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Workforce, economic development discussed at county commission meeting

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Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

Highland County commissioners Terry Britton, David Daniels and Brad Roades held a work session with Highland County economic development director Julie Bolender during their Wednesday, Sept. 20 meeting, encouraging her to look into ways the county can support a new workforce development proposal.

As previously reported, Britton said Sept. 6 that the commissioners office received information about the Ross County Regional Workforce Development Program. As noted by Britton and the proposal letter, the program would serve Highland, Ross, Pike, Fayette, Pickaway, Jackson and Vinton counties. Its listed objective is to “train a qualified workforce for existing and projected employment demands of regional employers,” with a focus on “non-degree, certificate-based programs” to develop “skills that can immediately be added to the regional workforce” based on employers’ needs.

Some of the industries or areas targeted, according to the letter, are manufacturing, health care, skilled trades, CDL, general career readiness programs, company leadership and industry instructors.

Highland County economic development director Julie Bolender.

“They have met with numerous employers to assess demands, and their list of seven is really close to what we're needing,” Bolender said.

Citing the many new industries coming to Ohio — with announcements in the past year including Intel’s semiconductor plant, Honda’s EV battery plant and now, this week, a new Joby Aviation air taxi production plant — Bolender said, “obviously, there’s a need.”

“We all know what's going on in Ohio,” she said. “We all know what's coming to Ohio. “We see it in our region on a daily basis, the movement.”

The letter is proposing a “hub center” in Ross County for workforce development-based instruction and “satellites” in Highland and Jackson counties to be used as additional training sites.

“They are looking for instructors that would travel to the different locations, and they're looking for places where they could do lab and classroom [instruction],” Bolender said. “Obviously, we already have that in place. We have all the technology that could ever be needed at this point.”

As previously reported, November 2021, commissioners, Bolender and other local partners announced plans for the “county’s first-ever brick and mortar workforce development center” in the Village of Greenfield, which opened in October 2022.

“They also have a second scenario that they've proposed, and that would be in-demand jobs that are specific to a particular area,” Bolender said. “So, if we have a particular employer that has a particular need, then that training would be provided in Highland County only and likewise for the other counties.”

However, the issue for both Highland and Ross counties is the need for instructors to actually provide the training, she said.

“We simply do not have instructors to train folks,” Bolender said. “We’ve tried a couple of different things with some of our employers, but we're still lacking instructors. That is a definite demand.”

Daniels asked about the “criteria” needed to provide such instruction, as he and Britton both said that in the past, some workforce development was actually provided by area businesses.

“Back in the late ’80s, the employers bought into letting some of their employees do just exactly that,” Britton said. “We [at Hobart] had people coming off of our assembly lines, welding area, machining, that was going to the [Great] Oaks [campuses] and doing this kind of stuff in the evening, after work.”

Bolender said she has made similar proposals to area businesses, but many are understaffed and have “serious concerns about the availability” of their employees.

“As you're aware, we have a commitment from Great Oaks to provide 30 hours of instruction a week in our workforce center in Greenfield, and even Great Oaks is having an issue sometimes with [available] instructors,” Bolender said. “They have made the connection for us with a group called Condensed Curriculum International.

“We are ready to move forward with medical assisting at the center. They [CCI] are going to provide the instructor and the equipment, and then they're going to work out the financial arrangements with the folks at Great Oaks, so we will be able to announce the the opening registration of those classes really soon.”

Roades asked how the Ross County proposal differs from the Highland County ACCESS (Alignment of Community Connections for Employer and Student Success) program that is already underway. Headed by former area superintendent Tim Dettwiller and founded by the Highland County Workforce Leadership Council, the goal of the Highland County ACCESS for “schools, businesses and community agencies in Highland County” to have open communication and to promote incentivized learning; students graduating with work exposure and experience leading them to informed career choices upon graduation; businesses making connections with potential future employees; and community partners providing clarity, leading to better utilization of their resources by schools and businesses.

Bolender said that the Ross County idea, as well as Highland County’s Workforce Development Center, are trying to train workers ages 18 and up, while the ACCESS program is aimed only at high school students.

“Has Tim been in contact with with the folks down in Ross County?” Daniels asked. “Are the efforts that are being undertaken here now aligning with what their vision is? Are they going to be able to take what what we're doing now and bring it into their program so that it's seamless, or are they asking for changes above what we're doing?”

