Stay Updated

This page offers blog posts, news articles and events surrounding Athens County economic and community development efforts. Select the News & Events tabs to the right to view all postings.

Athens County eyed as site for medical marijuana operation

Click here for the original article from The Athens Messenger. 

April 23, 2017

Steve Robb

A company based in central Ohio wants to operate a medical marijuana facility at Theisen Industrial Park near The Plains.

If Black Elk Biotech can get state licenses, the plan is to grow marijuana and process it into treatment products that could then be shipped to dispensaries. Black Elk has entered into a research agreement with Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute, according to company co-owner Chris Vince.

Vince has been in discussions with representatives of the Athens County Port Authority about locating Black Elk’s facility at Theisen Industrial Park. On Wednesday, Vince made a presentation to the Port Authority’s board. The board then voted to offer Black Elk a six-month option to purchase up to 8 acres of industrial park land at $8,500 per acre, with an opportunity for 30-day extensions. The company would have to pay a $5,000 non-refundable option fee.

Vince said Black Elk needs to have a site under its control (an option would accomplish that) at the time it applies for state licenses to grow and process medical marijuana.

“We’ve decided that Athens would be the logical place to locate our business, just because a major part of our business will be Edison Biotech, and just the proximity to them would be fantastic,” Vince said.

According to Vince, the company will pay Edison Biotech $1.85 million over five years for research. Edison Biotech will be researching the compounds in marijuana and how they can be applied to the treatment of medical conditions for which the state of Ohio has authorized use of medical marijuana. Vince said the research will help identify which types of marijuana should be grown.

Shiyong Wu, director of Edison Biotechnology Institute, said the research will also involve plants other than marijuana, including maple and pomegranate. He said a state license for marijuana research has been obtained, but Edison Biotech wants to get a federal license before starting the cannabis research.

While there is anecdotal evidence that marijuana has medical benefits, Wu said Edison Biotech wants to do evidence-based research to prove what types of marijuana work for which medical conditions.

He said the intellectual property derived from the research will belong to Ohio University, but Black Elk Biotech will have the first right to license it.

Black Elk wants to construct a 25,000-square-foot greenhouse at the industrial park, and an office and processing facility of 8,000 to 12,000 square feet. Black Elk is proposing to hire 28 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees. Salaries would range from $22,000 to $100,000 per year and benefits would be provided, according to information Vince presented to the board.

He said that within a year of the start of operations there would be the potential to double in size.

Vince said that the company’s preference would be for the Port Authority to have the facility constructed and enter into a lease-purchase agreement with Black Elk. In the alternative, a private investor could be sought.

Port Authority board member Don Linder questioned whether whoever paid for construction of the facility would be running a risk of the state or the federal government shutting down the medical marijuana operation.

Vince said he doesn’t believe Ohio would take such an action since it has a medical marijuana law, and that if there were a federal crack-down it more likely would be against states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

The vote by the Port Authority board to offer the land purchase option was unanimous, although Chairman Jack Bortle was not at the meeting.

Port Authority Vice Chairman Robert Gall said that Bortle will likely appoint a subcommittee to meet with Black Elk Biotech to talk about the “bones of this thing, how the transaction might be put together…”

Sara Marrs-Maxfield, Port Authority secretary and director of the Athens County Economic Development Council, said the subcommittee will be discussing with Black Elk Biotech what level of involvement, if any, the Port Authority would have in development of the project, as opposed to just selling the land.

Vince said applications will likely be due in June, so he needs to know as soon as possible how the facility will be financed and constructed. He said Black Elk Biotech needs a Tier 1 license from the state, and 12 will be granted statewide.

Vince said owners of Black Elk Biotech include himself, his father Charlie Vince, Scott Holowicki and CropKing Inc. CropKing is a manufacturer and distributor of commercial greenhouse structures, hydroponic growing equipment and supplies, according to its website.

Black Elk has offices in Westerville and at the Ohio University Innovation Center.

Vince said he has worked in the residential real estate development business in Columbus for about 17 years. He said that for past 18 months he and Holowicki have been developing a business plan for the medical marijuana operation, working with consultants in Colorado. A business plan was provided to the Port Authority.

