Youngstown Region Successfully Executes First Virtual REDS

As the world shifted from in-person to online, the Chicago Regional Office spearheaded a virtual Regional Economic Diversification Summits (REDS). A REDS is an opportunity for the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to offer integration assistance by helping to facilitate the federal, state, and local stakeholders. In convening a REDS, local and regional stakeholders address economic development obstacles with the goal of identifying resources, resolving conflict, building coalitions, and determining next steps.

To understand the genesis of the REDS, it is necessary to take a brief look at the manufacturing history of the Ohio region. In 2019, General Motors (GM) closed the doors to three plants located in Ontario, Ohio, and Maryland. At its prime, the GM plant, located in Lordstown, Ohio, employed over 8,000 workers. The 2019 closure saw the elimination of the remaining 1,500 jobs.

Lordstown is a small town; the type of place with a main street and a single gas station. So, the tremors caused by GM’s closure could be felt for miles. Cleveland State University’s Center for Economic Development revealed that the plant’s closure could negatively impact the region to the tune of $8 billion1. The region was in dire need to solve for loss of industry and unemployment and to make strides toward reinstating stability.

To begin the planning process, Youngtown State University (YSU) reached out to EDA’s Carlann Unger, Regional Integrator for the Chicago Regional Office. YSU proposed some priority projects and workstreams focused on redevelopment that included apprenticeship programs for under-resourced communities, technical assistance, and recruitment for industries like petrochemicals, electric vehicles, and advanced, additive, and hybrid manufacturing.

In September 2020, YSU along with Eastgate Regional Council of Governments (the associated Economic Development District) hosted its first virtual REDS with participants from Appalachian Regional Commission, Economic Development Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Department of Labor, Department of Transportation, and Small Business Administration. YSU and Eastgate hoped that by convening federal partners, they would learn more about available federal programs that would lead to recommendations regarding funding, and ultimately, lead to financial support for project implementation.

The REDS helped to establish deeper local and state-level partnerships (JobsOhio, DriveOhio, FlyOhio, BroadbandOhio, Office of Workforce Transformation, ODOT, OPWA, ODSA), as well as to assemble effective action of teams that would narrow down project ideas and pathways. Additionally, participants from some government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, actively engaged in conversation, contributing to a lively conversation surrounding redevelopment. YSU shared that the virtual platform made it challenging to gain further engagement from federal partners, an insight that would inform future engagements. Overall, the REDS was an integral piece in building YSU’s economic recovery strategy as it identified priority projects, thought partners, and applicable federal funding programs.

Ms. Unger shared that stakeholders plan to reconvene in April 2021. In hopes of enhancing engagement, the format will shift to shortened and smaller roundtable discussions, focused on workforce development and infrastructure needs. In preparation for the April meeting, the action teams have identified priority projects, categorizing work into short and long-term plans.

1. Source: 'It's devasting'. End of GM in Ohio town as Trump fails to bring back Midwest jobs, accessed February 2021.