Bolender said that Ross County is only seeking “to gauge your interest” at this point.

“They're not asked for changes, they've not asked for financial support or anything,” Bolender said. “They have basically just sent this two and a half page white sheet to me to say, this is kind of what we're thinking, and at this point, I think they're gauging your interest.”

Bolender said the work being done in Highland County for workforce development “really mirrors what they're proposing in Ross County.”

“He's looking for a regional employer commitment and regional government commitment, if this is something that we would want to join forces with them,” she said.

“I don’t know why we wouldn’t,” Daniels said. “We export workforce to Ross County, Clinton County, Fayette County every day.”

Bolender agreed, saying that “10,400 employees a day” go outside of the county to work.

“Why wouldn't we want to partner with our neighbors that some of the employers that our folks are working at might need additional people, and let's face it, it's additional opportunities for people here,” Daniels said. “I think it’s worth exploring. I think that you and Tim ought to take the opportunity to sit down with them and say, how do you see this whole thing shaking out? Where do we fit in, how do we partner, and what's our status once we're in this relationship?”

Britton asked Bolender to determine “what kind of commitment are they looking for” from a financial standpoint as well.

“Obviously, we need to take care of our residents and our industries and our employers, but if we can join forces and expand the resources that our folks have, then I think that's a good thing,” Bolender said.

Bolender also noted that Ross County and others in the area seem to be taking notice of Highland County’s workforce development efforts.

“I think we're on the right track with what we have going on,” she said. “I think others actually are starting to see what Highland County has started, what we continue to build on every day.”

In unrelated action, commissioners voted 3-0 to agree to submit a letter of support for Southeast Ohio Works as Ohio Southeast Economic Development seeks grant funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

“Our partners at Ohio Southeast are looking into the U.S. EDA’s Recompete Pilot Program,” Bolender said. “This is basically a grant for persistently distressed communities, and so they are going to try to create and connect workers to good jobs, and also to address the prime age employment gap, through this grant. They have asked us for our support in their application.”

Also in discussions with Bolender, Roades asked for an update on the Marriott Hotel project, as he said there is a “coming soon” sign up at the site in Hillsboro now.

As previously reported, Highland County Economic Development Director Julie Bolender announced last July that the county has been awarded a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant that will, in turn, be loaned to developers of the Marriott Hotel, which was first proposed in 2019.

At the recommendation of Bolender, commissioners unanimously approved a closing binder contract for the Community Development Block Grant for Leo Capital Investments, LLC, the developers of the project, during their May 17 meeting. She said that was the “last step before we can make the loan to them from the Highland County revolving loan fund.”

“We’re still waiting on just one more document, and we should be ready to move forward,” Bolender said Wednesday.

In other discussion:

• County auditor Alex Butler shared copies of the permissive sales tax receipts, as the county has now surpassed $7 million in receipts on the year.

Since his last update in July, the county received $817,893.47 in August and $828,661.83 in September, for a total of $7,040,436.58 in the first nine months of 2023. August’s totals were slightly lower the previous year ($820,521.93 in August 2022), while the September 2023 totals were a little higher than in 2022 ($819,584.19).

Year to date, the county is slightly ahead (by $114,481.36) of the 2022 totals through September ($6,925,955.22) in what was a record year for permissive sales tax receipts.

“Looking back, I’m seeing that most months we have surpassed where we were last year, so I expect during this fourth quarter of the year, by the time the final number hits, we will surpass where we were last year,” Butler said. “We’re hanging steady.”

• Commissioners — as well as community and government relations representative Janet Grothe of Innergex, who was in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting — said they attended the Ohio State University’s Farm Science Review in London Tuesday.

“A good time was had by all,” Daniels said. “We looked around and saw some of the latest technology. Interestingly enough, a few Highland County companies were up there that had displays and vendors that were trying to sell products that are are made here in Highland County. The Farm Science Review has an outreach far outside the state of Ohio, so it's an opportunity for some of those local manufacturers to put their products out there for all to see, so we were really happy to see them out there and being successful.”

Grothe said that Innergex was a sponsor of the iFarm Immersive Theater, which involves a "virtual reality setting aimed at marketing the agricultural industry,” according to Ohio State University. (Innergex is the developer for both the Hillcrest Solar farm in Brown County as well as the Palomino Solar project in Highland County.)

