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Lordstown Isn’t Sole Hot Spot in Trumbull County

WARREN, Ohio – An 800-plus-acre brownfield site that straddles five Trumbull County communities represents a major – but not the only – economic development opportunity in the county.

Much of the interest and activity is tied to the electric vehicle hub developing in Lordstown – but not all of it – development professionals say.

Projects announced just this year include a $30 million expansion at the Wheatland Tube plant in Warren for an automated storage and retrieval warehouse. Thomas Steel Strip, also in Warren, is investing $8.5 million in its plant to support its entry into the rechargeable battery market.

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber is managing pending projects with a total investment of $1.2 billion that would create 3,114 jobs and retain 1,664, says chamber chief operating officer and senior vice president for economic development Sarah Boyarko. Those projects include the proposed $900 million Trumbull Energy Center.

“These companies have not yet pulled the trigger. They have a property identified. They have an incentive package or a resource package in hand. We’re just waiting for them to make the decision,” she says

“We’re definitely getting a touch of the electric vehicle market,” adds Shea MacMillan, chamber director of economic development projects. “And we’re seeing companies already in our market focusing on aluminum and injection molding, which remain strong.”

Last year, 10 of the 24 completed projects the chamber announced across the Mahoning Valley were in Trumbull County, with $2.8 billion in investment, for nearly 3,000 new jobs and 327 retained jobs. Those comprised Ultium Cells LLC, the General Motors-LG Chem joint venture to manufacture batteries to serve the electric vehicle market, and projects for Perishable Shipping Solutions, M&M Industries and Liberty Steel.

So far in 2021, the chamber has received 25 property inquiries, 11 of which are related to the EV supply chain and eight to Ultium Cells in particular.

In terms of both employee count and overall investment, it’s safe to say Lordstown has seen “the great majority of the benefit” locally over the past two years, Boyarko says.

The RG Steel site could play into that activity as well, although other potential users have expressed interest. The former steel mill property is in the city of Warren, Warren Township, Weathersfield Township and Howland Township as well as Lordstown.

The Western Reserve Port Authority is working to complete its acquisition of the property, which its board approved in May. Staff members have met with representatives of companies interested in being at the site, says port authority CEO John Moliterno.

“We want to be able to hit the ground running once that [acquisition] happens,” Moliterno says.

The RG Steel property was listed on the state’s database of available sites before the announcement that the port authority would acquire it. The chamber has received several inquiries about the property, MacMillan says.

“They’re typically due to the utility infrastructure of that property and the sheer size of it,” he says. “They’ve all been heavy industrial users, which is something we’re excited to see here.”

Moliterno and MacMillan report they have spoken with interested parties about the RG Steel site – companies in the EV market as well as others.

Port authority discussions have included talks with representatives of Ultium Cells about potential suppliers to the plant, Moliterno says.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest from Canadian entities as well as from the Asian market,” MacMillan says. The site is attractive because of the Norfolk Southern rail line access, he adds.

The port authority is working with Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to secure a grant for a site plan for the property and to improve access from west of the property using a bridge over the Mahoning River.

“We’re not sure whether the bridge can be renovated or a new bridge would have to go in,” Moliterno says.

Interested parties previously expressed concerns about access to the Lordstown portion of the RG site, MacMillan says. Opening that bridge would improve access to the Ohio Turnpike and “make it a much more attractive site,” he says.

Meanwhile in Lordstown, the chamber, the port authority, Eastgate and the village are assembling a new application for infrastructure improvements near the Ultium plant.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation rejected the partners’ application for nearly $26 million in planning and implementation funds from the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – or Build — Transportation Discretionary Grants program for a smart mobility corridor in Lordstown.

Now the partners are assembling documentation to submit a scaled-back application to the Build program’s successor, the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity – or Raise – Discretionary Grant program.

Eastgate secured $500,000 from the Ohio Department of Transportation for planning in the Lordstown-Warren-North Jackson region. That planning process is underway, says Michael Hripko, an economic recovery consultant working with Eastgate.

If the local partners succeed in securing the Raise grant, the money will be used to fund the “cornerstone components” of an advanced logistics hub to serve manufacturing and distribution operations in the village, Hripko says.

Hripko estimates the grant application would seek about $5 million. Elements would include a transfer lot and infrastructure enhancements such as additional lanes on highways and fortifying the existing roads.

“We know that triple trailers cannot successfully navigate local roads. They have to [drive] to a lot to uncouple,” Hripko says. “It sounds simple but the development of a transfer lot is a very important component of a modern logistics center.”

The group would build on those elements and use the ODOT planning grant to “do a comprehensive study of what is smart and what belongs in a Raise grant application that is both technically viable and offers value to our current warehouses and manufacturers in that region,” he says.

“The last time, we included all types of technologies that we knew a little about,” he says. “This time we’re going to be very well researched and very confident in the technologies we propose. So we’re going to have a much better proposal as we incorporate those smart technologies into the program in next year’s opportunities.”

Another large project advancing in Trumbull County is Enterprise Park, the Cafaro Co.’s proposed health care and residential campus. It lies on a 106.7-acre site just north of Cafaro’s Eastwood Mall complex.

Most of the necessary permitting is complete but the $367 million project is “incredibly complex,” says Joe Bell, Cafaro director of corporate communications.

At the mall complex itself, the Cafaro Co. announced June 24 that Meijer is moving forward with its plans for a store at Howland Commons. In addition, the company is preparing for Sharon, Pa., landmark Reyers Shoe Store’s move to Eastwood. “We’re excited because it’s such an iconic name and it fits well with other merchants we have at Eastwood,” Bell says.

Pictured: John Moliterno holds a map of the RG Steel site, an 800-plus acre brownfield.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio. July 2021. George Nelson.