“We’ve Got to Make Something Happen.” Those were the words the late Commissioner Doug Coleman frequently said everyone around the courthouse. Whether it was fixing a broken piece of equipment or discussing economic development – Doug was always trying to “make something happen.” Our last conversation was in mid-August when he stopped me to say “we’ve got to build an industrial park,” which made me not only excited, but also led to the response “that’s how we make something happen…”
Scioto County is full of natural beauty with hills, valleys, creeks, rivers, and fields for as far as the eye can see. This is great for recreation, but not so much for commercial or industrial development. We have an abundance of hilltops, flood plain, and corn fields where it’s three miles and two hills to the nearest water line. Developers and site selectors (the individuals who help companies locate new businesses) are trained to mitigate risk and identify an area that will help a product reach the market as soon as possible. How do they do this? They look for sites that already have water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, and fiber optic internet available to them. It’s a very pragmatic approach. If you’re a business owner why would you build in a field in the floodplain that needs $2 million dollars in infrastructure improvements when you can build in the next town, or state, over in a field with no issues. We must get our own field with no issues, a field otherwise known as an industrial park.
One of the reasons this is so important, most of our neighbors have an industrial park. Pike County has the Zahn’s Corner site that was recently certified by AEP as development ready and they have the former MASCO site which has seen significant investment in the redevelopment of the former buildings. Jackson County is moving forward with certifying a site outside Wellston. Travel south along U.S. 23 or U.S. 52 and you’ll pass the Wurtland Riverport near the industrial parkway and The Point in South Point; both of which are beautiful industrial parks with river and rail access. We are falling behind. However, it’s not all doom & gloom as recent investment and commitments by the city and county are moving us in the right direction.
Recently, a few events may have gone unnoticed but they are the first of many steps to developing our own industrial park. Two weeks ago the Scioto County Engineer accepted bids to upgrade Haverhill-Ohio Furnace Road, the main access road to SunCoke and Altivia Chemicals from U.S. 52. This project, a joint venture between the Commissioners, Engineer, ODOT, & JobsOhio will improve access not only to the plants, but also our largest development site, the Norfolk Southern site, in Haverhill. Last week the City of Portsmouth approved the initial steps to clean-up a portion of NB Coke site in order to eventually construct a new water filtration plant. In the same meeting council hired a firm to assist in the creation of downtown development districts which will facilitate the rehabilitation of buildings downtown. This week, in partnership with Scioto County Sanitary Engineer Joe DeLong, we presented a number of recommended sewer capacity improvements to the Commissioners which will be required to not only improve service, but to also attract business. The Port Authority is also working with the airport board, economic development offices in three states, and American Electric Power (AEP) to determine the best use and potential of the airport. AEP’s involvement is critical, because the commissioners and council can’t accomplish everything that needs to be done alone – they are going to need support and partnerships from private businesses and community leaders. This isn’t support in just words, it’s financial support, partnerships, outside the box thinking, and action. It will take all of us working together to “make something happen” and to make Commissioner Coleman’s dream of an industrial park “happen.”
Jason Kester is the Executive Director of the Southern Ohio Port Authority.