Read More

Ride Hailing In Rural America: Like Uber With A Neighborly Feel

This NPR article covers the Innovation Center’s very own Liberty Transportation. Valerie LeFler is doing great things for Southeast Ohio’s chronic transportation issues, and we are excited to have her here in Athens! Find the complete story below or here

April 17, 2017

M.L. Shultze

Shelia Mendoza says she’s not looking for a livelihood out of Liberty Mobility, but a little extra cash and some new friends to talk to. M.L Shultze/WKSU

It’s easy enough for people who live in cities to hail a ride, either from a taxi or a service like Uber or Lyft. There’s plenty of demand, and plenty of drivers. A startup is trying to bring a similar service to rural America, but it has required some creative thinking.

The town of Van Wert sits on the western edge of Ohio. It’s a stretch of flat farm country punctuated with grain silos and a stone castle that’s listed as the nation’s first county public library.

Petrie is the mobility manager of the seven-county Area Agency on Aging. Her job is to find transportation options in Van Wert, which has no buses, one cab and a lot of needs.

“The quick turnaround needs: ‘Can someone help me get to the doctor?’ We see short-term needs: ‘Normally I’m able to drive, but my car’s in the shop,’ ” she says.

So Petrie helped recruit Liberty Mobility Now to Van Wert. The startup began in Nebraska about two years ago and has expanded to Texas and Ohio. It’s also on its way to Colorado.

Founder Valerie Lefler grew up on a dairy farm and worked on rural transportation issues at the University of Nebraska. She created Liberty as a business, but she talks about it as a mission — one requiring drivers to do more than leave customers at the door.

“We really look for folks who are altruistic, that would want to do this anyway because that’s what they would do for their best friend or their own mother,” Lefler says.

One of those people is Shelia Mendoza, whose mission in life, she says, is to be a grandma.

Mendoza has worked for a dry cleaner and at a Wal-Mart. She’s sold insurance, made RV cabinets and briefly ran Shelia’s Cornucopia Cove. And when Liberty came to Van Wert two months ago, she was one of about a dozen drivers recruited and trained.

The grandmother of 17 and self-described talker was a natural. That’s because while part of Liberty’s model is built on an app designed to work in rural geographies, much more of it is built on relationships.

For example, Mendoza developed a relationship with her first customer who’d lost his license but found a job: the midnight shift at a meat processing plant. A county agency was willing to cover transportation costs for a few weeks until he could get his license back.

“I always had him there five to 10 minutes early,” Mendoza says. “We would stop and get coffee sometimes … before he would go to work. Once in a while he paid for mine.”

Since he regained his license, things have slowed down for Mendoza.

“I was happy he got his car, I was happy he got his license. He’s a better person for that because I know he hated getting hauled around by an old lady,” she says and laughs.

She’s hoping business will pick up, and her hopes rest with a lower-tech option Liberty is launching: a call center for those who don’t or can’t use an app.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Well, I don’t want nothing like that on my phone; I don’t have room,’ ” she says.

Scott Bogren of the Community Transportation Association of America, which specializes in smaller and rural transportation issues, says the call center shows that Liberty understands its target community.

“The adult children of these seniors who can book rides for mom — they’re going to use an online service,” he says. “And combine that with the ability for mom to call in and talk to somebody that she can get to know — there’s the sweet spot.”

Because of chronic transportation needs, Liberty is partnering with United Ways, hospitals, health departments and other social service agencies.

Rides cost $1.25 to book and $1 per mile. The fees are a small fraction of what the cabby charges, but Liberty says it will also make referrals if the taxi’s a better fit.

Petrie says all of that captures the spirit of the area.

“I like that the drivers are from the communities,” she says. “People are I think more polite, more neighborly. That’s just what is going to fit here.”

Liberty Mobility is hoping to find similar fits all across America.



Read More

Athens County Community Improvement Challenge 2017

The Athens County Community Improvement Challenge is meant to support and assist communities and individuals seeking improvement.  Community is defined as a group of people living in the same place, having a particular characteristic in common, or a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Athens County proudly supports the multitude of communities that provide vibrancy to Athens County.

Which communities can participate?

The Athens County Community Improvement Challenge 2017 is specifically geared towards the smaller, more rural communities in the county.  The City of Athens and Nelsonville are exempt from this challenge. The first 10 communities to submit a completed application to the Athens County Planner will be accepted as Athens County Community Improvement Challenge 2017 participants. Completed applications can be hand delivered to 280 West Union Street, Suite B, Athens, OH or submitted electronically to

Athens County has 8 incorporated villages: Albany, Amesville, Buchtel, Chauncey, Coolville, Glouster, Jacksonville, and Trimble.  The mayor and council members would be eligible elected officials.

