BOARDMAN - Speeches delivered at the annual Regional Chamber Salute to Business Thursday morning had one common thread: Things are looking up.
The message was portrayed consistently by five local professionals honored for their work at improving the economic outlook in the Mahoning Valley and by keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Timothy Ryan, D-Niles.
"In the last few years we have all experienced more positive national and international interest I think than we might have ever imagined," said honoree Vallourec Star president and chief operating officer Joel Mastervich, who was named Business Professional of the Year.
"I still like to think of that Forbes article from 2008, 'America's fastest dying cities,' and Youngstown was on the list. Not only were we on the list, but our plant, V&M Star at that time, was the backdrop in one of the photos on the cover page of the article," Mastervich said.
Since then, however, the area's economy has improved, businesses like Vallourec Star are seeing a large turnaround, and Mastervich pointed out, blight in the area, like that in the foreground of the 2008 Forbes photos, is being reduced.
Likewise, Dan Dickten, director of aviation for the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, honored as Business Advocate of the Year, also took to the podium to discuss progress at the local airport.
"Almost four years ago when I was considering moving to the Youngstown-Warren region, I read stories in the local newspaper that the airport was on rough times. That can no longer be said about your airport," Dickten said.
"Over the past two years, we have completed major improvements to the airport and we are expanding our parking lot to meet that demand'' he said. ''The airport continues to be a work in progress and on its way to the next higher level to accommodate more of the Valley's travelers."
That work, he said, includes talks soon to add daily commercial flights possibly to Chicago O'Hare and to add an Allegiant Air vacation destination in Las Vegas and other western locations like Phoenix or Mesa, Ariz.
"Recent discussions with Allegiant indicated there will be flights between Youngstown and Las Vegas in the next 12 to 15 months," Dickten said.
Other honorees included Entrepreneur of the Year Daniel Catullo, who owns Catullo Prime Meats Inc.; Non-Profit Professional of the Year Stephanie Shaw, who is the head of Eastern Ohio P-16 Partnership for Education; and receiving the Salute to Labor Achievement was Don Crane, president, Western Reserve Building & Construction Trades Council and Millwright-Pile Driver Local 1871.
Ryan spoke of local economic successes, specifically the regional TechBelt Initiative to unite economic development efforts from Pittsburgh to Cleveland that helped lead to Youngstown landing the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, or NAMII, a public-private pilot project transitioning additive manufacturing technology to mainstream usage; and growth triggered by the natural gas and oil industry.
"We have an opportunity we have to take advantage of because the world is watching," Ryan said during his address. "And not many congressmen can stand up in front of their constituents and say that."