Initiative Committee Trims Grant, Hears Applicants

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- The Youngstown Initiative Committee met Tuesday morning for what could be the last time for a while, at least until it can come up with new or alternative funding.

The committee that oversees the economic development program reduced the previously awarded grant to one company because the enterprise reduced the scope of its project. The Initiative Committee also heard proposals for funding three additional projects and a façade application. However, because of the lack of funds reported at the committee’s June 5 meeting, no action was taken on any application.

While recommending that the committee continue to accept applications, David Bozanich, city finance director, said that the committee “shouldn’t go through the process” of holding formal meetings during which applicants offer proposals until funding is in place.

T. Sharon Woodberry, city economic development director, agreed with Bozanich and noted that both she and Tom DeAngelo, coordinator in the economic development office, have advised applicants about the limited availability of funds. 

Bozanich also suggested that the committee or the city economic development office set priorities for the applications when funding does become available.

In its only official action, the committee voted to reduce an initiative grant approved earlier for via680 LLC in the Youngstown Business Incubator. In March, the committee had approved $50,941 grant to support via680’s development of a mobile application for its Ving service that allows customers to send multimedia messages and track recipients’ level of engagement – such as whether they opened the email, watched a video or otherwise acted on components of the message.

Mobile is the “fastest growing area for all devices,” remarked Stephanie Hunter, chief operating officer, who physically absent from the meeting and monitored it by phone.

Via680 had planned to spend $254,709 for the project, based on the expectation that it could raise $200,000 in private capital. When only $130,000 was raised, “we downsized the project accordingly,” Hunter said. The project has been reduced to $160,257.

To match the reduction of the project, the committee amended the grant to $32,052.

The committee also heard from three applicants for initiative grants -- Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, KBC Kidz LLC and Prosperity Staffing Solutions LLC – and an applicant for a façade grant. Each applicant was advised that the meeting was simply to review the projects and allow committee members to ask questions, and that no funds were available.

Oh Wow!, represented by its president and executive director, Suzanne Barbati, along with Frank Rulli, a member of the Oh Wow! board, sought $39,300 to bolster its $196,502 project. The museum is adding two new interactive exhibits, one focusing on health and wellness in relation to food choices, the other focusing on the “maker” movement, Inspire Works.

Prosperity Staffing Solutions LLC, which has offices in the 16 Wick Building downtown, sought $1,433 for its $7,167 project, using the funds to purchase office equipment and as partial salary for a first-year hire. A Youngstown native, Arisha Williams, owner and president, started the company in January. Prosperity Staffing works with companies to provide staff for temporary and direct hire positions.

KBC Kidz, which is owned by Keyonna Trevathan, offers party planning and set-up for children’s events. Housed in the Oak Hill Collaborative, the business sought a $5,714 grant to assist with its $57,146 project to purchase equipment and provide working capital.

The business  has staged 35 events for kids and is working on a contract with Youngstown City Schools to provide after-school programs, Trevathan said.      

The sole applicant for façade program funding, which the Initiative Committee also oversees, was Show Stopper Landscaping. Show Stopper is rehabilitating the former Burkland Flowers building on Market Street near the former Masters Tuxedo building. Owner Lisa Robinson is leasing the property for $1 per month from the city’s land reutilization program.

Robinson applied for $16,781 from the façade program to assist with her $41,954 project, which will involve installation of new windows, window guards and doors; new garage door; new signage; and new fencing. The city’s Design Review Committee approved Robinson’s plans at its meeting just before to the Initiative Committee met, a requirement for façade program applications. 

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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