Hefty job growth targeted in Valley’s new economic development district

..Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine anneconomic development district in the State, Lake to River, involving Trumbull, Mahoning, Ashatabula and Columbiana counties...Staff photo/ R. Michael Semple

A new entity focused on job creation and business growth in the state’s lake-to-river region is ready to shift economic development efforts across the four counties into the next gear.

“This region of Ohio is experiencing new growth and is ready for even more prosperity,” said Gov. Mike DeWine, who on Wednesday announced Lake to River Economic Development.

It’s the seventh and final network region of JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development corporation, and includes Trumbull, Mahoning, Ashtabula and Columbiana counties.

“I’m very optimistic about what this region is going to do,” DeWine said before a full house at the Eastwood Event Centre in Niles. “We’ve done well in the last four or five years (and) we’re going to see more growth in the future.”

The development is being hailed as a game changer by the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber, which will work closely with the organization while expanding and redefining its role in economic development by pointing more resources at “strategic, transformational initiatives” to ready the region for “future and sustained economic growth,” according to the chamber.

Lake to River joins the six other JobsOhio network partners: Dayton Development Coalition, Ohio Southeast Economic Development, One Columbus, REDI Cincinnati, Regional Growth Partnership and Team NEO, which the local region was part of before the split.


Local economic development groups, business leaders and others approached DeWine’s office in March 2023 with the proposal because the region felt, and still is feeling, the impact of Ohio’s economic growth through a large number of project leads and projects for development.

“I’m enthusiastic about this and when the group came to me, I said, ‘look, this makes sense. This really, really makes sense,'” DeWine said. “I think it’s going to enable each of the four counties to work together to be stronger than we were before. I think it’s going to enable this region to market itself better than it has ever done before. And I think it’s going to give the people who are thinking about investing in this area more confidence as well.”

Since 2019, the region has had 34% growth in deals, 23% growth in new jobs, a 61% increase in new payroll and a 148% increase in retained jobs, said DeWine, who also cited some of the region’s top attributes, from its geography — halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and New York and Chicago — to its own media market, to workforce and strong economic development partnerships.

In fact, the new region, anchored by Youngstown, was the only major metropolitan media market in Ohio without its own JobsOhio region.

The workforce development ecosystem includes Youngstown State University, the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition and the more than 20 partners that came together to form the Regional Workforce Coalition, according to a news release from the state.

In addition, there’s momentum in the region, built by JobsOhio and Team NEO in partnership with the chamber that includes 124 projects with more than 8,000 new jobs and a new payroll of more than $364 million.

The new organization will be led by a nine-person executive board — two from each of the four counties and one person appointed by JobsOhio. Alexa Sweeney Blackann, chamber board member and former president of the former Sweeney Chevrolet and Sweeney Buick GMC dealers in Boardman, is interim CEO.

“We’re on the map, literally,” said Sweeney, adding the region is “well-positioned to claim our share of the pie.”

“The governor’s office sees it, JobsOhio recognizes it and now, it’s up to us to make it happen,” Sweeney Blackann said.

The business community, elected and other officials and community leaders asked for it, and helped make the case to the state, she said.

“Our case detailed the unique landscape and geographic advantages that help us stand out as an economic development powerhouse, from ports on Lake Erie and the Ohio River to the strong border economy we share from Erie to Pittsburgh and the Appalachian region designation we proudly carry. We have never been so well aligned as a region,” Sweeney Blackann said.


Terry Slaybaugh, vice president of sites and infrastructure for JobsOhio, said the corporation provides funding to the seven network partners, all of which have two-year contracts for services that include business, site and talent development.

Lake to River was incubated at the regional chamber, and in fact, several members of the chamber’s staff have transitioned over to the new organization, which will have its office in the City Centre One building in downtown Youngstown.

It’s the same building that houses the chamber, Western Reserve Port Authority, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and the Youngstown Foundation, all of which, Sweeney Blackann said, put work into building the Lake to River.

JobsOhio, meanwhile, will spend the next six to eight months training Lake to River’s staff on how to communicate and deliver economic development opportunities and programs. Team NEO will continue to support the projects and businesses JobsOhio has active projects with, and slowly, toward the end of the year, those will transition to Lake to River, Slaybaugh said.


“This game-changing announcement allows the regional chamber and its many partners to focus their attention on altering our economic development landscape to capitalize on a generational opportunity for growth that surfaced over the last four years,” Guy Coviello, the chamber’s president and chief executive, said.

Among the challenges, he said, will be growing the population, increasing the housing stock and creating public policies that result in more shovel-ready sites for commercial and industrial development.

Coviello said the chamber had “tremendous success” working with staff at the Cleveland-based Team NEO. Lake to River, he said, “more precisely overlaps our service area so together we can better align with our region’s opportunities and challenges.”

Among those opportunities are additive manufacturing, oil and natural gas in the Utica Shale and the Valley’s stake in electric, autonomous and connected mobility, sectors that Coviello said gives “the region a sustainable, competitive advantage to grow the economy.”

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


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