Located halfway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the Mahoning Valley, the Youngstown Warren metro area is well situated to take advantage of the shale boom. However, city leaders recognized the inherent risks of putting all of the community’s eggs in one, short term basket and chose an alternative approach.
“We’ve done a really good job of not relying on the drilling boom, but rather the supply chain service industry that supports it and leads to economic diversity,” says Guy Coviello, Vice President of Government Affairs at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. “The drilling boom has a pretty short lifespan, maybe 20 years – but we are talking about 100 years of supply chain services. And the infrastructure that we have created for that industry is now available for other industries also.”
The community’s plan has insulated the local economy from the consequences of today’s low oil and gas prices. “The oil and natural gas prices are so low right now that it has really made a pretty big impact on the industry,” Coviello explains. “You don’t see many new wells being built. But the impact on us is minimal because we are not dependent on the wells.”
Instead of creating a dependency on shale, the community has worked to attract forward thinking industries like advanced manufacturing. “We have picked up a lot of high tech firms,” Coviello reports. Key drivers have been the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI), an internationally recognized program focused on the development of B2B software companies in the Mahoning Valley, and Youngstown State University. Named the Number 1 University Affiliated Business Incubator in the World by UBII, the YBI’s success has been recognized by a slew of media outlets, including Businessweek, Inc., The Economist, Next City, Entrepreneur, Details, Governing, the German Financial Times, the BBC, CNN, NPR, and Tokyo Broadcasting.
The YBI began accepting qualified tenants in 2000 and has grown steadily ever since, today housing 19 portfolio companies with more than 350 employees. “As part of the Ohio Third Frontier’s Entrepreneurial Signature Program, we work with startup firms from across northeast Ohio,” says YBI CEO Barb Ewing. “While companies don’t have to be located in Youngstown for us to work with them, we think that there is great value in being part of our managed cluster on campus.” The YBI continues to expand, and will soon add a fifth building that will house up to 300 additional workers. This expansion takes place in a once dead part of downtown that has been successfully transformed into a thriving tech block.
The YBI’s greatest success story is Turning Technologies, which got its start in one of the incubator’s 12 x 20 foot rooms, quickly became a global brand, and moved its headquarters into Youngstown’s 30,000 square foot Taft Technology Center. The company also maintains global offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., Fort Wright, Ky., Paris, Belfast and Amsterdam. Ranked as the fastest-growing privately owned software company in the U.S. by Inc. Magazine in 2007, Turning Technologies became the leading provider of Educational Technology in the world after acquiring its largest competitor in 2013. Today, more than 20 million of its response devices have been delivered to K-12 schools, universities, government agencies, military bases and businesses worldwide.
The YBI campus is also home to America Makes, a newly launched federal initiative designed to make technical advances in 3D printing and additive manufacturing. In 2012, the federal government established America Makes as the nation’s flagship program for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Designed to increase U.S. competitiveness in additive manufacturing, the initiative has already been named one of the top 10 Innovations to Watch by The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.
“America Makes is not just significant for Youngstown, it’s significant for the nation,” Coviello says. “It helps place the U.S. at the forefront of a revolution in manufacturing. The fact that this is headquartered in Youngstown is a feather in this community’s cap; just look at the distinction that we received from Business Facilities magazine last year. It’s because of America Makes that Youngstown and Pittsburgh were named as one of four National Manufacturing Innovation Leaders regions in the nation.”
America Makes has acted like a magnet, drawing government, academic and private industry experts involved in 3D printing technology to Youngstown. “Because of that focus here, you have started to see a lot of traction in 3D printing,” Coviello explains. “And it is becoming a big part of Youngstown State University’s R&D.”
Businesses involved in 3D printing / advanced manufacturing will need skilled workers, and the community is already working to make sure that Youngstown-Warren can provide them. “I think nationwide there is a workforce development issue around manufacturing,” Coviello says. “In schools, kids aren’t being exposed to opportunities in the skilled trades and manufacturing. And we are talking about some pretty well paying jobs with good benefits.” As the lead economic development organization representing Ohio’s Mahoning and Trumbull counties, the Regional Chamber has been “very proactive” in addressing the problem, creating a Manager of Education and Workforce Development position and working very closely with the university system, the K-12 educational system, and local manufacturers. “Together we are going to address the issues of workforce development and ensure that anybody wanting to relocate here is not going to have a problem finding highly skilled workers,” Coviello says.
Siemens Corporation has offered substantial help, giving a $440 million in-kind grant to Youngstown State University to provide YSU students with state-of-the-art product lifecycle management software and training. The software will be used to prepare these students for careers in additive manufacturing, computer-aided engineering and robotics design for the automotive, defense, energy, high-tech electronics, machinery and aerospace and other industries. YSU is introducing it to business faculty in April and plans to roll it out for business students in the fall.
The Youngstown-Warren area has also enjoyed great success in the warehouse and distribution sector. “Really, that is because of our location,” Coviello shares. The community is close to major cities such as New York and Chicago and enjoys easy access to highway and rail transport. The Ohio Commerce Center offers an ideal location for warehouse storage and distribution, as well as intermodal transloading, outdoor storage, crossdocking operations, and light manufacturing.
In 2010, Spirongo Lordstown LLC (LTEX) bought the 73 year old Center and carried out a series of major renovations, from road and rail upgrades to the development of low cost oil and gas utilities. Approximately 80 acres of greenfield space is currently available for development, and tenants can build to suit for lease or build to suit to own; plus another 100 acres of rail-served compacted gravel.
One of the Ohio Commerce Center’s most recent new developments is a state-of-the-art $125M Aluminum Billet remelter facility for Matalco Inc set to open later this year. Real estate brokerage firm Routh Hurlbert has been an important partner with the Chamber and the Ohio Commerce Center in the park’s ongoing development.
Downtown Youngstown is also the site of substantial new development. “Downtown has had a remarkable transformation in the last five to ten years,” Coviello reports. Approximately $40 million has been invested in revitalizing downtown, bringing thousands of jobs to the city center. “If you were here ten years ago, you didn’t come downtown unless you were one of the few people who had a job there. Now you’ve got thousands of people coming downtown to work and hundreds, maybe thousands, living downtown.” The city is working hard to meet the need for downtown residential space and several highrise buildings have recently been renovated into apartments. In addition, a beautiful historic building is currently being restored and will soon house a Double Tree hotel, supplying much needed accommodations. “I don’t think there has been a single hotel room in the city limits in about 10 years,” Coviello says.
Area residents enjoy a high quality of life with plenty of amenities. In total, there are more than 40 museums, historic sites, art galleries, ballet / opera companies, live theater and performing arts centers in Youngstown-Warren. Commissioned by the Warner Brothers and now the home of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, the opulent DeYor Performing Arts Center is widely known as the finest theater ever built. The Covelli Centre hosts hockey and other sports competitions, concerts, motocross, circuses, ice shows, consumer and trade shows and other special events. Mill Creek MetroParks covers more than 2,530 acres and includes everything from a working mill to a championship golf course. Nature lovers can bike, hike, or run 45 miles of scenic trails or visit three state parks, eight state wildlife / forest preserves, and a national scenic river.
The abundance of recreational opportunities combined with access to high quality healthcare has earned Youngstown-Warren recognition as an ideal place to retire. The area is also known for its low cost of living; in fact, the average home price in 2014 was less than $65,000, according to smartasset.com. “When you start to combine the quality of life offerings with the cost of living, [Youngstown-Warren] starts to make a lot of sense,” Coviello points out. Add to that the emerging focus on advanced manufacturing, and Youngstown-Warren ticks all the boxes.