Agencies awarded $2.2M grant to boost community economic growth


Staff Report



ATHENS — Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs was awarded a $2.2 million investment from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration to accelerate the region’s transition from a coal economy through a new initiative called Resilience Initiative for Southeastern and Eastern Ohio (RISE Ohio).

RISE Ohio is a $2.7 million, two-year program led by Ohio University’s Voinovich School, in partnership with the Buckeye Hills Regional Council (BHRC) and Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association (OMEGA), focused on helping communities in an 18-county region make an economic transition to new industries and ensuring continued job creation, as well as economic growth and diversification. The new funding will enable these communities to engage in Opportunity Zone planning, along with assisting them with the impacts of coal-fired power plant closures.

“We are appreciative of EDA’s investment and commitment to Ohio’s Appalachian region, which will allow JobsOhio and several regional partners to collaborate and diversify economic development in the coming years,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.

RISE Ohio is supported by $300,000 in match funding through Ohio University Voinovich School’s Appalachian New Economy Partnership (ANEP) state appropriation and $250,000 from JobsOhio. ANEP is an investment made through the Ohio Department of Higher Education designated to the Voinovich School to fuel regional and state economic growth and social impact.

“Ohio University has a long history of serving as an economic catalyst in the region,” Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis said. “The Voinovich School is uniquely positioned to leverage our expertise and state support to bring federal resources to our partner organizations to create regional opportunities.”

Instead of relying on job creation and tax base generated from historic dependence on coal mining, coal fired power plants, and coal supply chain industries in their communities, RISE Ohio will enable local communities in Appalachian Ohio to examine market opportunities available to build community resilience.

“We are grateful for the collaboration with our partners in Ohio which complement the federal government’s effort to bring more economic opportunities to parts of Ohio negatively impacted by coal plant closures,” said JobsOhio President and CEO J.P. Nauseef. “This investment will accelerate the development of the talented Southeastern Ohio workforce as they transition into new industries with high growth potential.”

RISE Ohio will catalyze nearby Opportunity Zones, created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to spur economic development in economically-distressed communities. OMEGA and Buckeye Hills will assist communities with understanding, integrating and implementing Opportunity Zone benefits with additional federal, state, and local incentives, and economic development wrap around services to attract external investment.

“Buckeye Hills Regional Council is excited to be part of this project to bring Opportunity Zone investments and job growth to the communities we serve,” Buckeye Hills Regional Council Executive Director Misty Crosby said. “Unemployment rates in our region were among the highest in the state even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Between the pandemic and the energy transition underway in our region, the timing of this investment by the EDA couldn’t be better. Buckeye Hills appreciates the EDA for recognizing the value of this work in rural Appalachian Ohio. We’re also grateful for our longstanding partnerships with the Voinovich School and OMEGA and the support of JobsOhio to help make this project a reality.”

OMEGA will also contract to hire an Economic Recovery Coordinator to assist with redevelopment efforts in Coshocton County, due to the closure of the local coal-fired power plant.

“OMEGA is very grateful to the EDA for their continued investment in the Appalachian region. Following the closure of the AEP Conesville coal fired power plant in Coshocton County, hundreds of men and women found themselves without employment. The addition of an Economic Recovery Coordinator will not only help these men and women, but countless others across the county who have lost their jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Executive Director Jeannette M. Wierzbicki said. “OMEGA will also be working with its communities to more fully develop opportunity zones in our region to facilitate recovery from the pandemic and to develop resiliency throughout the region.”

Leveraging its expertise in venture capital, angel investment, and entrepreneurship, the Voinovich School will support Opportunity Zone development and creation of investment-ready communities.

“Appalachian Ohio faces unique economic challenges and emerging opportunities that no one organization can fully address,” Dr. Jason Jolley, professor of rural economic development and RISE project lead, said. “The RISE Ohio grant represents the best practice in organizational partnerships between a university and two economic development districts, with financial support from ANEP state appropriations and JobsOhio, to work across the region to support economic diversification and community resiliency.”

Information provided by Ohio University.

Staff Report