For too long, local and national media outlets have defined Portsmouth in Scioto County here in Ohio’s Second District by one thing: the opioid crisis. This is a reality. The destruction wreaked on our communities by opioids has torn too many families apart, and solutions deserve both national and local attention. But past reporting fixates on only one piece of that reality. It only tells part of the story.
For every negative statistic and damaging headline, there are stories of dedicated Portsmouth citizens pouring their hearts and souls into making a positive difference in their city. These are stories of rebuilding a community and revitalizing hope. To me, this is the true heartbeat of Portsmouth. It’s part of why I am so proud to represent this part of our nation. These stories are deeply significant and deserve to be heard – both here in Ohio and across the country.
You probably didn’t hear about it in the media but last year, Portsmouth made it into the Guinness World Book of Records twice, thanks to the “Friends of Portsmouth” — a community organization of local business owners and residents who decided to take matters into their own hands and work to revitalize the area, pushing back against the negative stigma their hometown has received. When the Friends of Portsmouth organized a city-wide cleanup (where local businesses donated power washers and cleaning supplies), Portsmouth broke a previous Guinness World Record by simultaneously planting 1,405 plants across the city. In December, the Friends of Portsmouth organized the Portsmouth Winter Wonderland project, which included 1,880 people simultaneously singing Christmas Carols — setting another world record. These are more than fun facts. This is part of an ongoing, enthusiastic initiative to cultivate positive culture and hope in a community that for too long has been known only for its negative portrayals.
The revitalization of Portsmouth in Scioto County is truly a community-wide effort, including businesses as well as individuals and community organizations. In 2018, nearly 30 properties in the downtown area were either entirely renovated or significantly enhanced, with approximately $12 million invested in improvements. The Southern Ohio Medical Center, based in Portsmouth, ranked an impressive #35 on the Forbes 100 Best Employers in the Nation after they spent $635,000 on educational assistance for their hardworking employees last year. Downtown, four new businesses opened in 2018. More are currently in development — thanks in part to the Kricker Innovation Hub. The hub is a business incubator that, in partnership with Shawnee State University and the Ohio State University Endeavor Center in Piketon, encourages entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas and then empowers them to build out their business, providing resources and support until they are able to run independently. Their vision is to grow tourism and kickstart the economy by filling every empty building in downtown Portsmouth with a new businesses.
That’s not all. Local organizations like the Counseling Center are working to combat the opioid crisis by paving the way for recovery and prevention. Last year, the Counseling Center hosted over 300 children ages 5-12 in its Summer Outreach Club, a free summer day camp aimed at engaging the community’s young people in order to prevent the initial use of harmful substances. Organizations like this are an integral part of helping our communities heal and building towards a better future for our children.
Momentum is building for the future. For years, Portsmouth has been on state fiscal surveillance, an entrenched aspect of its former negative image. However, the City recently reported that Portsmouth will soon be coming off fiscal watch for the first time in over a decade. The first new multi-story building is being built downtown in over 50 years. From the Soul Food Music Festival to the Summer Block Party, Portsmouth is beginning to usher in a new era of diversity and creativity in its communities. For the first time in five decades, the National Championship Power Boat Race will take place in Portsmouth on Labor Day weekend along with River Days. These are just a few of the exciting developments and committed organizations engaged in this effort; I encourage you to visit yourself and learn more. If you do, don’t miss the iconic murals downtown along the floodwall that tell the story of Portsmouth and honor some of its most famous citizens, like Roy Rogers and baseball legends, Branch Rickey and Al Oliver, who is a Portsmouth native and current resident.
Why does all this matter? It matters because cities like Portsmouth are not only the backbone but also the heartbeat of America. Their economies, communities, and energy play an integral – although often unappreciated – role in defining the health and future of our nation. Their decline hurts us all. Their revitalization is a victory.
I am proud that small towns around the country can look to communities like Portsmouth, Ohio for hope and inspiration. The positive developments we are seeing are directly due to the determination and resolve of Portsmouth’s residents. Although government can be a partner, they are not waiting around for a government solution. Instead, these Ohioans are digging deep within their communities and powering their efforts with the hearts and souls of their citizens to bring about positive change. Because of that, I believe Portsmouth’s tomorrow will be bright. We would all do well to pay attention to, and learn from, their stories.
Contact: Ann Tumolo (202-225-3164)
Originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer*