As economic developers, our goal at the Southern Ohio Port Authority is not necessarily to create jobs, but rather to create an environment in which job creation is possible. We help private sector employers grow their businesses so that they can create more jobs and so that our community can produce more public revenues. These revenues can then be reinvested into efforts that make our community more economically vibrant. When making these investments, economic developers often focus on four distinct areas. The first is a robust business retention and expansion program where the economic development organization (EDO) partners with an existing company within the community to help grow that company’s operations. The second is developing the area’s workforce. In order to attract new businesses and to expand existing businesses, a community must have the available workforce with the right skills and training to support those industries. The third is developing the area’s inventory of available sites and buildings. Speed to market is crucial for new and expanding businesses, so having readily available sites and buildings is vitally important. The fourth area, and focus of this article, is community development, the goal of which is to raise the quality of life in a community.
Community development is expanding in importance as an economic development strategy. Our economy is increasingly dependent on a highly skilled workforce. More and more, companies are demanding workers who have been trained in advanced manufacturing processes, engineering, information technology and other highly technical skillsets. To fulfill these workforce necessities, communities must be able to attract and retain a quality workforce. As a result, communities are increasingly focusing on quality of life, recreation amenities and entertainment opportunities.
Quality of life is a tricky metric. It is extremely difficult to measure, and it is not very useful for marketing because every community is promoting its “high” quality of life. However, communities must develop their quality of life or else run the risk of becoming unmarketable from a workforce standpoint. We have spoken to many local business owners, and they have told us that to attract highly valued candidates, they must convince both the candidate and their spouse that the area is a great “place” to live. Many businesses are locating in areas with high quality of life metrics simply because these are the areas where they will most readily find skilled workers. To compete in today’s economy, our community must be able to produce a highly skilled workforce, and to attract that workforce, we must make community development a priority.
The efforts to build our community as a “place” with a high quality of life have been accelerating recently. There is more vibrancy and momentum in our downtown now than there has been in a long time. Our community’s efforts to revitalize the historic Boneyfiddle District, with multiple mixed-use retail and residential developments, are creating a more vibrant downtown with more retail options. We have developed a comprehensive riverfront revitalization strategy focusing on recreational access to the Ohio River. We are in the process of developing a plan to implement free Wi-Fi in public spaces throughout our community. We are gaining ground in the redevelopment efforts of Spartan Municipal Stadium, one of the area’s most valued landmarks. We are even making efforts to develop a recreation
corridor in and around West Portsmouth along U.S. 52 with two highly regarded public golf courses, Earl Thomas Conley Park with its new splash pad and other amenities, two miniature golf facilities, and a recreational air strip. This includes Shawnee State Forest, the largest state forest in Ohio, which offers endless outdoor recreation, public campgrounds and one of the very best recreational lodges around. These efforts are raising the quality of life in our community and establishing a strong identity for our area. Both of these are invaluable to the success of our community in a 21st Century economy.