New economic grants to help local groups, create jobs in region

Click here for the original story in the Athens Messenger


Among millions of dollars announced this month for various projects in Appalachia, one such program based at Ohio University has received $750,000 of grant funding.

The Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal agency representing Ohio and 12 other states, is providing this funding through its POWER Initiative (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization).

Ohio University will receive $750,000 toward its new Social Enterprise Ecosystem (SEE) program. SEE was created last year as a pilot learning project meant to encourage area social organizations to utilize “business strategies” as part of their operations. Such organizations include the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio and Rural Action, among others in Southeast Ohio.

SEE works with these organizations to focus on workforce training, infrastructure development (such as broadband internet access) and other improvements.

Expectations are this grant will assist with around 40 social enterprises and help launch at least a dozen new ones. In a news release, SEE projected the $750,000 grant will leverage millions in private investment, leading to an estimated 38 new jobs.

Appalachian Regional Commission funds helped to create SEE in 2017, and this additional grant money will keep the program running for another two years.

One other ARC grant announced last week is of local interest — $78,624 in funding to the Buckeye Hills Regional Council based in Marietta. This will pay for a feasibility study to look at improvements to broadband access along Route 33 between the Columbus area down to Southeast Ohio. The hope is to find ways to provide service to more residents and businesses in the region.

“This study will analyze service gaps, gauge demand in underserved communities, inventory existing assets and develop strategies for (broadband) deployment,” a news release states. “The ultimate goal is to attract new jobs and investments in areas affected by the loss of coal-related jobs and establish a new ‘high tech corridor.’”

Legislators from the region praised the funding, with U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) saying in a statement he is “thrilled that SEE and the Voinovich School will have the resources they need to promote market-based solutions to the social challenges local communities face.” In separate statements, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also celebrated the grant announcements.

Lastly, a separate grant for the Voinovich School was announced Oct. 15 toward assisting communities in Adams, Scioto and Lawrence Counties. This is a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration to help grow a new “Building Opportunities Beyond Coal Acceleration Transition (BOBCAT) Network project.

The grant announcement specifically references coal-powered plants in Adams County which will lead to more than 1,000 lost jobs and millions in lost tax revenue for the local schools. The BOBCAT Network is aiming to bring new industry to that area.