Athens County has 5 census designated areas: Hockingport, Millfield, New Marshfield, Stewart, The Plains. These areas would require the support of township trustees to participate as the elected official.

Athens County has 31 unincorporated communities:

Beaumont, Beebe, Bessemer, Big Run, Burr Oak, Canaanville, Carbondale, Doanville, Frost, Garden, Glen Ebon, Guysville, Hamley Run, Hartleyville, Hebbardsville, Imperial, Kilvert, Lottridge, Luhrig, Mineral, Modoc, New England, New Floodwood, Pleasanton, Pratts Fork, Redtown, Shade, Sharpsburg, Torch, Utley, and Augustine/ Sugar Creek. These areas would require the township trustees to participate.

See attachment for details and the application: Athens County Community Improvement Challenge 2017

Read More

Intelligent Community Forum April 6

Would you like to learn about Fiber, Broadband and WiFi in Southeast Ohio?

Fundamentally, a smart rural community uses broadband networks to enable applications that the community can leverage for innovative economic development, first-rate education and health care, better government services, more robust public safety and more efficient energy distribution and use.

Understanding the use of new technology is the first step in facilitating greater interconnection of the community’s resources, and needs to be a focus for the southeast Ohio region.

See the attached flyer and RSVP to learn how your SE Ohio community can begin the discussion around how to become an Intelligent Community!

Read More

Innovation Center receives highly competitive Global Soft Landing Network designation

This article from Ohio University’s Perspective Magazine highlights the Innovation Center’s recent  recognition as part of the Global Soft Landings Network. Find the complete article below or here


February 27, 2017

From staff reports

The Innovation Center, Ohio University’s business incubator, has been selected by the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) to join its Global Soft Landings Network. The program identifies entrepreneurship centers that have the capacity to serve foreign companies interested in expanding outside of their domestic markets.

The network, which has 31 members around the world, offers businesses an accelerated introduction to a new country’s business practices, regulations and culture.

“This recent recognition brings to light the myriad of resources available to foreign companies in Southeast Ohio,” said Stacy Strauss, director of the Innovation Center. “We would not have received this designation without the resources of our partners—the Athens County Economic Development Council and the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth. Together, we have the necessary elements to attract, retain and support foreign companies in our region.”

The Innovation Center offers various services to foreign firms to facilitate soft landings, including domestic market research, identification of local customer prospects, access to capital and potential funders and cultural training. It also offers assistance with protecting intellectual property and patenting, meeting government regulations and understanding import/export laws.

Benefits of membership in the Global Soft Landings Network for the Innovation Center include global visibility, credibility through acceptance after a rigorous application process, and opportunities to collaborate with InBIA on international projects and grant proposals.

“The Innovation Center clearly demonstrated they have the resources and programming to meet the needs of foreign/non-domestic firms that want to enter the center’s domestic market,” stated Kirstie Chadwick, InBIA’s president and CEO. “InBIA’s Soft Landings designation enables entrepreneurship centers to attract new clients and differentiate their programs as being specially designed to work with a unique clientele.”

This is the most recent in a series of recognitions for the Innovation Center. In 2016, the center was named Rural Incubator of the Year by the InBIA. It was one of eight entities across the globe to be honored for its contributions to the business incubation field. The center also has been recognized as a Top University Business Incubator in North America by UBI Global, an organization that benchmarks business incubators and accelerators around the world. In 2015, the program was ranked #8 in the North American region and #3 in the United States.

The Innovation  Center’s 36,000 square-foot facility features six biotechnology labs, 33 offices and prototype development space and equipment. The center serves local entrepreneurs by providing office, meeting and laboratory space with flexible lease options, as well as access to shared equipment. The incubator also offers business coaching and access to funding opportunities and other resources to help startup companies grow. The business incubator works closely with university and regional partners, including TechGROWTH Ohio, a public/private partnership based at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.

In 2015, Innovation Center clients and recent graduates added 121 new jobs with an annual average salary that was double the average regional income.

