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Stakeholders for the Global Investment Hub in Leetonia cut a ribbon to celebrate the opening of renovated office space offering one-year free rent to attract foreign companies to the area. From left are Youngstown State University Williamson College Dean Dr. Kelly Wilkinson, Haedan Panezott of the Columbiana County Port Authority (CCPA), Mariah Carna of YSU Ohio Small Business Development Center, Walt Good of Team NEO, YSU Ohio SBDC Patricia Veisz, YSU Ohio SBDC Mousa Kassis, CCPA Bobby Ritchey, CCPA Assistant Executive Director Brittany Smith, Governor’s Office of Appalachia Director John Carey, CCPA Glenda Schafer, CCPA Board Vice Chairman Keith Chamberlin, CCPA Executive Director/CEO Penny Traina, Columbiana County Commissioner Mike Halleck, CCPA Board Fiscal Officer Tad Herold, CCPA Board Chairman Charlie Presley, CCPA attorney Tim Brookes, state Sen. Mike Rulli, R-Leetonia, Leetonia Mayor Kevin Siembida, county Commissioners Tim Weigle and Roy Paparodis and state Rep. Monica Robb Blasdel, R-Columbiana. (Photo by Mary Ann Greier)

LEETONIA — A springboard for future development and resources to get the job done — that’s what the Global Investment Hub in the former NRM plant in Leetonia offers foreign companies.

That was the message delivered Friday afternoon when all the stakeholders in the project gathered to cut the ribbon and celebrate the transformation of the section of industrial space into the Global Investment Hub.

The Columbiana County Port Authority and the Ohio Small Business Development Center Export Assistance Network at Youngstown State University joined forces to create the hub as a way to attract international companies to the area, with an ultimate goal of having them relocate operations here.

According to Port Authority Executive Director/CEO Penny Traina, there’s already interest from companies in at least four different companies, all in the areas of 3-D printing and the petro chemical industry. One company could lease space as early as next week.

The port authority owns the Leetonia Industrial building on Cherry Fork, where Humtown Products and Mitsubishi also occupy space. The building formerly housed NRM, also known as National Rubber Manufacturing.

The Global Investment Hub features six fully-furnished private offices, three large conference rooms with televisions for video conferencing or Zoom meetings, co-working recreational space known as the great room with comfortable furniture and even a ping pong table, a kitchen area and restrooms. Each conference room has a name and a corresponding theme, including the Train Room, the Map Room and the City Room for ease when scheduling use of the rooms online.

Companies will be offered one year of free rent, including WiFi and furnished office space, but are required to employ a YSU intern for one academic year. After the first year, the space can be rented for a fee. Expansion space is readily available and shovel-ready at the World Trade Park industrial park just a couple miles down the road on state Route 344 with 45 acres of available land. Besides access to a skilled workforce and supply chain, the location is between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and close to Akron where there are airports. The area is also in close proximity to the Ohio River and rail travel.

Traina described the Global Investment Hub atmosphere as very laid back and cognizant of the way people work today. She said collaboration is the key at the port authority and this partnership with YSU isn’t something that’s seen every day.

Port Authority Board Chairman Charlie Presley said he’s thankful all the entities involved have decided to work in true harmony. He called the effort a “true sleeper” and a “quiet move to the future.”

“What will develop from this, it has every opportunity to be huge,” he said.

Traina said this has been in discussions since 2019 with YSU which has a background in contact with international companies. YSU has the international connections and can recruit companies and the port authority has the space and information on grants.

“This is a prime example of all the successes that can happen when we work together,” state Rep. Monical Robb Blasdel, R-Columbiana, said before presenting Traina and the port authority with a resolution of accomplishment from the Ohio House of Representatives.

State Sen. Mike Rulli, R-Leetonia, said the message for international companies is this: “We have everything you need right here.”

Mousa Kassis, director of the Ohio Small Business Development Center Export Assistance Network at Youngstown State University, gave some statistics regarding Ohio and Northeast Ohio, including the fact that Ohio is number 4 in the U.S. and number 1 in the midwest for foreign direct investment. He said this project is economic development with an international twist and attracting foreign companies to locate here and hire employees here is very important for businesses and the future.

Traina offered thanks for $400,000 secured from the capital budget through Rulli and $250,000 awarded from the Appalachian Regional Commission towards the project. Governor’s Office of Appalachia Director John Carey was one of the speakers during the event, along with Commissioner Mike Halleck.

Traina also thanked the port authority board and staff, the representatives from YSU, Howells & Baird engineers Dave and Jon Vollnogle, Stitle Construction, which did the inside work, Jim Santini Builder which did the outside painting and Joe Warchol of the county Educational Service Center the information technology.

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