Buckeye Hills has $1M grant to spend

The Buckeye Hills Regional Council has received an unusual grant and is looking for ideas on how to spend it.

The $1 million comes from a special fund set up by the state government that uses upfront casino licensing fees for workforce development projects. This year’s state budget included $4.1 million from that source, and Buckeye Hills is one of four Appalachian Regional Councils among whom the grant money is being divided. The council covers the counties of Athens, Hocking, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Perry and Washington.

Buckeye Hills Development Director Bret Allphin said it’s the first time the council has received this type of grant, which is somewhat unusual in that the council doesn’t ordinarily act as a gateway for workforce development funding. Theoretically, the council should be eligible for a fourth of those funds, he said.

“Typically, local areas get funds focused on infrastructure grants for things like access to health care,” he said. “This is a new thing, we’re not a traditional workforce development partner. We’re not new to it, but it’s not what we have been focused on.”

The council is open to ideas and has set up an area on its website for submissions. There are few restrictions at this point, but Allphin noted that the concepts with greatest prospect of success will be those that include predictable, quantifiable outcomes — numbers of jobs created or retained, numbers of people trained with solid employment outlook, and other measurable forms of beneficial impact on the community, businesses, students and workers.

Allphin offered a couple of theoretical examples.

“Say you’re a company with an opportunity to provide training on a piece of equipment that allows your workers to reach the next level of their jobs. That enhances wages and positions, and opens up entry level positions,” he said. “That’s just a very succinct, basic example. Or say, let’s get training for a new piece of equipment or a technique that allows us to provide new positions.” Gwynn Stewart, Buckeye Hills communication director, said the agency is open for ideas, and that submissions through the project profile webpage will be considered as pre-applications.

“There are not a lot of specifics at this point,” she said. “We’re asking people to give us ideas, but they have to have outcomes … businesses and communities served, students, jobs created or retained.” The funding is available for any number of projects, but both Stewart and Allphin cautioned that $1 million is not a lot of money in the context of workforce development. The project profile webpage notes that anything over $250,000 in funding request is subject to additional review, and although matching grants are not required, applicants who “can contribute resources toward the completion of the proposed activity will be considered more competitively.”

Allphin said the agency wants to make the process as easy as possible to realize the execution of ideas that have merit. “The idea is that Buckeye Hills will apply for the money and we can then make the grants with the interested parties,” he said. “That brings down the administrative burden for the companies, governments or nonprofits that apply for the money, keeps the process pretty simple for them.” The agency is looking for real world impact. “We want to be able to show in the end that these funds employ more people, enhance wages, increase efficiency, reduce costs. We want the most meaningful impact we can have with a million dollars,” he said.