Repopulation efforts will take all of us

The number of people living in Warren has declined consistently every year for decades, reaching 39,201 in 2020. That’s down by nearly a quarter since its 1990 population of 50,890.

In Youngstown, the population in 2020 dropped to 60,270, down more than a third from its 1990 population of 95,696.

Now, you might point out many cities have seen declines as residents move to suburbia. But consider this.

Trumbull County, as a whole, declined in population to 196,800 in 2020. In 1990, the number of residents here was 227,795 — down by more than 13 percent.

Mahoning County’s 2020 population was 226,075. In 1990, it was 264,806. Down by more than 14 percent.

Undeniably, ongoing local population decline is cause for concern, particularly for business.

Fewer residents mean fewer workers.

The loss of younger workers translates into a loss of innovative ideas that generally come from the young.

Declining workforce means less productivity, and, ultimately, it could lead to business shutdown.

On a social level, mental-health strain rises with loss of business and jobs.

Also, loss of younger workers could mean fewer caretakers for the elderly.

The task of bringing jobs to the area is challenged when potential employers see a dwindling workforce.

And if a larger business does develop and grow in a region like our Mahoning Valley with a declining workforce, small businesses ultimately will suffer as workers migrate to larger companies that might offer better pay and benefits.

Essentially, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Now, the leaders of some local economic development agencies think they may have a solution.

The Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments are partnering on an initiative to keep and attract residents. They say this is vital if the region is to meet the job requirements in growing tech-related industries.

Consider that Foxconn intends to continue to increase manufacturing capability of its electric-vehicle assembly plant in Lordstown, resulting in more worker demand.

And Ultium Cells now expects to exceed its original projection of about 1,100 employees needed to produce battery cells for EVs when the plant is fully operational next year.

Additionally, efforts will continue by local economic development groups to grow existing and attract new businesses around electrification and elsewhere — the result is people are in demand.

To meet demand of existing and future employers, the Chamber and Eastgate are tackling the Valley’s population decline problem through a so-called office of repopulation.

Eastgate has applied for a state planning grant that focuses on revitalizing downtowns in communities along the Mahoning River, workforce development and health care. If successful, some of the requested $750,000 to $1 million would be used on the workforce component of repopulation, said Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate.

The pot is funded with $500 million set aside for the state’s Appalachia communities, which include Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

Also, Kinnick said, Eastgate is in the early stages of starting a housing assessment and strategy for the two-county region. It’s hoped a consultant will be on board within two months.

The concept also would include internal and external marketing of the Valley.

Kinnick also told our business writer Ron Selak that repopulating the area could come with three Rs: retaining existing residents, returning homegrown talent and receiving immigrants and refugees.

We suspect some local residents may not view that third R with open arms.

The fact is, this could be a big part of a new and vital approach to regrowing this region that once was booming, but now struggles.

We applaud this forward-thinking attitude, and we urge you to do the same.

Let’s face it, our Valley has been longing for new economic growth and development for decades.

Now that we are on the brink, we must think hard about the risk of losing it without a sufficient labor force to support the industry.

Frankly, the saying, “If you build it, they will come,” doesn’t always ring true.

Instead, we all must get on board by promoting the wonderful attributes of our Valley, to keep our young people here and to attract outsiders — even those who have been displaced by crisis in their home countries, such as Ukraine.

Community leaders must have vision. Residents must remain open minded and welcoming to potential growth.

We know the wonderful benefits of living in this Valley. Now we must send that message in a united, loud voice.

It will take all of us.



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