YOUNGSTOWN - The local chamber of commerce saw a slight uptick in the number of businesses inquiring about possible moves to the Mahoning Valley last year, but the big increase comes in the percentage of those that are expected to work out.
Sarah Boyarko, vice president of economic development, business retention and expansion for the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber, described more than a third of those inquiries as "solid."
''Last year, we had 64 nonlocal inquiries. Of those 64, 37 came to visit the area,'' Boyarko said Tuesday at the Chamber's Youngstown offices. ''I would say the majority of those are good strong leads."
One of those turned out to be so strong, the Houston-based manufacturer in the energy business is now in the final stages of construction on its new $13 million, 65,000-square foot manufacturing facility along Salt Springs Road in Youngstown. Exterran Energy will produce equipment that compresses, processes and treats natural gas after it has been extracted from the earth by hydraulic fracturing.
Susan Moore, spokeswoman for Exterran in Houston, said Tuesday that construction is expected to wrap up by the end of February, with about 50 employees on the job by then. Hiring will ramp up to about 80 by the end of the first quarter when the company hopes to be in operation.
Moore said the hiring process has been going very well, but the company is still in need of welders and machine operators. Interested candidates can apply through One-Stop, she said.
Boyarko used Exterran as an example of how the chamber helps connect business prospects with potential Mahoning Valley sites. She said the growing local oil and gas industry also has driven more prospects through her door. Boyarko said about 45 percent of the Chamber's requests for information - known in the development world as "RFIs" - last year came from businesses like Exterran with ties to the oil and gas industry.
Now Boyarko is looking to 2013 with high hopes for another productive year. Manufacturing, she said, continues to bring about the most requests for information.
''We are very strong in manufacturing - plastics, automotive, even clothing,'' Boyarko said.
Regional Chamber by the numbers
$376 million: Amount of new investment in the Mahoning Valley
1,339: Number of new jobs generated locally
$15 million: Amount of new payroll
738,198: square footage of new or retained business space
$177 million: Amount of retained or maintained payroll
4,741: Number of retained or maintained local jobs
Source: Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber
Clothing would be a new direction for the Mahoning Valley, and while Boyarko said she is optimistic about the potential, she would not comment further noting that the company has asked to remain confidential in its search across the northeast for the right location.
''Confidentiality is key to winning a project. We are here to respond to a company's needs and they lead the project,'' Boyarko said.
Boyarko estimated that about 7 percent of the Chamber's business leads are self-generated, often through work done by Eric Planey, the Chamber's vice president of international business attraction.
''There are very few economic development agencies in Ohio that have that capability. We did it at the right time because all the sudden, over the last two to three years, we are an oil and gas center, plus we are an auto center,'' said Anthony Paglia, the chamber's vice president of government and media affairs.
''We still have a lot of educating to do because there are a lot of international companies that have never heard of Youngstown, but we are starting to see the fruits of two or three years of effort,'' Paglia said.