Over the weekend, someone made a comment on social media that essentially said “why don’t our elected officials worry about economic development?” The post made me chuckle and cringe at the same time. I chuckled because our elected officials are working diligently to try to attract and retain jobs. I cringed because maybe we are not doing enough to communicate these efforts.
This year, our community was named one of America’s Best. We also received grants to demolish blighted homes, conduct environmental analysis of the East End, study the feasibility of free public Wi-Fi and received funding to help restore Spartan Stadium. In addition, we had 10 economic development projects that resulted in over $60 million dollars of new investment, 170 new jobs, and the retention of more than 450 jobs. It was a record year.
New construction projects occurred at Columbia Gas and Appalachian Wood Floors, while Big Sandy significantly expanded its footprint in Wheelersburg. Companies such as Altivia and Taylor Lumber diversified their product lines, Yost Engineering continues to invest in downtown, and Wiseman Brothers, Mako, and Federal Supply all reutilized a former industrial site in Lucasville. The most important driver of these projects was the private investment from the above-named companies and we thank all of our existing and new businesses for their support and investment in our community.
All of these projects were supported along the way by our various elected officials and community leaders. So, as we close out this year, I wanted to say thanks to some of the elected officials and community leaders that really made a positive difference in our community this year.
In 2016, the Scioto County Commissioners, City of Portsmouth, Village of New Boston, Fluor-BWXT, the Scioto Foundation, Frontier Communications, and the Glockner Family Foundation were primary financial backers of the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA). Without their financial support, none of our successes would be possible.
Craig Opperman and Joe DeLong spent an inordinate amount of time supporting SOPA and economic development. Joe and his staff spent countless hours working with our engineering firm to develop a strategic plan for industrial sewer improvements in Wheelersburg and Lucasville. His support was invaluable. Craig led the expansion of the Haverhill-Ohio Furnace Road project which was a key to keeping Altivia Chemicals in Haverhill. He also not only helped raise the funds, but he also created the county GIS system which is the biggest technological advancement in our development effort in years. Both Joe and Craig are transitioning to new opportunities in the coming year, but I cannot thank both men enough for their work over the last few years. We’ve already met with our incoming county engineer Darren LeBrun and look forward to working with him as well as J.P. Pickelsimer, our new sanitary engineer.
Joe Uecker and Terry Johnson literally moved heaven and earth this year when I called to say we had an issue and needed their help. Joe’s office in particular worked with the state office involved in the issue, and a problem that had festered for months was quickly resolved.
Our entire Congressional delegation has dedicated hours to the site at Piketon. All of them deserve our thanks, but I wanted to give a special acknowledgement to Congressman Brad Wenstrup and Senator Rob Portman. Rep. Wenstrup is probably the most involved of our federal delegation in economic development. Kaci Compton and the entire Wenstrup staff do a wonderful job. They were one of only two delegations (in the entire U.S.) to send representatives to an economic development event we participated in Washington, D.C. this past fall. Senator Portman and his office do a tremendous job to keep us informed. Todd Shelton and his local staff are always available by email, text, cell, etc., and willing to provide assistance to any project.
Bill Ogg, our county auditor, is always ready to answer a question, and he played a significant leadership role in creating the Land Bank. Mark Kuhn, our county prosecutor, is an invaluable source of information, and without his staff, specifically Maggie Miller and Danielle Parker, the Land Bank would not have been created. SOPA has some of the most confounding property issues of any entity in the county; nonetheless, David Green, Heather Cunningham, and the staff of the auditor’s office always point us in the right direction.
Mayor Junior Williams, Steve Hamilton, Justin Blume, and Mike Payton in New Boston have done everything from working on the Land Bank to providing information for project responses, to trying to help SOPA officials understand a complex property issue.
Cathy Coleman, after less than a week on the job as county commissioner, sat through a marathon strategic planning session with the sanitary engineer and diligently took notes and asked insightful questions – a challenging task with so little time to prepare. Bryan Davis is actively involved with our marketing efforts and our response to economic development inquiries. Bryan’s background in business development and marketing brings a different perspective to how we respond to inquiries, and he’s participated in multiple visits made by companies to our area. Mike Crabtree keeps the Commissioner’s office moving, and he uses his construction and surveying background to provide key input on our strategic planning initiatives.
Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen, his staff, and the members of City Council have also been tremendously supportive this year. From the ABC grant, to the Cool & Connected project, to the creation of Downtown Redevelopment Districts (DRD), they have supported several projects going on this year in Portsmouth. Behind the scenes, City Auditor Trent Williams and his staff quietly helped us through a complicated tax issue, the county engineer’s office is working to streamline the permit process, and everyone from the sewer department to the police and fire departments have participated in an economic development project. As for supporting activities, Jim Kalb has been significantly involved in the efforts to redevelop the East End, Kevin W. Johnson has been actively involved in the DRDs, Tom Lowe spent a few hours late night discussing the redevelopment of the former steel mill site, while Jo Ann Aeh assisted with a business retention interview in her ward.
While the actions mentioned above are just a snapshot of the activities over the past year, I want to say thank you to everyone who is involved in our efforts. As you can see, all of our key leaders are involved, and their support is vital to our success.
Lastly, I want to say thanks to the SOPA board. Without their unwavering support, Adam Phillips and I could not do what we need to do, and we are both very grateful for your kind words and actions.
In January, we will start off the new year with an article by Adam Phillips about the Cool & Connected Wi-Fi project. Please continue to follow us in the Daily Times, on our website at www.sohpa.org, on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SouthernOhioPortAuthority/ and on Twitter @SOPAExDir. We hope you have a safe, merry, and happy holiday season.
Jason Kester is the Executive Director of the Southern Ohio Port Authority.