Good afternoon,
The planning process for the Prosperity Plan (the regional economic development strategic plan for 25 counties in southern and eastern Ohio) began two years ago. The goal of the Prosperity Plan was to create a roadmap to grow the private sector business economy of the region. The plan was finalized in the summer of 2019, and teams formed to work on the 13 different strategic initiatives identified in the plan. The team leaders of the strategic initiatives met virtually January 7th to share progress. Here are some highlights:  
  • Due in part to the aggressive efforts to drive interest in broadband build-out across the region, the recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction yielded more interest than the last FCC auction. Providers successfully bid on about $170 million in subsidies across unserved Ohio, mostly in southern and eastern Ohio. Tom Reid of Reid Consulting has been working on behalf of a coalition in southeast Ohio to develop policy recommendations for the auction and advocate for the region. His analysis included good news and bad news. (Read more in the broadband section below.) 
  • The development of “ready” sites and buildings for business growth and attraction was a priority identified in the Prosperity Plan. Since the planning process began, three new JobsOhio and State of Ohio programs have been made available to help fund projects. So far, $19 million has been awarded in our region. (Read more in the Sites and Buildings section below.)
  • Building Bridges to Careers has created a system to engage teenagers about job and career opportunities in their area and direct them to pathways to develop the skills needed to get those in-demand jobs. With help from Ohio University, the Gates Foundation, and the Appalachian Ohio Manufacturing Coalition, they are working with businesses and educators to spread the model.  (Read more in the Business Engagement with Career Awareness section below.)
These are just some of the more notable accomplishments in the region. Please read on for an update from the different team leads on the 13 different strategic initiatives in the plan. 
13 Initiatives within 4 Broad Categories

Employer Roundtables: 
Business Roundtables are effective mechanisms to share valuable information with and among employers and facilitate collaboration on common issues. Existing efforts are active in Gallia-Jackson and Highland counties as well as Washington, Morgan, Athens, Noble and Monroe counties through the Appalachian Ohio Manufacturing Coalition (AOMC). COVID-19 has slowed progress since businesses seem to have a preference for in-person meetings. Locally-led efforts seem to be the most effective.

Advocating for the Region: The work of advocacy is primarily being led by the Ohio Rural Development Alliance (ORDA - which was founded by the Appalachian local development districts – Buckeye Hills, OMEGA, OVRDC, and Eastgate). ORDA advocated for amendments to and passage of House Bill 13 that would provide $20 million for broadband in unserved areas of Ohio. HB13 passed the House but not the Senate. Efforts to resurrect HB13 in the current General Assembly are expected.  ORDA is also advocating for transportation needs in the region as a state transportation budget needs to be approved by March 31, 2021.

Incumbent Worker Upskilling: 
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Area 15 Work Force Investment organization (Ohio Valley Employment Resources) continues to allocate funds for incumbent worker upskilling in Washington, Monroe, Morgan and Noble counties. Last year, $95k was allocated and $43k is currently encumbered with another $30k possible. Additionally, every workforce board in the region now has an outreach person on staff to work with regional businesses. Finally, the Ohio TechCred program to upskill current workers with technology skills opened its latest funding round.   Applications are due at the end of the month.

Business Engagement with Career Awareness (BECA): Washington County’s Building Bridges To Careers (BB2C) is leading the region in this effort. They have created a robust program that exposes over a thousand students a year to career opportunities through company tours, mentoring, job shadowing, internships, class projects, a maker-space and business incubator. Employers are seeing a long-term pipeline being built to inspire young people and direct them to training for needed skills for in-demand jobs through BB2C. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a grant to BB2C to expand the BECA groups across the region. The Ohio University Voinovich School and AOMC are also supporting BB2C. BB2C has reached out to several Educational Service Centers across the region that could help to implement BECAs across multiple school districts. A steering committee has been created to guide efforts. If your school district or business would like to get involved, please reach out to Executive Director Tasha Werry.

Talent Recruitment to the Region: Four free Human Resources (HR) Best Practices webinars focused on teaching companies the best strategies for talent and recruitment and retention were held in November and December. Kara Willis of OhioSE organized the webinars. Eighty people registered for the events and thirty companies participated in all four events. OhioSE will conduct similar events in 2021 and will approach Young Professional groups for collaboration. Kara also shared a pilot tech talent recruitment project: There may be an opportunity to expand and leverage this effort to bring skilled people with tech talents back to Ohio.

Site & Speculative Building Development:
In short order, Ohio went from having no economic development programs to support speculative site and building development to having three. Our region has been advocating for this for a long time. We are starting to see the fruits of our efforts. In 2020, about $9.5 million was awarded in the region through the JobsOhio and OhioSE Sites Initiative. The National Road Business Park in Muskingum County received just over a $3-million grant for infrastructure, the Bill Theisen Industrial Park in Athens County received just under $3 million for site improvements, and the Franklin Furnace to Southern Ohio Industrial District sewer project in Scioto and Lawrence counties received a $3.5 million grant. 

OhioSE expects more grant awards from the program in 2021. Ohio’s Rural Industrial Park Loan (RIPL), which is managed by the Ohio Development Services Agency awarded three loans for spec building development in Meigs & Lawrence counties totaling $4.2 million. JobsOhio launched the Ohio Site Inventory Program (OSIP) over the summer. Two awards from OSIP have been offered in the region so far: for spec buildings in Washington County and a site development in Belmont County. Total OSIP grant and loans offers in the region amounted to $3.7 million. More applications for this program are currently pending and we expect four more years of OSIP funding rounds.  