Over the last year, the center also attracted more than 300 attendees to 12 events, including its Founders’ Forum, which unites CEOs and founders of current clients and recent graduates to discuss topics of interest and exchange information.

The InBIA is a nonprofit organization and advocate for advancing global entrepreneurship and incubation that has more than 2,100 members across 60-plus countries. More information about the InBIA can be found at More information about the Innovation Center can be found at

Read More

Athens County Economic Development Council releases new comprehensive strategic plan

Plan has strong emphasis on site development, living wage jobs and business investment


Athens, OH – February 21, 2017 – At its February 15th board meeting, the Athens County Economic Development Council moved to adopt a new comprehensive, county-wide economic development strategic plan that sets goals for site development infrastructure, increasing living wage jobs, and securing business investments in Athens County. Following a request for qualifications last March, the ACEDC hired business development consultant The Montrose Group to complete the plan. Its five-year goals include:

  • Adding 2,500 new high wage jobs paying about $17.40/hour
  • Cutting children poverty rate by 5 points
  • Increasing per capita incomes by 15%


The strategic plan is a product of the Montrose Group’s “Learn-Listen-Do” approach, which combines extensive community research and data analyses with a series of community, university, business and political stakeholder focus groups. Using this information and feedback, Montrose developed a detailed action plan tied to local and outside funding sources centered on business retention, attraction of high wage jobs, and business investment through a forthcoming community fund for emerging companies and entrepreneurs.


“These goals are lofty but we must aim high and challenge ourselves as a community to support positive economic change for long term, lasting benefits,” explains ACEDC executive director Sara Marrs-Maxfield.


It is the hope of the ACEDC that other city and village councils and development entities adopt the plan as well to ensure cohesive and successful execution. On February 15th, the Athens County Port Authority moved to endorse the strategic plan and discussed leading components of its site development efforts. Port Authority Board Chairperson Jack Bortle added, “the plan provides a path to reaching our goal of attracting companies who can provide good jobs for the people of Athens County. The Port Authority looks forward to helping execute the plan successfully.” The Athens County Commissioners also moved to adopt the plan as the county’s strategic economic development plan at the February 21st Commissioner meeting.


Several steps to implement the strategic plan have already been taken by the ACEDC, including a rebrand of the organization and the rollout of its new website. The ACEDC has requested funding increases from its partners for plan execution, and are in the process of forming strategic plan sub-committees that cater to specific objectives. ACEDC Chairperson Lenny Eliason explained, “the plan also ties in the private sector with public sector efforts, which will be crucial in creating more jobs for Athens County citizens.”


Review the ACEDC Strategic Plan at

Read More

Little Fish Brewing Company receives $50,000 loan from ACEDC’s micro revolving loan fund

An article on Little Fish’s micro loan was also features in the Athens Messenger:

Money to be used for equipment upgrades and solar panel installation project


Athens, OH, February 13, 2017 – Little Fish Brewing Company owners Sean White and Jimmy Stockwell received a $50,000 check from the Athens County Economic Development Council during a small reception held on Monday. The money comes from the ACEDC’s Small Business Micro Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) program, which was created from a USDA Rural Business Development Grant the ACEDC received.


ACECD executive director Sara Marrs-Maxfield explained the loan fund offers small injections of capital intended for smaller companies looking to grow and expand. Business Program Specialist Cindy Musshel attended the event on behalf of USDA Rural Development. Musshel explained, “the RLF program is a great use of the grant because commercial financing is not always easy for small emerging businesses to access.”


Co-owner Jimmy Stockwell outlined key equipment purchases the loan is helping finance including a new forklift, a more sophisticated bottler, and most notably the solar panel installation project they are completing with the help of Third Sun Solar.


The micro loan also coincides with another grant Little Fish recently received from the Rural Energy for America Program, which offers grants and loans to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or energy efficiency improvements. Co-owner Sean White expressed his appreciation for the USDA Rural Development programs, and his hope that programs like these stick around in upcoming years.


ACEDC Board Chair Lenny Eliason presented the check to Little Fish. “It’s always nice to see something come to fruition and materialize with the Revolving Loan Fund” stated Eliason.


For more information on the Small Business Micro Revolving Loan Fund, call 740-597-1420 or visit



About Little Fish Brewing Company

The philosophy of Little Fish Brewing Company is to brew simple, rustic, and beautiful beers. They strive to make their brewery a reflection of their beliefs. When feasible, they use organic malts. Specialty grains, such as corn and spelt, are grown locally in Ohio. The electricity is 100% wind power sourced. Every little bit helps.


