WARREN Opening their communities for business often is a favorite mantra for politicians running for office.
Since taking office in January, Mayor Doug Franklin began a concentrated effort in getting to know local businesses and industries. He expects to continue this practice through much of his first year in office.
Franklin, who has served as a councilman, council president, safety service director and now mayor since winning his first election 22 years ago, says the city's future depends on its relationship with both existing businesses and his ability to attract new businesses to the city.
Jeff Greathouse builds a countertop on Thursday at Trumbull Industries. Photos by Raymond L. Smith
"I initially had a meeting with a group of leaders in banking and the financial services industry and a couple weeks later with people in manufacturing," Franklin said.
The purpose of the meetings is to establish new relationships with businesses and to see what they believe the city can do to help them.
"Too often governments, in general, takes businesses for granted," he said. "I want business leaders to know their needs are high on this administration's priority list. We are only a phone call away."
Franklin, working with the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber, has been setting up meetings with business leaders, initially by categories and later Franklin expects to be doing individual meetings.
Warren Regional Chamber President Thomas Humphries said this is not the first time the chamber has worked to set up meetings to elected officials and the business community.
"We did something similar to this for Tim Ryan when he first was elected," Humphries said. "We wanted to establish an open exchange of ideas between businesses and elected officials, without there being an emergency situation happening."
Humphries meets with the mayors of the valley's larger communities on a periodic basis to discuss ways how the chamber can help them in business retention and attraction.
"I expect Franklin to have three to four more meetings with business groups," Humphries said.
In the two sets of meetings already held, Franklin said the issues most emphasized by the business leaders he met with were in the areas of safety and education.
"They are concerned about the safety of their employees and their business properties," Franklin said. "I took their concerns to the police chief and we agreed to make officers more visible. It is something we could provide an immediate response."
Making sure that neighborhoods are safe make employee and residents feel better as they are traveling to and from work.
"It they feel safe in this community, they'll purchase homes," he said.
Police Chief Tim Bowers said he has separately met with some businesses and community organizations and suggested how they could harden their organizations.
"We suggest ways they can make it more difficult for their properties to be broken into or vandalized," Bowers said. "We (the department) would be willing to meet and talk to any group that contacts us."
Murray Miller, president of Trumbull Industries, expressed optimism the meetings are representing the first step in a sustained relationship with this administration. Miller has been in Warren for 10 years.
"This is the first time that anyone in the city has initiated an outreach to the business community that I'm aware of," Miller said. "I found it refreshing. I hope this translates to a better, more prosperous community."
Although recognizing that education is outside of Franklin's power, Miller agreed that a number of people at the meeting felt that is something that must be addressed.
"I know that education is not a direct responsibility of the mayor," he said. "However, over the years, many businesses have found it challenging to find, recruit and keep people trained in specific skills."
"Having an available, trained work force makes it easier for businesses to grow."
Scott Pape, president of Kenilworth Steel, described his meeting with Franklin as one to get to know the new mayor.
"It allowed me to look him in the eye and tell him we want to be a good corporate citizen," Pape said. "My feeling was he was sincere in his concerns about building better relationship with area businesses."
Pape said is not a retail business in which people go into their offices to purchase its products. It is a business-to-business corporation.
"We need manufacturing jobs in Ohio and western Pennsylvania," Pape said. "Area mayors need to make manufacturing and significant points of their agendas They need to balance the need of communities and the business in them to encourage the growth of a permanent job base."
Franklin said his administration will look for ways to create incentives for businesses to move into Warren.
"We, as a city, are not job creators," Franklin said. "The best creator of jobs are those companies that are already located in a city. I believe, working together, there may be some things that can be done to make it easier for entrepreneurs to create new business and to bring existing businesses here."
As mayor, Franklin says he has the power to make city departments more business friendly.
"I talk to department heads on a day-to-day basis," he said. "We will demand professionalism and accountability throughout the organization."
The city recently received a federal grant that will allow a review of all of the vacant and abandoned properties within its boundaries. It will also review all of the city's zoning and building regulations.
"If we can take care of many of the little things that affect businesses, it will help create a better environment," he said.
Franklin suggests that while a mayor may not be able to significantly alter state and federal regulations that business owners and industries find frustrating he can use his office to lobby in their behalf.
"We do not want to get in the way of businesses," he said. "We want to be good neighbors."