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'Building a brighter future:' Lt. Gov. Husted makes stop in Hillsboro to discuss $500M investment in Appalachian region

Lead Summary
One day after the DeWine-Husted administration announced a proposed $500 million investment in Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties, Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted and other state officials spoke to local government and business leaders about the funding proposal at an event Friday afternoon in Hillsboro.

Joining Husted in leading the discussion of the “Ohio BUILDS - Small Communities, Big Impact - A Plan for Appalachia” were John Carey, Director of the Governor's Office of Appalachia; State Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro); and Highland County Commissioner David Daniels. The event, held at the Hillsboro Orpheum, was well-attended by county officials, city and village administrators, council members, school superintendents, business leaders, bankers, economic development representatives, candidates for public office and others.

As announced Thursday by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office, this $500 million investment is being proposed to “support local initiatives to revitalize downtown districts, enhance quality of life and help rebuild the economies of Ohio's 32 Appalachian counties.”

“It will help renew small towns,” Husted told the crowd at the Orpheum Friday. “It will really help build out the communities in this part of the state.

“The plan is primarily focused on three priorities. That’s an economic piece, which is historic downtowns and revitalization efforts; it will be focused on community health, and maybe mental health or addiction services; and it will be on building a global workforce.”

Husted called it a “historic investment” for Ohio’s Appalachian counties, which are Adams, Ashtabula, Athens, Belmont, Brown, Carroll, Clermont, Columbiana, Coshocton, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Highland, Hocking, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mahoning, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Trumbull, Tuscarawas, Vinton and Washington.

“This is going to build a brighter future for the communities of this region,” Husted said. “It’s a historic investment that revitalizes downtowns, recreational areas, arts, culture, community spaces, that will not only keep residents in the region and give you a place to spend all your money, and keep young people here, but also draw people from outside of your region and come in and leave some of their money behind when they come and visit. That helps to create prosperity.”

Husted said that the Ohio BUILDS proposal is a continuation of previously announced efforts, including broadband expansion, infrastructure, brownfield redevelopment, the demolition of blighted buildings and more.

“We've invested $472 million in businesses, communities and individuals across the Appalachian region,” Husted said.

One area of focus through the Ohio BUILDS Program is water infrastructure, as mentioned by the lieutenant governor. As previously reported, in December the City of Hillsboro was awarded a $3.2 million grant to improve stormwater control. The Village of Leesburg, which was part of the program’s second-round announcement in November, also received a $974,563 grant to replace 4,500 linear feet of water main.

“Investing a lot of money in that infrastructure is important,” Husted said.

In March, the state awarded 33 grants for broadband internet, including multiple projects impacting Highland and nearby counties (Adams, Brown, Clermont, Fayette, Pike, Ross, Scioto) that will impact thousands of homes in this area.

“I grew up in rural Ohio, although I grew up in Williams County,” Husted said. “The house I grew up in, you still can’t get high-speed internet.

“Today, a lot of people don't have high-speed internet, whereas people in certain parts of the state do. You cannot participate in a modern economy, education or healthcare system without it.”

Husted spoke about the impact of broadband for individuals previously unable to get residential internet access.

“We've invested through that grant program $232 million,” Husted said. “We recently announced the 33 broadband expansion projects in 31 counties. That will serve an additional 43,000 homes. We were able to leverage the private sector to expand to another 54,000 homes and are leveraging two private dollars for every one public dollar.

“There's going to be a half a billion dollars in the next two years invested in the expansion of high-speed internet, and that will result in a total of 104 expansion projects, which will give 230,000 people — who previously didn't have access to high-speed internet — access within two years.”

After applause from the crowd, Husted said the state is “very excited” about the opportunities opening up for individuals through these grants.

“We know that you can live anywhere and work anywhere,” he said. “You can live in Hillsboro and work in Houston if you have the right kind of skills and access to high-speed internet.