In addition to the funding awards mentioned above, a play book for speculative site & building development was assembled by OhioSE’s Donna Hrezo and JobsOhio’s Brodie Lepi. The playbook includes a gap analysis of the types of properties sought through site searches compared to what is in the inventory, data on what constitutes a “ready” site, common utility requirements, sample spec building costs, and funding programs. Learn more by contacting Donna Hrezo at

Business Financing Gaps: Appalachian Growth Capital (AGC), a newly created Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and a sister company to OhioSE, has closed on $5.9 million in loans to small and medium sized businesses across the region. Another roughly $2 million in loans are approved and awaiting closing. AGC expects to approve another $3 million this month. All totaled, about 60 businesses have been or will be financed. Those businesses will create 251 jobs and save 230 jobs.  AGC is actively looking for additional funds to re-capitalize its lending efforts.  

Broadband Infrastructure: Led by Buckeye Hills Regional Council with the expertise of Reid Consulting and the financial support of OhioSE, the Ohio University Voinovich School for Public Policy, and the Ohio Mid East Governments Association (OMEGA); a Broadband Plan for Appalachian Ohio has been developed and shared with policy makers. The group advised the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which recently completed an auction to provide subsidies for rural broadband. Consultant Tom Reid reported the results of Round 1 of the RDOF FCC auction:
  • $170 million was awarded to provide broadband in unserved Ohio. Once built out, 192,000 additional households should be served. The map below shows the coverage areas and winning bidders.
  • Already widespread throughout Ohio, Charter/Specturm was very aggressive.  There were also newcomers to the market who are wireless providers and do not currently have a presence in Ohio. 
  • Bidding was so aggressive that not all available subsidies were claimed through the reverse auction process. 
  • The FCC subsidies are not yet final. The FCC is currently in a due diligence review process that will last into the summer. 
  • Reid said broadband build out will take time. Providers will have to meet deployment milestones starting in 2024 and be 95% built out by July 2027.
  • Even with aggressive auction results, if everything bid on is built, about 150,000 rural households will still be without broadband services.  
  • Reid cautioned that while the results are encouraging, there is a chance some of the bidders may back out and decide they will not build out the infrastructure specified in their bids. 
  • See a more detailed presentation here.
Business Retention & Expansion (BRE): 
OhioSE staff and local development partners conducted 277 BRE meetings in 2020, nearly 40% above our goal. BRE visits are valuable to identify expansion opportunities and understand the concerns of area employers. OhioSE and local development professionals will plan to conduct even more BRE visits in 2021.   

Targeted Business Attraction: OhioSE leads this initiative. In 2020, OhioSE was forced to shift to some virtual events in light of the cancellation of almost all in-person business development events. Virtual site selector roundtables proved to be very effective. OhioSE continues to employ a lead generation firm to set up calls with growing companies. OhioSE expects to continue these strategies in the first half of 2021. A return to in-person events may be possible in the second half of the year.

Business Cluster Development: After more thoroughly vetting an initial focus on Stirling-engine-technology related companies, committee members have pivoted toward a focus on biotech. The region has several notable biotech successes: most notably Diagnostic Hybrids (acquired by Quidel) and RXQ Compounding. In order to support additional biotech successes, the Ohio University Innovation Center (a tech business incubator) is launching an ambitious plan to build out biotech laboratory space. Biotech space is at a premium in the state. The OU Innovation Center has sought funding from the U.S. EDA to expand lab space the Innovation Center.

Website Enhancements: Sarah Arnold replaced Heather Church as the Marketing & Communications Director for OhioSE in September. The OhioSE website, which was launched in May, features more videos, company testimonials, and updated market access, work force, industry clusters and operating costs data for the region. Look for additional regional web enhancements in the future as well as more activity on the #WeAreOhioSE campaign mentioned above. 

Community Technical Assistance: A survey of local elected officials yielded 34 responses. The COVID-19 responses dominated the needs of communities. The Mayors’ Partnership for Progress, facilitated by the Ohio University Voinovich School and Amista Lipot, are doing great work in this arena. The OhioSE engagement team will work in 2021 to find other ways to support local leaders and communities.   

Update on Fundraising Efforts to Support the Plan
Progress on the prosperity plan is occurring through various strategic initiative teams.  Some strategic initiatives are already being executed by regional partners and require no additional resources. However, some strategic initiatives will require additional funds.  The business voice for the region, the Appalachian Partnership Inc. (API), has been contemplating a fundraising campaign. API CEO Glenda Bumgarner provided an update on a fundraising assessment that was completed in December. Approximately 40 business leaders were given a summary of the plan and asked what they liked, what they didn’t like and if they would be likely to help financially support plan execution.   Initial results were that perhaps $2.5 million over five years could be raised to support the plan. The API Board will be evaluating the assessment results, plan details and priorities for their efforts in the coming months.
Kind Regards,
Mike Jacoby, OhioSE President
ABOUT US: Ohio Southeast Economic Development (OhioSE) is the JobsOhio Network Partner for southern, eastern, and southeastern Ohio, providing economic development services across 25 counties. We are the newest and geographically largest of the six regions across the state. OhioSE partners closely with local economic development professionals and JobsOhio on business retention & expansion, business attraction, site selection, site development, and regional engagement. OhioSE is a subsidiary of the Appalachian Partnership Inc. (API), which is a non-profit corporation led by regional business leaders. API is the business voice of Appalachian Ohio. API is under new leadership and is growing. Please click here to learn more and get involved. 
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