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Prosperity plan developed for Appalachia

Map courtesy of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth Ohio's 25 rural Appalachian counties are the focus of a newly released economic prosperity plan which has identified goals for employer engagement, talent training, industrial development and rural commodity access this month.

Local partners are moving to take action on items in the newly released Economic Prosperity plan for Ohio’s Appalachian counties.

“What (the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth) has done is enlist partners on all of the topics to volunteer to lead these groups, and we’re going to shepherd these efforts,” said Buckeye Hills Regional Council Development Director Bret Allphin. “Business owners joined us in these meetings to identify areas of needs, and now it’s really dependent on those groups to facilitate some more conversations where we have real information to bring to the table.”

APEG is the state economic development branch for southern and eastern Ohio, through Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration. Its Economic Prosperity Plan was released last week with 13 goal areas and team leaders on each topic.

Wide goals include:

• Organizing employer roundtables.

• Having regional advocacy partnerships between elected officials and businesses.

• Expanding skilled talent.

• Fostering career awareness.

• Marketing regional real estate.

But the plan also has more direct focuses on issues affecting rural residents like access to reliable broadband connections and highlighting specializations already present in the region for more industrial growth.

Allphin is one of the leads on the broadband issue.

“It’s easy to identify and highlight the problems, but we haven’t done a good job with communicating with providers yet,” he explained. “So one of the things Buckeye Hills is doing right now is a feasibility study where we’re looking at what the cost per mile for fiber optic, for wireless and for a hybrid solution of the two would be in the most rural, most arduous terrain so we can start assigning dollar figures when talking about this issue and empower our partners to talk with providers like Spectrum, Time Warner and CAS Cable.”

CAS Cable is in the midst of installing broadband access in the area, according to Jeremy Griffith, who works in production with the company out of Parkersburg.

“But the definition of broadband is set currently at 25 megabytes of data (per minute), and our lowest speed is four times that and highest speed is 2 gigabytes– we try not to just stay in the cities, but say two houses out a rural road isn’t as feasible for installation,” he explained.

The feasibility study, Allphin said, would then be helpful as townships, counties and citizens in the rural hills of Ohio’s Appalachian counties vie for grant dollars and try to convince providers to make the investment for broadband between the most rural hills.

“Most funding agencies want to know, too, for scoring factors, how does your project work with the regional development plan?” explained Allphin. “This effort (with the economic prosperity plan) is much bigger than what Buckeye Hills and our partners can undertake on our own and the idea is local engagement to motivate the effort.”

To read the APEG’s executive summary of the plan and find contacts for goals, visit http://bit.ly/APEGplan2019.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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