About Athens County Economic Development Council

The Athens County Economic Development Council is the champion of business in Southeast Ohio. We are a public-private partnership committed to increasing economic opportunity in Athens County by encouraging entrepreneurship, recruiting new businesses, and helping existing businesses grow and expand. Advocacy is the cornerstone of all we do. We work for you because your success is our success. Prosperous businesses make for happy employees and a booming local economy.



Contact: Mollie Fitzgerald


Read More

Solar company grew from owners’ need, interest

By Kevin Kidder For Columbus CEO Magazine; Taken from the Columbus Dispatch


Michelle and Geoff Greenfield didn’t set out to create a business when they started researching solar power in Ohio at the beginning of the millennium. But what they learned in a quest for solar panels on the house they were building in rural Athens County pointed them to an unexpected opportunity.

Since Third Sun Solar’s modest start in 2000, the company now boasts more than 600 installations of solar panels in Ohio and 13 other Midwestern states, making the couple’s business focus as environmentally friendly as their surname. They talked recently with Columbus CEO magazine about the birth and growth of their company.

Q: Tell me about Third Sun Solar and its evolution. You started in your attic?

A: (Geoff) It’s a classic startup story — yeah, in the attic. Evolution is a good word for it. We didn’t really have a sense of what the future would hold and how the solar industry would take off. When we started it, we were our own first customer. We wanted to have solar on the house we were building, and there weren’t any obvious helpers in Ohio. There was some stuff going on in California at that time, and after we put solar on our house, we had lots of interest and questions, and we thought, well, there might be something to this. So I started the business, and a year later, Michelle joined. And 16 years later, solar is not quite mainstream but a lot farther along than when we started.

Q: Why did you want to install solar on your house to begin with?

A: (Michelle) We’re environmentally minded. We had lived in Oregon for a couple years, and we saw solar out there and in northern California, so we were interested. And the land we bought in Athens County to build on didn’t have power to it. So we had the choice. We either had to pay (a utility) $6,000 or so to bring in the power lines, and then they were going to charge us a minimum bill every month that was quite high. We knew we’d never use that much electricity. So we weighed that with, well, we could put our own system together and live off-grid and see how that works. And our site is perfect, south-facing.

Q: What is the market for solar like in Ohio?

A: (Geoff) The asterisk of ‘in Ohio’ makes a big difference! Ohio is a mixed bag. We’ve got some things incredibly in our favor. A lot of people don’t realize that Ohio is the fifth-largest energy consumer in the nation. It’s a huge market. So that’s a good thing if you’re running a business trying to serve energy users. A lot of people quickly ask about the sunshine. Ohio I would rate as a B-minus. If my kid got a B-minus in college, you know, I’d be all right.

Q: What challenges have you faced?

A: (Michelle) Quite a few. I guess there is the challenge of being a husband-and-wife team. I’m CEO, and he’s president, and we have a lot of implicit trust, which is a great thing to have in a business partnership, but running a business and a family and a household and everything can get quite intense, so we’ve had to really navigate the boundaries for that. …; And I think just the solar market itself has been a challenge over the past 16 years. We came in really at the infancy of the industry, where it was still a lot of cabins in the woods or hippies in the backcountry doing it, or people in California , and now it’s much more mainstream. We actually call it the solar coaster, because there have been all of these ups and downs throughout those 16 years as far as the price fluctuations and the equipment, the technological innovations, (and) the subsidies, because sometimes we have had subsidies, and sometimes we’ve had them taken away. And then they come back, and so it hasn’t been a stable economic situation.

Q: What’s the future for Third Sun Solar?

A: (Michelle) As far as Third Sun, we’re pretty well-positioned to keep maturing with the industry.

Read More

2011/2012 East State Street

2011 East State Street

Premier Development Acreage – One of the largest underdeveloped opportunities on East State Street totaling 19.59 acres, surveyed into 5 parcels with # 1 being the largest at 5.97 acres and tract # 5 being the smallest at 2.15 acres. This site is zoned ‘MANUFACTURING’ with two approved curb cuts and featuring over 1400 ft. of frontage on the south side of East State Street with three traffic lanes for easy access. The East State Street ramp exits at this property giving it high visibility from US 50 and it is only.5 miles from Holzer Medical Clinic. All utilities are available at this site, as well as an additional 12 acres across the street.

