December 8, 2020

Helping the Rust Belt Rise

Helping the Rust Belt Rise

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman addresses attendees during his keynote speech at the first annual Rising Rust Belt: A Regional Revitalization Economic Summit.

Once a vibrant epicenter of industry and prosperity, Ohio and Pennsylvania communities in the area surrounding the Mahoning and Shenango river valleys have struggled to regain their past glory.

However, rejuvenation is in the works, as many community partners are invested in reversing this trend and are working hard to remove the stigma of the Rust Belt moniker. These partners include local chambers of commerce, government officials, educational institutions, local entrepreneurs and businesses, including FirstEnergy, that serve customers throughout the Rust Belt region.

An initial step toward change occurred in early October, when these partners joined together to support and sponsor Rising Rust Belt: A Regional Revitalization Economic Summit, held in West Middlesex, Pa., in Penn Power’s territory.

More than 400 attendees gathered at this first annual summit to exchange ideas, discuss challenges and hear keynote speakers – Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Director of the Ohio Development Services Lydia Mihalik and Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel – discuss issues critical to the Rust Belt’s growth.

In total, the summit featured 16 panels and presentations delivered in breakout sessions focused on these four categories:

  • Economic Development & Entrepreneurship
  • Community Development & Innovation
  • Government Affairs & Education
  • Workforce Development & Retention

Key topics included the petrochemicals industry; retaining educated graduates from area colleges and universities; changes in the healthcare landscape; the local food and beverage industry; successful ways to revitalize the local economy; workforce development; creating a robust riverfront district; and ideas for attracting skilled trades workers and entrepreneurs.

FirstEnergy’s own Pat Kelly, director, Economic Development, presented at the event, while Lisa Nentwick, advisor, Economic Development, along with John Greenwood and Troy Rhoades, regional external affairs consultants, helped secure support and provided assistance to the three chambers of commerce spearheading the effort: Lawrence County, Shenango Valley and Youngstown-Warren.

The FirstEnergy Foundation provided financial grants and our Economic Development team secured nationally recognized speakers to make the effort possible.

“The Rising Rustbelt Summit helped demonstrate the true power of partnerships,” said Alex McCoy, CEO, Lawrence County (Pa.) Regional Chamber. “We are very grateful FirstEnergy saw the value in our initiative. Partnerships like this have real and meaningful impact on our community and we look forward to our next steps together in support of our region.”

More than 400 attendees had access to a variety of panels, presentations and exhibits with information on regional services and revitalization efforts.