Former rivals promote Warren
Blank, Mayor Franklin hope to attract businesses
WARREN — Mayor Doug Franklin and his one time political rival Dennis Blank have joined forces to develop what they hope will be a public-private economic development tool that will help attract and retain new businesses in the city.
The idea is to develop a non-profit, The Fund for Warren’s Future, that will coordinate the giving of small amounts of money that will provide gap funds allowing the completion of 16 specific projects approved by its board.
The non-profit will use funds currently being gathered from private businesses and organizations, as well as a one-time contribution from the city.
Franklin and Blank are hoping to raise and set aside at least $150,000 — $100,000 from donations provided by private organizations and $50,000 from the city — for the project’s base income.
Blank, a city resident and the editor of the “Warren Expressed” blog, and Franklin for three months have been talking to area business leaders and the heads of non-profits about the development of the fund to determine their interest.
The one-time political rivals who had a contentious battle for the mayor’s seat in 2015 began talking to one another about economic development during Warren’s 0.5 percent income tax increase campaign in 2016. The discussions accelerated in January and culminated in this plan’s outline in March.
As they began making the rounds to present the idea, some people had to get over the surprise of the two men walking in the door together on the joint mission.
Franklin said groups and organizations expressing interest include AVI, Covelli Enterprises, Raymond J. Wean Foundation and the Community Foundation of Mahoning Valley.
“Some of the organizations want to see a financial commitment in making this work,” Franklin said.
Warren City Auditor Vince Flask said the city can fund its $50,000 portion by taking money from the Warren Redevelopment Fund.
“This is not money generated through income taxes,” Flask said.
The city has nearly $500,000 in its redevelopment fund account that is generated from rent paid by organizations using city-owned buildings.
The fund is used to pay for expenses associated with the former Gibson Building and for the retirements of bonds.
During Thursday’s presentation to City Council’s Economic Development Committee, Blank outlined some issues he believes are hurting the city’s ability to reverse the decline it has been experiencing over the last 20 years or more, including in population, housing values, workforce participation, educational opportunities, income and governmental resources.
Blank said that these issues must be addressed in some fashion before the city looks at the possibility of hiring a person or contracting with a firm to do economic development.
“The cost of hiring a firm to do economic development could be as high as $150,000 per year, which, if the wrong person or firm is hired, may be wasted,” Blank said.
Franklin emphasized that the city already has some economic development partners, including Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Warren Redevelopment and Planning, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and its own community development department in providing economic development assistance.
Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-at large, called the plan a good first step, but wants a more detailed explanation on how Franklin and Blank will accomplish their goals.
“I would like to see neighborhood beautification included in this, because I believe you have to wash your car before you sell it,” Colbert said. “We have to make the city more attractive to businesses and more attractive to people looking to purchase homes.”
Colbert said the cost of buying a home in Warren with its older housing stock is not that much less expensive than the cost of buying in a neighboring community where the homes are newer and more updated.
“People are looking for value, so we must do those things to make the city more attractive and add value,” he said.
Colbert questioned whether the administration has both the will and the resources to accomplish these goals.
Councilman Eugene Mach, D-7th Ward, would like to see more details of The Fund for Warren’s Future plan before committing city money to it.
“This is a great start and I am pleased the administration and business community are looking at ways to try to turn things around,” Mach said. “This is something I can support, but I want to make sure we have a solid plan, which is something I think will be presented in the next few of meetings.”