BOARDMAN - More economic diversity is fueling a growing sense of optimism seldom seen in Valley, said Ohio Gov. John Kasich at Thursday's annual meeting of the Regional Chamber.
"When you face a hardship and don't give up, sometimes great things can come from it. With the diversification that we are seeing now, and of course with this unbelievable discovery of energy, we don't want to just bet on that,'' Kasich said in his keynote address, referring to eastern Ohio's growing oil and natural gas industry. "We want to diversify and be many things to many people."
Kasich addressed the packed house inside Mr. Anthony's Banquet Center, where the Chamber also was honoring three area residents for their work to make the Valley a better place. Honorees were Sam Covelli of Warren's Covelli Enterprises; David Hughes of Specialty Fab in North Lima; and Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone. Former chamber board chairwoman Bonnie Burdman also was honored for her service.
"What is creating a buzz in the state of Ohio, is from the people who are here - the Covellis and the other business people, like V&M, what they are doing here. It sends a message, doesn't it Sam?" Kasich said, calling out Sam Covelli by name, "that it's safe to invest and expand."
The $760 million of potential local economic development projects that Regional Chamber president Tom Humphries said is "sitting in our pipeline right now" indicates that developers are starting to recognize that it is safe to invest.
Likewise, Humphries spoke of the importance of diversity, pointing out that despite the worldwide media attention, area business inquiries related to Utica Shale drilling actually amount to only about 45 percent of all local inquiries.
Tribune Chronicle / Brenda J. Linert
Gov. John Kasich, right, grabbed an empty seat in the audience during an awards presentation at Thursday’s Regional Chamber meeting.
And that, Humphries noted, is a good thing.
"Diversity is extremely critical," he said.
Kasich also seized on the opportunity to promote his political agenda.
Pushing his plans to cut Ohio's income tax and replace it with new sales and use taxes on professional services, Kasich told small business owners in the crowd they would see tax savings because he knows small business owners employ more than half of Ohio's work force. He also spoke about his plans for the turnpike, education, Medicaid and JobsOhio.
And seizing the opportunity to remind those involved in the oil and gas industry that the industry is too important for Ohio to tolerate illegal acts like the recent discharge of oilfield waste into a Youngstown storm sewer.
"You go out and dump junk in the river, in the storm sewer, we are not going to put up with it. If we have irresponsible use of this environment we are going to destroy this industry," Kasich said.
During their speeches Thursday, Sammarone and Humphries also took moments to push the oil and gas industry.
Noting an upcoming Youngstown Charter Amendment issue set to appear on the May ballot, Humphries said, could push drillers from the area.
"We think there are two sides to that story and there have been about 20 or 25 people who have shared their thoughts, so we are spending some time putting together a coalition to share their thoughts," Humphries said. "There is a lot at risk."
Sammarone echoed the sentiment.