Pick up the pace to ensure developers can as well

“If you build it, they will come.”

In this instance, the pithy expression that originated in an iconic 1989 motion picture could be followed by this considerably less concise statement: “And if you can’t build due to difficult and costly permitting and other challenges, word will spread quickly and then no one will come.”

It’s awkward, we know. But so is the permitting process here in our Mahoning Valley and, apparently, also in much of Ohio and the nation.

Giving potential new businesses difficult hurdles to overcome often not only prolongs the development process, but also discourages those developers — and future ones — from building and bringing new jobs here.

Bill Koetzle of Building a Better America leads an organization undertaking an effort for reforming the building permit process, including to speed federal approvals for technical and environmental permits for infrastructure, manufacturing and energy-related projects. Koetzle this month led a roundtable discussion in Boardman on reforming the system.

Participating in the discussion were panelists U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta; Marty Loney, Local 396 business agent and president, Western Reserve Building Trades; Guy Coviello, president / CEO, Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber; and Jackie Stewart, director of external affairs, Encino Energy.

It’s an important discussion, particularly for the Mahoning Valley and other areas of Appalachia that consistently seem to lag behind other larger urban areas in economic growth and new construction.

Additionally, the permitting process isn’t just long. It’s also expensive.

Locally, the Regional Chamber’s Coviello pointed out that permitting issues don’t just affect big business. They also affect small- to medium-sized companies wanting to grow or develop here.

“Let’s not forget there remains small, even family-owned manufacturing operations that are simply trying to expand,” Coviello said. “And that permitting process can be very costly for them, change their whole makeup of their ability to grow the local economy.”

According to Congressman Johnson, overall, the permit process often can be the longest and most complicated part of new development.

Koetzle says, on average, U.S. projects take some 4 1/2 years from application to approval.

Yes, 4 1/2 YEARS.

That’s outrageous and significantly problematic, particularly when America is competing in a global economy.

The good news, however, is that the topic is being explored and discussed.

In fact, Johnson said work he and other members of the House’s energy and commerce committee are doing this session “is right in the bull’s-eye of this permitting issue.”


Specifically, Johnson said the committee’s work includes attempts at cutting red tape in Washington, D.C., to unlock access to raw materials, quickly returning critical supply line and jobs to the U.S. and advancing America’s energy dominance, thus reducing reliance on China and other foreign adversaries.

“If we don’t break the logjam in this permitting process, we’re going to continue to fall behind and we’re going to continue to fall victim to nations like China,” which doesn’t have a permitting process, but “they just do,” Johnson said.

Indeed, we must figure out how to make the process swifter here, while still remaining responsible.

Johnson assures us this challenge can be overcome. While we are hopeful, we also hold some skepticism, given the track record of legislators in our nation’s capitol.

But certainly, economic growth and development are topics everyone on both sides of the aisle should be able to agree upon.

As Loney noted, this is “about putting people to work.”

Now, let’s get to work not only nationally and statewide, but also on the local government level to find ways to move the permitting process along more swiftly without weakening the standards, and also without breaking the bank, particularly for businesses that want to be longterm partners with our Valley.


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