

He said the size of the committee will depend, in part, on whether Trumbull County’s commissioners join in the program. “If it’s a one-county effort, it’s obviously going to be a smaller group.”

The Trumbull County commissioners still are considering whether to approve funds for Valley Vision 2050. When the group presented to the Trumbull commissioners late last month, commissioner Denny Malloy expressed support of the economic development efforts and wanted to have a seat at the table. Commissioner Niki Frenchko rejected providing the effort any extra money from the county.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa was on the fence and still remains so. After hearing that Mahoning County had approved the funds, Cantalamessa on Thursday said he remains undecided.

Coviello said the success of the effort should be measured by not just jobs created and retained but also the total number of jobs in the community. “It’s not just any job but family sustainable wage jobs. And we need to pay attention to where the jobs are to make sure they are reaching underserved neighborhoods.”

He said other ways to measure success should include poverty rate and educational attainment.

Jim Kinnick, Eastgate executive director, said one way to measure success is “quality of life — arts, parks, cultural aspects that focus on retaining people and having people return to the area.”

Kinnick said another focus will be marketing the area. “We don’t talk about how good it is — when it comes to jobs, educational opportunities, entertainment.”

Coviello said this project will allow the community to focus on small businesses, nonprofit businesses, arts and cultural districts.

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