Sale price: $29,500,000.00


2012 East State Street

This 12.06 acre site is an ideal commercial development property, zoned ‘B-3’ for restaurants, an office complex, bank or other retail opportunities with 600 FT. of frontage on the north side of East State Street and three traffic lanes up front for easy access plus additional frontage on Della Drive. The East State Street ramp exits at this property giving it high visibility from US 50 and it is only.5 miles from Holzer Medical Clinic. It already has two approved curb cuts, all utilities are available at the road, as well as 19.59 additional acres across the street.

Sale price: $1,750,000.00







Read More

Lots of Jobs, Not Much Pay

The recent story by The Athens News’ Conor Morris reiterates why it is important not only to have jobs, but to have living wage jobs that support families and increase the economic prosperity of Athens County. Find the complete story below or at 

January 18, 2016

By: Conor Morris

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 hit the country hard, and southeast Ohio was no different. Even worse, there’s little evidence to suggest that the economic recovery in the years Barack Obama was in office actually affected Athens County in any significant way.

A lack of living-wage jobs is one of the main contributors to the increasing number of people in Ohio and especially in southeast Ohio who are in need of food-bank services. As The NEWS has reported previously in this series, Athens County leads the state in the percentage of individuals who are eligible for Ohio Association of Foodbank services. That’s 50.7 percent of its population, according to a five-year estimate in 2015.

Statewide, the number of people living with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level has increased from an average of 3.4 million people from 2005-2009 to an average of 3.8 million people per year in 2011-2015, according to census data.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said that another recession may be ahead for the state.

“We can’t wait and hope that some remnants of the recovery trickle down to the most vulnerable people in our state,” Hamler-Fugitt said in a release. “We’ve continued to have more and more people visiting our pantries to put food on their table when their paychecks or meager Social Security checks run out. More than a third of the people in our state are living in households with incomes that don’t always stretch to meet all of their basic needs.”

Jack Frech, former director of the Athens County Job and Family Services, said that Athens County has been the victim of a “phased-in” loss of large industrial sources of jobs over the past century, He said it wasn’t just the loss of mining companies that hit the county’s residents hard as coal mines largely abandoned the county in the mid-20th century.

“Over time Athens County and a lot of other southeastern communities have lost small manufacturing jobs as well,” Frech said. “When I came here 40-some years ago, there were lots and lots of little tool and dye shops and machine shops.”

What, if anything, has replaced those jobs? By and large, lots and lots of temporary, part-time, low- or minimum-wage service jobs. When Walmart came to Athens city, for example, it brought a lot of jobs with it. But like other service-industry jobs, Frech said, people can barely support themselves on the wages they get. Moreover, many who live out in the county often struggle to afford keeping a car on the road to drive themselves to the relatively big population centers in Athens and Nelsonville to work the jobs.

The largest employers in the county have become local governments, schools and Ohio University, Frech said, which is not necessarily a good thing. That’s because those jobs sometimes require a college education that is inaccessible to many of the working-class people who live in rural parts of the county.

(The 10 largest employers in the county as of November 2014 were – in descending order – Ohio University, OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital, Athens County, Hocking College, Athens City Schools, Rocky Brands, Walmart, Alexander Local Schcools, the city of Athens, and Diagnostic Hybrids/Quidel.)

More and more, Frech said, due to the cost of housing ever-increasing in the area, people are banding together with close and distant family members in order to keep a roof over their head, sometimes stacking up in small substandard homes and trailers with up to 10 people at a time.

According to Sara Marrs-Maxfield, executive director of the Athens County Economic Development Council, one of the biggest challenges facing the county’s attempts to bring industry back to the area is a lack of a space appropriate for such development.

“We have little space suitable for manufacturing and other industrial activities,” Marrs-Maxfield said in an email. “From 2014-2016, Athens County missed opportunities to compete for 38 state-generated (JobsOhio) attraction opportunities; eliminated for lack of suitable building or acreage available, and an additional 15 for infrastructure shortfalls for what the company(s) required.”

Marrs-Maxfield said that some indicators bode well for the county – for example, the county experienced 6 percent job growth across “all sectors” over the past five years. Similarly, her organization helped local factory Athens Mold & Machine reopen its doors recently with grant support, meaning at least 60 new jobs created last year and in the coming few years.