“We were really excited to be able to sponsor the iFarm Theater showcasing Ohio’s agriculture,” Grothe said. “If you didn't get a chance to see it, I hope that you get a chance to come by, and we do have the opportunity to use it in the community, if there's an opportunity.”

• A total of six change orders were approved by commissioners Wednesday, including two for the Highland County Engineer’s Office and four involving the new Ohio State University Extension building at the Highland County Fairgrounds.

Authorized were two change orders with Miller-Mason Paving Co. for the Engineer’s Office: one to accommodate additional items needed at an added cost of $66,163.16 for the 2023 Highland County Chip Seal Program; and one for quantity changes for various county road resurfacing projects for fiscal year 2023, at a cost savings of $160,542.82.

American Rescue Plan Act funding coordinator Nicole Oberrecht explained that for the OSU Extension building, there were three similar change orders — one for each contractor, Tag Williams Inc., Weller’s Plumbing & Heating and CT Electric — to delete three sheets from the original set of drawings and to add four sheets to the contract documents.

“It was specced to be a post frame building, and instead of that we're doing conventional framing,” Oberrecht said. “This is just to take out those old spec sheets and replace with new to accommodate for conventional framing.”

The fourth change order for the Extension building was for Tag Williams Inc. only to “remove unsubstantiated material from future driveway at the north and east of new building at the direction of the geotechnical engineer/inspector.” This will mean an additional cost of over $21,000, according to Oberrecht, but they already had “allowances in place” for that.

“We ran into some unsubstantiated soil out there once the contractor started excavating,” Oberrecht said. “I think there were a total of four different spots. We had a third-party company on site as well that sort of helps oversight of those kinds of things and basically remedied that by taking out the old, trying to get down to where we were at the point where we were at good soil, and then obviously backfilling with gravel and compacting and all that.

“I think they replaced 211 cubic yards of unsubstantiated soil, so I think the change order was for $21,000 and some change. If you remember, we had allowances for each contractor, and so this is not necessarily an increase in our contract amount — because we've accounted for that — we've just started to eat into our allowances. I think the allowances were maybe $38,000, so we’ve ate in about $21,000 of that.”

• At 11:30 a.m., commissioners met with Erica Tucker of Solid Waste Management District to discuss possible options for facilitating the county’s recycling program.

“We have been searching for someone to fill that role and continue to do so,” Daniels said.

At 1:30 p.m., commissioners also had an appointment with Tom Mottie of Weller’s to discuss options for a control system at the Highland County Justice Center that is “very aged and almost obsolete,” according to Britton.

No action was taken after either session, according to commission clerk Ashleigh Willey.

• The following contracts were approved, each by a 3-0 vote:

— A service agreement among commissioners, the Highland County Sheriff’s Office and Securitas Technology for fiscal year 2024.

— A contract among commissioners, the Highland County Prosecutor and Karpel Computer Systems Inc. for case management software, as the purchase was previously approved at the Sept. 13 meeting.

— A 10-year renewal contract (beginning Jan. 1, 2024) among commissioners, the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, JusticeWeb and Montgomery County Commissioners – Montgomery County Criminal Justice Infsormation System.

Commissioners also approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

— A resolution to consent to the granting of a petition for annexation filed by Fred J. Beery, on behalf of the Bright Local School District, and to certify the transcript to be deposited to the Clerk of the Village of Mowrystown.

— A resolution agreeing to set the time and date for a public viewing to be held Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 10 a.m. and a public hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. in the Highland County Commissioners Office in response to a petition filed by the Paint Township Trustees to vacate approximately 130 feet of an alley located in Paint Township.
— A budget modification within the 1000 County Court budget in the amount of $500.

— An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within Specialized Docket Subs 2665 in the amount of $84,114.10.

— A budget modification within the MVL 2065 budget in the amount of $106,000.

— A budget modification within the JRIG 2670 budget in the amount of $1,770.35.

— An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within 2605 Revolving Loan Fund – Other Expense in the amount of $104,350.

— An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within 2360 Other Expense – IT Upgrades in the amount of $100,000.

— An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within 2000 Dog and Kennel in the amount of $6,000.

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