Brown County was paid a visit on July 9 and 10 by Jason Wilson, director of the Ohio Governor’s Office of Appalachia.
Wilson toured Georgetown, Ripley and Mt. Orab in his trip to the region, which also included stopping by historical sites and visiting former and potential future project sites for economic development programs, which his office helps fund through grants.
It was Wilson’s first visit to Brown County since he was appointed as the director by Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich in November 2011. The GOA covers 32 Ohio counties from as far west as Clermont County to as far northeast as Ashtabula County.
“We’re spending two days visiting the communities (in Brown County) to see what assets are out there that we’ve invested in in the past and how they’re being used, and also look at opportunities for the future as to what we can invest in,” Wilson said. “It helps me get my hands on what’s happening in these counties, Brown and Clermont.”
On Thursday, July 9, Wilson toured the U.S. Grant boyhood home and schoolhouse in Georgetown before swinging over to the Gaslight Theater, where he met Brian Elliott and Dannielle Williams, the Brown County Chamber of Commerce president and office manager, respectively.
Wilson said that while sewer, water, road and bridge projects may be more noticeable and necessary, a project restoring or building a theater for a community has more intangible benefits.
“When you talk about a theater and how does that affect our community, whether it’s arts and recreation or visitors, (the question for us is) what brings people to the area? How can we work to build capacity?
“The overall goal for the state is how do we improve the lives of Appalachian Ohioans, and we do that through these strategic investments,” Wilson said.
Wilson was joined on his tour of Brown County by Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission Executive Director John Hemmings and OVRDC Economic Development Specialist Jessica Purdon.
The OVRDC is one of four agencies that works with the GOA to distribute grant funding to municipalities, businesses or counties for projects. The OVRDC works with Adams, Brown, Clermont, Fayette, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Lawrence, Pike, Ross, Scioto and Vinton counties.
“Ohio is the only state of the 13 national Appalachian states that has state funding,” Wilson said. “We have about $3.5 million in state funding and then we put about $3.5 million in federal funding, knock on wood, we’ve been able to have stable funding which allows us with confidence to go out and look at projects and opportunities, and how to invest in our Appalachian region.”
Wilson said he’d like to hear feedback from the local communities and counties about what projects they’re pursuing and then working from there to see how the GOA and other agencies can facilitate those projects, as opposed to Wilson’s office requiring the projects to have to meet certain specific guidelines that could scupper some small-town opportunities.
“What I like to think is that I don’t come down here to tell people what to do. What I do is I come down and visit and ask people, ‘What are their priorities?’, or ‘What is most important to the people of Brown County’,” Wilson said.
The process to receive funding in Brown County is as follows: An organization or municipality will submit a project to the OVRDC caucus. The caucus will then discuss the project and eventually rate the their top three selections.
Then, the OVRDC will take those top three and take them to Columbus, where they’ll meet with the GOA staff, and then they’ll all discuss the best way to fund the projects and how much funding to provide.
“We’ll be having that priority meeting to say to John (Hemmings) and his team, ‘What is the highest priority in your region, and how can we fund that properly?’,” Wilson said.
“A government shouldn’t tell people what they need to do. What they need to do is be responsive to what the community wants to do,” Wilson said. “Our challenge is to make sure that we’re using that money wisely and making the best impact that we can.”
Following Wilson’s stop in Georgetown, he toured Ripley and visited the John Rankin home, before visiting Mt. Orab on Friday, July 10.
Reach Daniel Karell at 937-378-6161. Follow him on Twitter @GNDKarell