State investing in Appalachian projects

EAST LIVERPOOL – Members of the newly-formed Southern Columbiana County Regional Chamber of Commerce heard information on the gas and oil boom and also received tips for a successful chamber during the chamber’s spring banquet Thursday night at East Liverpool Country Club.

Jason Wilson, director of the Governor’s Office on Appalachia, spoke about the agency’s formation and what it has accomplished using state and federal dollars to help those areas that “don’t have things that others have.”

He said that, while the “three Cs,” Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, traditionally have commanded the attention of funding sources, now smaller towns such as Leetonia, Kensington, Carrollton, Wellsville and East Liverpool “are being talked about in circles of power.”

Most of this talk, he conceded, was in relation to the upswing in the gas and oil industry and said, “They want to know what’s going on in our towns.”

He said the GOA has taken $3 million in federal dollars and $1 million in state funding and turned it into $36 million worth of project funding, primarily tied to job creation and better opportunities for communities.

Wilson outlined some on-going projects, such as the intermodal facility in Wellsville and plans to remake old state Route 7 for access, and plans to rebuild the Jefferson County Airport to attract those executives who now “are flying over our area” and landing in Beaver, Pa., Akron-Canton or Wheeling, W.Va.

A food kitchen in Youngstown and water lines in North Lima are also projects that have been funded, according to Wilson, who said another major priority of the GOA is bringing broadband to the area.

He was enthusiastic about the gas and oil industry, which he said has made an estimated $4 billion worth of investments in Ohio in buildings alone.

“These are not mom-and-pop organizations. They’ve spent billions investing in this state,” Wilson said, adding that very little has been done for these companies in return in the way of incentives.

And, although many of those working in the industry are from out of state, Wilson said he has seen efforts to become part of the community in which they locate.

He related how Consol Energy, which has started operations in Leetonia, has changed its trucks’ Pennsylvania license plates to Ohio plates, noting, “At least it is a gesture to show Ohio is important to them.”

Wilson also said that five of the 50 engineers working there have purchased homes in town and are bringing their families there this summer.

“These are new home owners, new customers, opportunities for you to do business,” he told the chamber members.

He encouraged those present to “take a Sunday drive to Carrollton,” and see the impact the oil and gas industry has made there, saying, “We’re just at the beginning.”

Also addressing members was Sarah Boyarko, economic development vice president of the Youngstown Regional Chamber of Commerce, who outlined the successes of that merged chamber, which is now the third largest in Ohio with 2,600 members, up from the 1,400 with which it started.

She said the chamber actively goes out and encourages business to locate in the area, with considerable time being spent in Oklahoma, Houston and Louisiana, where a lot of relationships have been built.

Currently, the Youngstown Regional Chamber manages about 85 percent of the economic development in the Mahoning and Trumbull counties area, Boyarko said, adding it is currently handling $759 million worth of projects.

“It’s all about good customer service,” she said, adding, “We all work as a team to win some of these projects,” and that the primary reason they have been successful is knowing the right resources to recommend, building relationships with other state and trying to make the everything seamless for companies with which they work.

It was announced during the banquet that new members include Comcast-Pittsburgh, Northeast Ohio Girl Scouts of America, Sparkle Market, Help Hotline, Holiday Inn, Newell and Frank Hilliard.