“There are a lot of ways that we can give access to people who want to live a rural lifestyle but want to have access to a lot of these higher-paying jobs. When you have access to high-speed internet, you can do those things, and it is a very important investment. I want to thank the General Assembly for giving us the means to do this.”

Husted added that another benefit of the $500 million investment in broadband over the next two years is the addition of 1,250 jobs in the counties targeted for expansion.

“Right now, we’re creating jobs faster in Ohio than we can fill them right now,” Husted said. “We set up training programs in our community colleges and in our career centers to help people get these skills — installing lines, splicing lines, tower technicians.

“This is really exciting, and these are just things that have happened so far.”

Regarding the latest funding proposal from the state, Husted said, “I really believe this is a magical time for this investment and for Ohio.” He spoke about the timing of the funding proposal coming on the heels of Intel’s announcement, in January, of plans for a $20 billion investment in Licking County to build “its most advanced semiconductor manufacturing facilities in the world” by 2025, according to a press release.

“That's good for America’s economic and national security, and it's going to be great for Ohio’s prosperity,” Husted said. “It is creating an economic ripple effect that is going to hit all of this region.

“You're going to see more and more great job opportunities begin to develop, and what's going to happen is that people are going to need places to go, and businesses are going to want to expand. They're going to need a workforce. When we use these funds that are available, that will help secure more talent, more resources and more economic activity throughout the Appalachian region, and we're really excited about what this can do.”

Husted also spoke about the flexibility of this funding proposal, as he said the “great thing about it” is that it is “resources,” not “a plan.” According to the Governor’s Office press release, the first part of this additional proposal for the Ohio BUILDS initiative is a “$50 million planning phase to allow Appalachian communities and regional partnerships to develop plans that incorporate each of the three funding priorities.”

“You're going to provide the strategy, because the first phase will be $50 million for planning,” Husted said. “Local communities can put a plan together to make sure that this investment makes sense for them and will be sustainable.”

For both the planning and implementation phases, Husted urged the community to “collaborate” with other areas, which could not only broaden their impact, but can lead to additional funding.

“Individually, municipalities may apply for up to $100,000, in planning funding,” Husted said. “Municipalities that work together, and regional applicants, may apply for up to $3 million. We want collaboration.”

The governor’s press release said that as proposed, the next phase includes “$450 million in implementation grants … invested to help communities and regional groups carry out qualifying projects to rejuvenate the region and stimulate economic growth.”

“Communities will be eligible to apply for up to $15 million,” Husted said. “As I mentioned, we encourage regional collaboration in the planning process, so that when you get to the construction phase, or the implementation phase, if three communities or two counties work together, you're eligible for up to $50 million for the implementation of your plan.”

In his closing remarks about the new funding opportunity, Husted told the crowd to “think big” and “dream” in developing plans for the Highland County area.

“We encourage you to think big,” Husted said. “We encourage you to dream, and we hope these resources will help make those dreams a reality.”

According to the governor’s office, “Once funding is secured, the program is to be administered through the Ohio Governor’s Office of Appalachia within the Ohio Department of Development and other agency partners.” Husted added that Carey is in “probably the most important role he’s ever had” as Office of Appalachia Director.

“He’s doing some great things, and he has more resources this time around than he had in the past, which makes it fantastic,” Husted said.

In his comments to the crowd, Carey shared more insight on the downtown revitalization and health care aspects of the new funding proposal. He said the investment “will help us kickstart some of the recovery that we need in the region.”

“Some of the big factors we've seen is the population loss,” Carey said. “Ohio in general has had population loss, but it's going to be particularly acute in the Appalachian region. We want to keep our kids and our family members in the region, and we want to attract new people to our area. One of the ways we do that is having strong, vibrant downtowns.”