IN BASICALLY every part of the county, including in the typically better-off Athens, people are struggling to make ends meet.

Nelsonville City Council member Taylor Sappington recognizes the struggles of the working class in Nelsonville. That city, along with other rural parts of the county, largely went for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, although Barack Obama took the city of Nelsonville in 2012.

“Many of our residents that I’ve met who are struggling the most do work, despite the stereotypes. Everything from nursing to homecare to minimum wage,” Sappington said. “Some are disabled and fewer others are unemployed, in my experience. Most of the times they need transportation. Many are struggling too much to pay for food, let alone a car to work. Being a rural area without a car limits their earning potential by thousands, if not tens of thousands, a year.”

Recently, The Athens NEWS stopped in to talk to operators of the Nelsonville Food Cupboard, a food pantry that’s open Thursday-Saturday each week from noon to 3 p.m. It provides a three-day box of food to residents once a month, provided for by the Ohio Foodbank Association and local donations. The Food Cupboard also has a thrift store attached, as well as a “backpack” program that provides food for area students.

Margaret Sheskey, one of the managers of the Food Cupboard, said the number of people that the Cupboard serves has increased since it started operation in 1989. Many are people who are working one or more minimum-wage job or are elderly or disabled and can’t work, Sheskey said.

“We had one family that came in December. The wife works two part-time jobs and the husband works two part-time jobs and they have two kids but it’s not enough,” Sheskey said, noting the family lives in a trailer in Nelsonville.

Joyce Smith, 70, of Nelsonville had her son drive her to the Cupboard that Saturday. She has some relatives in the area as well as her son and daughter in town so she has some support. Otherwise, she’s retired and living on food stamps and a Social Security check to help her get by.

“I think it (the Cupboard) is important to everybody in need, the way the economy is now…” Smith said. “It’s hard for people. Especially the elderly (people).”

FRECH SAID poverty is so persistent in Athens County for a variety of reasons, but one big contributor is a gradual reduction and loss of the “safety net” offered to people.

“Food stamp benefits have been cut over the last four or five years rather severely, both in the amount that people get and in the eligibility,” Frech said, while tax assistance has almost “disappeared” in Ohio.

“…Those loss of safety-net benefits have pulled millions of millions of dollars out of the pockets of low-income families and communities,” he said.

Asti Payne, development and community relations coordinator with the Southeast Ohio Foodbank, said that while “unemployment is going down,” the makeup of county jobs is trending toward lower-paying jobs and part-time work.

“Couple this with increasing costs to buy groceries, high utility bills and health-care costs, and families are being forced to make tough choices (i.e. buy food or turn the heat on in their home knowing they will have a larger bill next month),” Payne said.

Payne said that the local food banks “need advocates.”

She asked community members to call their state representatives and support the Ohio Foodbank network’s request of state legislature to add $30 million per year to support hunger relief in the FY2018-2019 state budget, and to donate their time or money to their local foodbanks.

“…Monetary donations make a big impact because of our buying power and affiliation with Feeding America. For every dollar we receive, we can provide 5 meals,” Payne said.

Read More

OU to meet with potential Ridges developers

Article from Athens News

By Conor Morris

Ohio University is set to meet today (Jan. 9) with developers who are interested in working with the university on plans to redevelop The Ridges.

According to a release from the university, the meeting is merely “informational,” meant to assist potential developers with “understanding the opportunities” in the Ridges Framework Plan that was approved as part of the university’s Comprehensive Master Plan. That Framework Plan provides recommendations for how the university could renovate and use currently unused buildings on the old Athens Asylum campus, and put in new building development on parts of the 700-plus-acre area that includes nature trails and a land lab.

“Future steps in this process will include a proposal submission process, which will permit analyses of financial feasibility and respective staging/implementation of the components of the Framework Plan,” the release notes.

Joe Shields, co-chair of the Ridges Framework Plan, said in the release that renovations to the historic buildings will set the stage for “long-term success.”

“The former Athens Asylum has architectural and cultural significance for the Athens community as well as to the university,” Shields continued. “By investigating development opportunities, we will be looking for long-term solutions that enable preservation of its historic character while bringing new life to this public asset.”

