Pictured (l-r) are Lynchburg mayor James Burton; Leesburg mayor Shawn Priest; Hillsboro safety and service director Brianne Abbott; Highland County commissioners David Daniels and Jeff Duncan; Highland County Chamber of Commerce executive director Jamie Wheeler; Greenfield village council chair Phil Clyburn; Greenfield city manager Todd Wilkin; and Highland County commissioner Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Lynchburg mayor James Burton; Leesburg mayor Shawn Priest; Hillsboro safety and service director Brianne Abbott; Highland County commissioners David Daniels and Jeff Duncan; Highland County Chamber of Commerce executive director Jamie Wheeler; Greenfield village council chair Phil Clyburn; Greenfield city manager Todd Wilkin; and Highland County commissioner Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
The Highland County Board of Commissioners, in partnership with local municipalities as well as the Highland County Chamber of Commerce, announced plans Wednesday, March 3 for the formation of a new economic development department.

Present for the announcement were commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels; Hillsboro safety and service director Brianne Abbott; Greenfield city manager Todd Wilkin and Greenfield village council chair Phil Clyburn; Lynchburg mayor James Burton; Leesburg mayor Shawn Priest; and Highland County Chamber of Commerce executive director Jamie Wheeler.

After commissioners thanked the local representatives for attending the meeting, Duncan invited Daniels to make the announcement. Daniels explained that the department is “for Highland County,” to work in conjunction with all of the county’s municipalities.

“Through the course of the last two months, we have had a few informal conversations with all the city managers and mayors of the cities and villages here in the county,” Daniels said. “We talked about the idea of creating an economic development department for Highland County in harmony with the efforts all of them are undertaking in each and every one of their own communities.”

Wednesday morning’s announcement is the “initial first step as far as the county’s concerned,” Daniels said. The next part of the plan is to advertise for the economic development director, as Daniels said the county will also be working with the area municipalities in the hiring process.

“All the communities have indicated that they’re willing to participate in this program with us so that we can coordinate all our efforts for the betterment of the citizens of Highland County,” Daniels said. “We view this as an opportunity to work, again, in harmony with those folks on their economic development issues and also the Chamber as well. We want to make sure that the position is considered here as working in conjunction with them as well to meet their needs.

“Each one of the villages has had the opportunity to look at that job description and make changes or help amend that so we’re all in agreement with the job duties and responsibilities and the kind of director that we’d like to have.”

After Daniels’ initial announcement, those in attendance were given the opportunity to speak.

“Greenfield’s really excited about this project,” Clyburn said. “Todd’s done a really fantastic job for us, and we want to carry that on.”

Wilkin thanked commissioners for “their leadership” on the project, saying the focus on economic development will be mutually beneficial for all involved.

“This is a great opportunity,” Wilkin said. “When you look at the employment throughout Highland County, we all benefit from it. We all probably have family members that work here in Highland County, and they benefit from a good, strong economy and jobs that are available. Oftentimes we don’t think about our neighbor — oftentimes we’re just stuck in our own corporation limits — but we all benefit when Leesburg has jobs. We all benefit when Lynchburg has jobs. We all benefit when Greenfield has jobs.

“I’m excited about this. I’m excited about what the future looks like for the county, and I just want to again thank the commissioners for their leadership on this.”

As previously reported, the City of Hillsboro announced the formation of a city economic development department last year, with longtime city grant writer and administrative assistant Kirby Ellison announced as the department coordinator in September 2020. Abbott said that the city is looking forward to working with the other municipalities as well.

“The city of Hillsboro is super excited about the opportunity, especially a partnership with the entire county and all the villages,” Abbott said. “I think it’ll be great.”

Both Duncan and Britton also thanked the other municipalities for their cooperation on the plans.

“We’ve been in contact with all these people, and at this point I think everybody’s on board,” Duncan said. “We’re excited about the opportunity, and hopefully we can get something up and going here that will benefit the whole county.”

“Thanks to all the villages and the city for stepping up and being with us on this,” Britton added. “This is a group effort. It’s not just an individual group. This is for the whole county.”

Daniels said there is not an official timeline set yet for hiring a new director, but “our intent would be that we will set a deadline, share those incoming résumés with that group of directors and start through the interview process.” He suggested waiting approximately “three or four weeks for applications and résumés to come in.”

“We do want to thank all of you for being here with us,” Daniels said. “This is a good day for, I think, everybody — for the county and each individual city and village within the county and for the taxpayers as a whole.”

The announcement comes almost exactly 11 years to the day after the commissioners office announced the county would cease funding the previous county economic development department. As previously reported, on March 5, 2010, due to economic conditions at the time, then-commissioners Shane Wilkin, Tom Horst and Gary Heaton said that the county would no longer fund that office.

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In other discussion, also present during Wednesday’s meeting was Jared Wren of Hecate Energy.

Wren told commissioners that he had spoken with Highland County engineer Chris Fauber regarding a road agreement for Hecate’s New Market Solar projects, and Fauber “had indicated that you were going to move on that next week.” Wren, a development associate, offered to answer questions if needed.

“I think it’s been through its rigorous process to get where we need it to be,” Britton said. “It’s just a matter of approving it, and that would be done next week.”

Duncan asked Wren if Hecate was planning to begin construction on the project this summer.

“We’re thinking initial dirt moving as soon as we’re through the Ohio Power Siting Board process,” Wren said. “We’re now at the end of that process. We await board approval.

“As soon as we’re given our certificate and comply with all the pre-construction components of that certificate, we’ll mobilize to the site and start the civil work. Once it happens, it’ll go quick, and ultimately that site will be under construction through the end of the year.”

Wren said they are “not on the board agenda yet,” but they hope to have word from the Power Siting Board in the near future.

In other action, commissioners approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

• A resolution authorizing a transfer of funding from Public Assistance to Public Children Services in the amount of $807.97.

• A resolution authorizing the sale to officers, who are deemed “qualified” by the Sheriff, of an item to be unneeded, obsolete or unfit public property, which is property valued at less than $2,500 each for the Highland County Sheriff’s Office. Daniels clarified that this is for an officer “buying his service revolver that is being replaced.”

Commissioners also voted 3-0 to authorize the president to execute the following:

• A pay request from Distel Construction, Inc. for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)/Village of Greenfield; and

• A fire alarm upgrade at the Highland County Sheriff’s Office through Johnson Controls.

Later in the day, commissioners held an alley viewing in Allensburg at 11 a.m. and a South Lake Shore Drive viewing at 1:30 p.m., followed by hearings on the two areas.

At 1:30 p.m., commissioners heard from three individuals from Allensburg, all of whom were in favor of the proposal.

After a brief hearing, commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a resolution vacating three alleys in Dodson Township.

A hearing on the South Lake Shore Drive area was also held at 2:45 p.m., as the initial proposal was to vacate the entire length of South Lake Shore Drive. Several area property owners, some of whom also submitted written objection, were present for the hearing with legal counsel.

The property owners submitted a proposed agreement reached Wednesday afternoon, as well as a proposed maintenance agreement.

Regarding the possible agreements, Daniels said, “We’ve been in contact with ODNR [Ohio Department of Natural Resources], and while they initially do not a problem with this, they’d like an opportunity to run it up their chain of command on the lake access issues.”

Pending ODNR approval, commissioners opted to wait to take action on the South Lake Shore Drive agreement until their March 10 meeting.