The Ohio BUILDS initiative also includes the Brownfield Remediation Grant program, for which Highland County has already received funding to clean up several sites, including the former East Monroe mill, the former Rocky Fork Truck Stop, and the former Elliott Hotel and power plant in Greenfield. Another opportunity is the Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program, through which the county is applying to clean up blighted properties in multiple municipalities, although those funds have not yet been awarded.

“At one time, we had buildings falling down in Hillsboro, Wellston, Waverly and Jackson, all at the same time,” Carey said. “We want more preservation and building upon what we have.

“Part of this proposal is a private/public partnership, so having strong downtowns, taking advantage of our natural assets, preserving our historical sites.”

Along with preserving those buildings, Carey spoke about the need to improve “health outcomes” for those living in Ohio’s Appalachian counties, including expanding access to mental health treatment and dental care.

He encouraged education leaders in particular to work with county and municipal officials to help in planning for the health care aspect of their proposal.

“School superintendents will be a big part of this discussion in providing access to health care,” Carey said. “The governor and lieutenant governor are very interested in putting together school-based clinics, telemedicine, that type of thing.”

Carey also encouraged a collaborative effort among counties or municipalities in order to have the greatest impact.

“Another reason that we need this plan is income,” Carey said. “Our incomes are lower than the state and national level in the Appalachian region, so we need these resources in order to get started, to compete globally and even within the United States.

“We will be challenging communities to work together. We really don't want to see application for every single community. We want to see a regional approach because we think it will have transformational change. We really want to take this opportunity to have change that will last for generations.”

Carey then introduced Rep. Wilkin, who told a story about touring a local manufacturing facility — then PAS Technologies (now StandardAero) — during his tenure as Highland County commissioner, as he said the story “sets the stage for what we’re talking about here in Appalachia.” Wilkin said that the facility’s manager asked Wilkin if he knew why the company’s leaders liked their Hillsboro facility, compared to other locations across the country.

“I had no idea,” Wilkin said. “He goes, ‘Problem-solving skills. We have problem solvers here.’ I say a lot of that goes back to our Appalachian heritage and our farming background. You know, the rain’s coming, the planter’s broke, figure out how to make it work for the next hundred acres.

“I think we do a great job with that, and I'm so thankful for the support from the state.”

Wilkin also highlighted Southern State Community College as being “problem-solvers,” including in administering the Ohio Code Scholar Program that Wilkin supported in the state budget.

“I tell you this because I think it shows that this was just a small piece,” Wilkin said. “It's not a lot of money in the whole scope of things, but it shows there's a recognition that there's a lacking of this opportunity for our kids in Appalachia and in southern Ohio, and we're doing a pilot project with Southern State.”

With programs like that, coupled with the broadband expansion in the region, Wilkin said youths in the area will have opportunities to develop needed skills and get better jobs while still having the opportunity to “stay right here in southern Ohio.” He added that Southern State is a great resource for the “collaboration” efforts encouraged by state leaders Friday.

“Southern State has been a partner that at times, we always go to them when we’re not really sure where something could fit,” he said. “I told Dr. Boys, the current president, I was trying to think back, and I’m not sure there's a single time they’ve ever told us no. They’ve always somehow figured out a way to make it work if it wasn't really in their wheelhouse.”

Wilkin ended his address by thanking the governor and lieutenant governor for this funding proposals.

“I look forward to this money being invested in our region, in our historic downtowns, to help train our workforce, because we can do it,” he said. “There's no doubt in my mind we can do it.

“This is going to be monumental for our area. I think it's going to be incredibly helpful to many folks.”

Prior to hearing from state officials, the event began with opening remarks from Daniels. He welcomed the crowd to Hillsboro and thanked Hillsboro Orpheum owner Dale Martin for the use of the venue (as did Carey, in his address) before introducing Husted.

“In the last few years, I think that we’ve all had an opportunity to see how important he has been to Appalachia and southern Ohio and the initiatives that he has been pushing for during his time as lieutenant governor,” Daniels said. “We have greatly benefitted.”

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