From an economic development perspective, the recent election of Donald Trump as President could have lasting impacts on our region and economic development. Drawing from articles by my mentors David Robinson and Mark Barbash, here are five key areas which will have an impact on our local community: (1) infrastructure investment; (2) aerospace and military spending; (3) U.S. investment incentives, (4) energy policy; and (5) funding for decontamination and decommissioning (cleanup) of the Piketon site.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is among a number of Senators who have worked on a bipartisan proposal for an infrastructure bank to repair the nation’s aging infrastructure. President-Elect Trump has also indicated that one of his key objectives is an infrastructure program. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said infrastructure “is not a priority.” Regionally and locally, a lack of infrastructure is the number one impediment to growth in our economy. It is not the replacement of aging infrastructure, but the creation of new infrastructure to support development. Significant investment is needed in the sewer systems in Lucasville, Portsmouth, and Wheelersburg, and we will be watching to see whether or not programs are developed to support our local needs.
President-Elect Trump has a policy goal of increasing military spending. Regionally, we are working with Huntington, Ashland, Ironton, Pikeville, and Morehead to create a regional aerospace cooperative that will market the assets of the region to aerospace and defense manufacturers. The aviation industry is expected to grow at least 10 percent over the next decade, and the proposed increase in military spending should benefit our region.
U.S. Investment Incentives
The election drew significant attention to the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs. Only 10 percent of American jobs are currently in manufacturing compared to 15 percent in 2001 and more than 30 percent in the 1970s. The battleground states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have lost 855,025 manufacturing jobs since 2001.
While building walls and imposing tariffs drew significant media attention, economists are still skeptical. Programs that incentivize both domestic and foreign investment in the U.S. will have a more significant impact. Potential strategies should be discussed and considered such as a new corporate tax structure, a federal job creation tax credit (JTC) similar to the Ohio JTC, and an incentive for investing in economically depressed areas (inner city or rural). While sometimes controversial, every project wants an incentive, and the federal government is not currently in the incentive game. The policy that is eventually implemented could have the most substantial impact on our community. Every major project
that has looked at our community has involved foreign investment, and hopefully, the new policies will allow us to capture some of these opportunities.
While the administration’s energy policy will have a lasting impact on the funding of the site at Piketon, we will focus on other energy issues. Our region has been devastated by the move from coal to other forms of energy production. Unemployment in some eastern Kentucky communities is around 20 percent, we have also seen layoffs in the rail industry, and the number of power plants that dot the Ohio River diminishes every day (creating new brownfield issues). While these jobs most likely will not return, the country must develop a diversified energy generation policy with both fossil fuel and clean energy. American Electric Power (AEP) has an application pending before the Public Utilities Commission to generate 900 megawatts of electricity from clean sources. Several solar projects have visited our community looking for sites for a solar farm. While a solar farm does not create many jobs, the downstream suppliers of steel and components are set up for significant growth. But, it is unknown how the new President’s policies and decisions will impact both coal and “clean” energy.
Funding for Decontamination and Decommissioning (Cleanup) of the Piketon site
When I was in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, the consensus was that Congress would pass a continuing resolution (CR) that would span from December to March. This would allow the new administration to develop an omnibus budget for the rest of the year (hopefully). My current understanding is that there is a “good chance” the CR will provide sufficient funding to avoid layoffs at the Piketon site.
Looking at 2017 and beyond, major decisions must be made concerning the cleanup of the site. The cleanup is partially funded by the barter (sale) of uranium, but the price of uranium continues to fall which negatively impacts the cleanup funding. The success of the cleanup depends on finding a more reliable funding source. It’s more complex than this, but basically the project only receives enough funding to maintain the current workforce or to fund the construction of the disposal cell. Both are important, but there are significant complications on both sides of the issue.
Locally, the good news is that part of the site will be turned over to the community in early 2017, and the redevelopment efforts are moving forward with interest starting to be drawn to the site. However, I believe that our area also needs to improve its messaging. I sit on several boards and advisory groups, and often I do not feel that the local communities, boards, elected officials, employees and/or unions, development organizations, etc., are speaking with one voice. I fear this causes issues with our “partners” in D.C. Building on the positives, improving our messaging, and effectively communicating to the new administration are key to the redevelopment of the site.
Overall, we’ve had a record year in our community. The election will provide new opportunities and challenges. We are prepared to make the best of whatever situations come our way.
Jason Kester is the Executive Director of the Southern Ohio Port Authority.