Wanted: More residents

Jim Kinnick is the executive director of Eastgate, a council dedicated to bringing new people to the Mahoning Valley. Photo by Hannah Werle / Jambar Contributor

By Hannah Werle

The Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, among other organizations, are working to create an office dedicated to repopulation efforts in the Mahoning Valley.

Those involved in the project estimate the area needs approximately 3,600 more workers to fill the jobs provided by incoming businesses.

In an effort to meet these new demands, organizations such as the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, the Western Reserve Port Authority and Global Cleveland are working with Eastgate  Regional Council of Governments and the regional chamber to start the repopulation efforts. 

According to Jim Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate, the partners plan to have a media campaign to promote the Mahoning Valley to current and former residents within three to six months. Kinnick said he hopes the organization can become recognized and obtain a physical office by 2024. 

“We’re not afraid to ask for help. I think that needs to be emphasized. We’re not experts, but we’re going to bring experts in,” Kinnick said. “The community leaders and business leaders are willing to help us, and it’s going to take the efforts of everybody to make this successful.”

Kinnick named business leaders and representatives from organizations such as Avalon Golf and Country Club, PNC Financial Services Inc. and Huntington Bancshares as contributors to the efforts. These businesses, along with others, have provided funding and resources to the project. 

While the plan is still in its early stages, the group has recognized what it calls the “three R’s of repopulation.” The efforts will aim to retain existing residents, return those who’ve left the area and receive immigrants and refugees. 

Kinnick said those in the office are planning to hire a consultant and cultural liaison, who will begin the process of receiving global populations. 

According to a flyer provided by Kinnick, Ukrainian and climate refugees are expected to be the main focus for relocation. 

Lisa Long, Financial Resource Development director of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, has worked with the group to provide funding and immigration assistance.

Programs to help with English acquisition, housing and food options must be developed before any efforts toward immigration or refugee relocation can be made, Long said. 

“We really do need 3,600 workers, and along with those workers come, hopefully, 3,600 families. So, we want to make sure that all of our systems are ready to go — and some of that will have to happen before folks get here, but some of that will organically grow once folks get here as well,” Long said. 

According to Long, one of the federation’s goals is to create a system that welcomes and supports newcomers as they settle into the area. Long hopes to provide information and opportunities for these newcomers to practice the cultural and religious traditions important to them.

A key to making the Mahoning Valley appealing to immigrants and refugees is to create a working relationship between those leading various cultural organizations and religious practices, Long said. 

The Jewish Federation, along with the repopulation office, hopes to work with interfaith communities to aid newcomers. 

“With all of our agencies, the Jewish Community Center, our nursing home or our day school, the majority of people we serve are not Jewish,” Long said. “We do a lot of work through our Jewish Community Relations Council, a lot of interfaith work and a lot of work within the Youngstown community in general. And so we know we’re a partner in the growth of Youngstown, whatever shape that might take.” 

Nate Myers, associate provost for International Initiatives at Youngstown State University, has spoken with the Youngstown–Warren Regional Chamber about joining the efforts. Myers believes religion, culture and amenities will serve as important factors in making the Mahoning Valley more appealing. 

“At the end of the day, people need to feel like they’re embedded in the community that cares about them,” Myers said.