The release charges that “stewardship” is the university’s primary goal, with a focus on preserving existing buildings and enhancing trails.

The NEWS plans on following up on the results of that meeting in our next paper, although details may be relatively scarce considering the meeting is not open to the public, and information will come from a conference call held with OU officials after the meeting.

“Ohio University’s goal is to select the successful development team(s) using a multi-phase proposal process,” the release reads. “Through this multi-phase proposal process, the university intends to both refine and test the feasibility of its existing Ridges Framework concepts. Should new concepts be introduced by developers, they would be presented to the Ridges Advisory Council for review and approval as well as require presentation to and approval by OHIO’s Board of Trustees.”

Read More

Hebbardsville Farm

Hebbardsville Farm is currently owned by Ohio University, and has been identified as a priority site for development in the 2017 economic development strategic plan. The greenfield site offers 380 acres of farm and woodlands and is in close proximity to rail, the Ohio University airport, and the State Route 32/50 4-lane highway. In upcoming years, the ACEDC will focus efforts on  infrastructure upgrades for the site including broadband and sewer. Click here to access the property in the site selection database.


Downloadable Maps


Read More

Bill Theisen Industrial Park

The Bill Theisen Industrial Park offers excellent development opportunities to new and expanding companies in Athens County. Parcels vary from 3 to 23 acres, with natural gas, electric, water, wastewater and ethernet readily available at each site. The site is conveniently located 2 miles West of The Plains, Ohio and 3 miles from US Route 33.

Drone Photo of the Bill Theisen Industrial Park

Drone Image of Bill Theisen Industrial Park 


  • 3 miles to 4-Lane US 33
  • 72 miles to the Port Columbus International Airport
  • .08 miles to State Route 691


Available Buildings

  • 5850 & 5840 Industrial Drive Listing Information (ADD LINK) – A former Powder Coatings Plant offers two adjoining metal, insulated, I-Beam constructed buildings totaling 46,782 sq. ft. on 4.88 acres currently for sale through local real estate company, Sole and Bloom.


Available Parcels

  • Parcel P010010000119 – 8.6 acres
  • Parcel P010010000118 – 2 acres
  • Parcel G010010052408 – 4.8 acres (partially wooded)
  • Parcel G010010052401 – 19.9 acres (wooded)

*Phase II Environmental Assessments have been conducted at all parcels


The available parcels at the Bill Theisen Industrial Park are owned by The Athens County Port Authority.

Read More

Award-winning development

December 21, 2016

Here at the Athens County Economic Development Council, we pride ourselves on the diverse mix of industry in our region, and we understand that growing the economy with living-wage jobs improves life for everyone.

So we were thrilled to have our work recognized with an award from the Ohio Economic Development Association, which singled out our collaboration on the re-opening of the Athens Mold and Machine (AMM) company. AMM had been shuttered in 2011, and its rebirth brings 60 living-wage jobs back to our community. (Read more about the project and award here:

While we’re happy with the recognition, we’re even happier to know that AMM will be humming in the heart of our community. If you have a relocation or expansion project in the works, we’d like to help you, too. Reach out to us at

Read More

Introducing the JobsOhio Research & Development Grant Program

Recently, the JobsOhio Board of Directors approved a new program – the JobsOhio Research & Development (R&D) Grant Program. Authorized with $50 million of initial funding, the R&D Grant Program is intended to extend the breadth and strength of Ohio research and development to help spur innovation and job creation.

Read below for a brief overview of the new Research & Development Grant Program, identification of some of the program’s unique features, and guidance on how interested for-profit companies or non-profit research institutes can present R&D Grant proposals to JobsOhio for consideration.

Click here for the complete article.

Read More

Athens County’s newest brewery opens in Nelsonville

Athens County’s newest craft beer brewery opened its doors near Nelsonville’s Public Square Saturday.

Jason Warren, owner of Multiple Brewing at 82 W. Washington St., said Saturday that he wants to introduce craft beer to Nelsonville while improving the economic climate of the city. His brewery is the third brewery to open in Athens County since mid-2015, when Little Fish Brewery and Devil’s Kettle Brewing both opened their doors in the city of Athens. The breweries join Athens mainstay Jackie O’s.

Warren said he is excited to join the other breweries, and hopes Multiple’s opening will help encourage more tourists to visit.

Click here for the complete article

Read More