A Strategy for Economic Growth in Southeast Ohio

  • By Mike Jacoby
  • May 10, 2018

Editor’s Note: May 7-12 has been designated as National Economic Development Week by the International Economic Development Council. The Athens County Economic Development Council is recognizing this week through a series of submitted articles in The Athens Messenger.

In school everyone learned that the United States has an economy built on capitalism. The “invisible hand of the market” guides entrepreneurs, businesses and ultimately capital toward market opportunities based on profit. The market rewards hard work, innovation and strategic risk-taking. Likewise, the market punishes inefficiency, resistance to change and failure to deliver ROI.

You don’t have too drive far across this country or Ohio to realize the invisible hand of the market also punishes and rewards regions unequally.

Businesses ultimately decide where to invest and create jobs. Economic development is founded on the recognition that communities have a stake — in fact, a public policy interest — in influencing business investment decisions. After all, the availability of jobs and a community’s tax base tend to correlate with its quality of life. The lack of jobs and a tax base also tends to correlate with social problems impacting schools, housing, addiction issues, family units and overall public health.

The economic development spectrum includes encouraging entrepreneurship, transferring technologies developed in universities into business start-ups, revitalizing downtowns, supporting small business growth through training and financing, and promoting tourism.

A strategy developed in the Deep South and now replicated almost everywhere in the United States is an industrial development strategy. This strategy recognizes manufacturing has one of the highest economic multipliers of any sector. A manufacturing plant will bring new dollars into an economy and spread that money broadly through payroll, supply chain jobs, local services and taxes. Alabama has been extremely successful in recent decades at re-inventing its economy through industrial development. Today this strategy applies not only to manufacturing but to interstate distribution/ecommerce fulfillment centers, data centers and corporate back office operations.

Executing on an industrial development strategy typically involves a combination of site and building development, work force training and financial incentives. These can support existing companies adding jobs as well as new industries locating in a community. Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG), a regional JobsOhio affiliate organization, is engaged in this important work each and every day.

Incubated by the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio and only six years old, APEG is a non-profit regional economic development organization covering 25 counties in southern and eastern Ohio. APEG’s mission is business retention, expansion and attraction. APEG and its partner organization, the Appalachian Partnership, Inc., are co-located at the Foundation’s office on the Nelsonville Square.

JobsOhio is a nonprofit designated by the state to lead economic development. It focuses on the nine highest economic value sectors in Ohio and has been responsible for supporting over 139,000 new jobs since its creation in 2011. APEG is the gateway to JobsOhio tax incentives, loans and grants.

APEG also conducts site searches for businesses. A major challenge for the APEG region is the lack of available competitive sites and buildings. Ultimately, business investments are a real estate decision, and most businesses don’t want to expend the time and money or take the risk in developing raw land that lacks appropriate infrastructure or may have unknown barriers to development like wetlands. This is why the development of shovel ready sites and speculative buildings is critical to the growth of our region.

APEG partners with the Athens Economic Development Council (AEDC), one of the most professional and high performing local development organizations in the region. APEG and JobsOhio partnered with AEDC and provided incentives in the Athens Mold & Machine restart and RXQ Compounding’s project in Albany. APEG and JobsOhio programs also helped with the Speyside Bourbon Cooperage project in Jackson, the new Harbison Walker plant near Ironton, the Miba Sinter project in McConnelsville, as well as other projects across the 25-county region. We are hopeful that the PTT Global Chemical project will formally proceed this year which will result in over a $6 billion investment, thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs in Belmont County.

The competition for business investment is fierce. Southeastern Ohio has many assets as well as a few challenges. APEG is committed to tipping as many market advantages to our favor as possible. For more information about APEG and its role, visit www.apeg.com.

Mike Jacoby is the president and CEO of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG).