Valley mayors talk up economic development

WARREN — The mayors of the two largest cities in the Mahoning Valley appeared to be more brothers-in-arms than competitors fighting to bring new businesses and industries to their respective communities.

In fact, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin and Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown early during a discussion about economic development in Trumbull and Mahoning counties identified their communities as collaborating competitors.

The mayors, along with Warren Community Development Director Michael Keys and Youngstown Economic Development liaison Dominic C. Marchionda Jr. were panelists during an economic development discussion sponsored by the City Club of the Mahoning Valley on Monday at Warren’s Packard Music Hall.

Franklin told the crowd of more than 100 that businesses tend to look at regions, so it is beneficial for officials in both communities to work together.

Marchionda said the two cities are distinct, but share similar histories.

The two mayors recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in programs with the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber in an effort to attract government investments and new businesses to the area.

Franklin said the new economy requires communities to work more closely together. Warren, for example, worked with Akron officials to successfully convince eBay, a multi-national corporation, to begin working with local businesses on a project that encourages the small businesses to branch outside of the area to do businesses.

Keys said leaders of both cities are looking to get younger entrepreneurs involved, noting recent positive changes happening in downtown Warren, including new restaurants, a craft beer operation and investments in apartment living, have been based on the ideas and energy of younger people.

Franklin said they want to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship, where the community will continue to grow using the good ideas, wherever they come from.

“Mayors are not above plagiarizing,” he said. “We copy good ideas.”

When questioned about immigration by program moderator M. L. Schultze, digital editor at WKSU 89.7 FM, Brown said the arrest of Amer “Al Adi” Othman, a Youngstown businessman who was deported to Jordan in January, hurt him personally, because he was aware of the investments made in Youngstown by his family.

“It was very hard to watch,” Brown said.

He also questioned the use of a private prisons as places to house those arrested by customs agents.

The whole idea of a private prison is to keep their population up to about 80 percent to maximize the profits of their investors, Brown said.

Keys, whose family is from Ireland, said the viewpoint of immigrants has changed in recent years, noting that many Mahoning Valley families have their own immigrant legacies.

Questioned about the perception that some areas are not safe, Marchionda Jr. said he lives in downtown Youngstown.

“We have meetings in the downtown area, so we are not traveling far, “Marchionda said. “We have to start bragging about our cities and be our own ambassadors.”

When questioned about getting grocery stores in the cities, Brown said he established a food policy committee of people from diverse areas of the community that meets once a month to look at ways to bring grocery stores into the city.

“We have to be our own driving force,” Brown said. “We are looking at Toledo, where an organization placed a grocery store on the second floor of an existing retail area.”