For years now, those words have been displayed in the upper windows of a building on Second Street. Whether it’s December or July, the sign is always there, spreading holiday cheer. It may as well read, “Nobody’s been up here in a very, very long time.”
The first time I noticed it, I was a little bemused. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking of it as a metaphor for something larger: Our need to modernize.
Southern Ohio has a rich history, and one we should be very proud of. It can be difficult to drive through this part of the state without seeing something that reminds us of that past, whether it’s Spartan Stadium, a former manufacturing site or just a historic building or bridge.
Because there’s so much history and beauty around here, there are some who are reluctant to change any of it. Our history, after all, is something that makes us unique. It’s not the only thing, though. A decade of staggering poverty and unemployment also makes us unique, and the need to change that has to trump everything else.
When Shawnee State University tore down a row of old houses to expand their dormitories, some saw that as a loss of history. Anytime you can look at a university that has grown so much it needs to expand and see that as a negative, you’re looking at it from the wrong angle. We need SSU to grow. According to U.S. Census data, only 13 percent of Scioto County residents have at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s a full 10 percent lower than the state average.
We need that number to increase, and having a thriving, local university makes that possible. The continued success of universities such as Shawnee State, or employers like SOMC, is good for southern Ohio.
They create jobs, bring people into the area and generate revenue for the city and county. When these types of organizations have the opportunity to grow, it’s something we should embrace.
Because life in Appalachia has never been easy, those who live here tend to be resilient and resourceful. Ours is a legacy of adapting to tough times and becoming stronger through the effort. When the economy called on us to farm, we farmed. When it required us to manufacture, we manufactured.
Now, we have an economy where job skills are increasingly specialized and education is essential. Between the university that can churn out professionals and the employers that use them, we have the foundation we need to begin adapting once again. Granted, we still have a long way to go, but embracing the change would seem to be a good first step and the best way to honor our history of perseverance.
ERIC KEPHAS can be reached at 740-353-3101 ext. 234 or email@example.com