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When we set aside partisanship, parochialism

New Years is a time of renewal, and nothing says renewal to the Mahoning Valley’s economy than the recent announcement that Kimberly-Clark is acquiring 560 acres of some of the best shovel-ready property in the United States for manufacturing. It’s great to see the Valley’s stalwart economic development agencies, the Western Reserve Port Authority and the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber, work together as seamlessly as possible to make these opportunities happen. Congratulations to both teams.

And now, like a good chess match, it gives the development actors ability to further think proactively about the future of the Valley.

The first thing that struck me about the news is how this is arguably the greatest recession-resilient massive investment the Valley has ever seen. That is significant in itself. For the last century, the titans of the Valley’s economy had the issue of being a part of the most cyclical industries in modern times: steel, autos and most recently, oil and gas. While all great contributors to the economy, defensive diversification is a strong mitigant to the economic swings that impact so many people. A company that makes consumer goods we all must use during good times and bad means the Valley’s economy will have a more stable foundation.

Second, having a Fortune 500 company invest in such a large presence is the best testimonial for other global companies to consider the Valley. Within the last decade, the Valley can point to Vallourec, LG/GM (and I will always give credit to GM for keeping its promise to build a battery plant near its shuttered assembly operation), Foxconn and now Kimberly-Clark. That really is an impressive global list of companies.

Third — and this is something most politicians do not want to say out loud — let’s hope Kimberly-Clark’s operations are as automated as possible. The two main reasons are the quality of high-paying jobs for engineers and technicians that support the automation and logistics that most likely made that location even more attractive for Kimberly-Clark execs. And it would also mean more YSU STEM students and Eastern Gateway graduates can stay in the Valley upon graduating. There also is still a labor shortage nationally, and these large investments by large companies sometimes have the side effect of making it harder for existing Valley companies to find and retain workers. This is really no different than the Vallourec plant, which is the perfect combination of using modern automation tech and hiring a great workforce.

Fourth, what is also great is that there remains roughly 400 acres on that incredible site for new investments. Right now, America is seeing a manufacturing renaissance, thanks in part to President Biden’s CHIPS act, Infrastructure Act and the clean energy components of the Inflation Reduction Act. The Valley is a participant in the clean energy revolution due to Ultium and Foxconn, but there are other parts of the green economy that can be a focus point: solar supply chain, wind, small modular nuclear, etc. It would be great for that remaining property to be used to lure such companies.

Last, this is another catalyst for the Valley’s actors to attempt to re-establish daily service from YNG. I have been very vocal that daily service to Detroit’s awesome airport makes the most sense (I like to call it Motown to Yotown), as the domestic and international connectivity is nearly unrivaled at DTW. Now is go time, and hats off to the Port Authority for continuing to make daily air service a priority.

The best part of this news is that it is happening right at the footsteps of what is sure to be a noisy year in the U.S. politically. These types of announcements are ones in which all people in the Valley, whether you are a Democrat, Republican or cynical independent, can share in the rejoicing.

The Mahoning Valley can once again show Ohio and the U.S. what can happen when people put aside partisanship and parochialism to work for the common good. Congrats to all of the citizens of the Valley!

Eric Planey is a Mahoning Valley native and CEO of SolaBlock, a Massachusetts and New York-based construction / climatetech startup.

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