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ARP collaboration could transform Valley

What does one job mean to the Mahoning Valley? It means one family can buy school supplies and clothes, spend time at the baseball field on the weekend and go out to eat every now and then. It means adequate health care, paying the mortgage and putting gas in the car. It restores self-esteem, reduces stress and sometimes even saves a marriage. Since all that comes with one job, we as government and community leaders need to focus our efforts on a bold strategy for the Valley that emphasizes job creation, education and quality of life.

The path forward now is made easier by the American Rescue Plan, which is providing us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to go big. But that requires the cooperation of business, labor, community and government leaders who recognize that we are stronger when we are working together. Instead of fighting over the pie, let’s grow it.

This is not a partisan issue. The right decisions and a collaborative spirit will prepare us for the economies of the future and help working families move up the economic ladder. Let’s choose to work on behalf of our local economy and put partisanship aside.

It all centers on the American Rescue Plan. Like it or not, agree with it or not, the federal government is providing money for states, counties, municipalities and townships across the nation. For the Mahoning Valley, it’s $250 million and counting. If local government leaders can continue the unprecedented spirit of cooperation demonstrated during a four-hour ARP discussion in June, we can transform the Valley and position ourselves and our children for generations of success.

Each community has immediate needs that should be addressed, but after addressing those needs, if each community puts a small but equal percentage of that money towards two or three transformational Valley-wide projects, that money could provide the seed for exponential growth. That’s because future state and federal allocations will be disbursed on a competitive basis that will require matching money and collaboration. And the right transformational projects will grow the tax base through job creation and repopulation, giving back to our towns and counties for decades.

Kudos to Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown and Warren Mayor Doug Franklin, whose cities probably will receive the most ARP money per capita, for requesting that the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber convene a summit to find a way that all ARP recipients can chip in to accomplish something together — something that will exceed the sum of what they can all do separately. The regional chamber accepted the offer.

Following a path on which other regions across Ohio already embarked, the chamber began with that four-hour planning session in June that included the mayors of the county seats, chairs of the county commissions, administrators of the largest township in each county, the four regional economic development agencies, three largest philanthropic organizations and a few business leaders.

Four hours later, the willingness to work together was strong … strong enough to move forward, this time with the mayor of every municipality and the administrator of every township (trustee chair in townships without administrators) in our two counties. The chamber will convene the larger group in August.

Along with our economic development partners — Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Western Reserve Port Authority, Valley Economic Development Partners, TeamNEO and JobsOhio — the chamber can provide advice on economic impact and continue to bring in experts to help us understand the rules around how ARP money can be used (and how it can be leveraged to get more money).

Through the American Rescue Plan, we have an opportunity we will never see again, an opportunity to collaborate on two or three transformative projects that have a positive impact on our great-great-great- great-grandchildren. We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass us by.

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