Local leadership group brings infrastructure and tourism issues front and center in Columbus –
By Patricia Beech –
While Adams County may be further removed from the state capitol than many Ohio counties, a group of determined local leaders is working to make sure that state legislators are aware of the county’s challenges, as well as its opportunities.
More than 70 Adams County residents, on Thursday, May 17 traveled with Leadership Adams and the Leadership Adams Youth Academy for a day of discussions and networking at the state house in Columbus.
Mike Pell, one of the founding members of Leadership Adams said the trip is “an occasion to highlight the positive work we know is occurring in our communities and present it to those who can influence our continued growth”.
“In addition to first-hand exposure to our government at work, this event allows us all to put Adams County’s best foot forward,” said Pell. “Just as we communicated in our inaugural visit in 2015, our message emphasizes that ,’We are Adams County and we are open for business!’”
The bevy of concerned citizens accompanying Pell’s group for their annual “Day at the Capitol” included locally elected officials, business owners, teachers, administrators, pastors, and many more. All shared a common concern – Adams County’s future.
Commissioner Brian Baldridge called the event a “wonderful opportunity for us to go to Columbus as a county.
“We had both private and public people there,” he said. “It was a great combination of folks working to showcase Adams County by talking about our issues with elected officials in Columbus.”
During the day-long symposium county residents participated in two break-out sessions focused on local economic development issues and Adams County’s growing tourism trade.
Economic development discussion centered around developing infrastructure and bringing new non-renewable energy sources to Adams County.
The featured speakers were Dana Saucier, JobsOhio Managing Director; Brian Lepa, plant manager at GE in Peebles; Katy Farber from the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG); and Matthew Longfellow from Apprentice Ohio.
Commissioner Diane Ward said the discussion gave those attending a better idea of how government runs.
“They’re seeing what’s taking place and the process you have to go through to get funding especially with APEG, Jobs Ohio, and the Appalachian Initiative,” she said. “They get to see first hand the partnership the Commissioners Office is developing with GE to try to get a gas line brought into the county.”
Ward admits she is frequently frustrated with the slow turning wheels of state government.
“I told them in the Economic Development meeting that I’ve listened to their promises since 2003, and enough is enough,” she says. “We need to start taking action now. They sit up there and they tell us ‘we’re going to get you the money, we’re going to help you’, and nothing happens.”
Ward says she believes the county’s “distressed status” should qualify it for immediate economic relief, however state legislators appear to be putting all their eggs into the Duke Energy basket in the hope that the utility giant might facilitate the building of a gas line into Adams County.
Why do we have to wait on Duke Energy?
That’s what Ward would like to know.
“If the president’s initiative for putting funding into rural development infrastructure is available, why can’t we just say, we need $34 million to build this pipeline,” she asks, “If we can get it built, then we could go to Duke and say here it is, please put your gas in it, but it’s been a real fight. Since 2003 that’s all we’ve heard, ‘we’ll try to get it for you’, but it’s not happened yet.”
Despite the state’s failure to take meaningful steps toward developing local infrastructure, Commissioner Baldridge says it’s still vital that the county continue to keep its concerns front and center in Columbus.
“Obviously if we just stay home and talk about these issues, we know they’re not going to listen,” he says. “We’ve got to go to Columbus.”
“We know that the gas line will have to be a public/private partnership,” Baldridge continued. “There were folks in the economic development session who work for the private sector and who have a tremendous amount of input on that issue, but it takes all of us coming together.”
Pell believes his leadership group can facilitate a meeting of the minds between state and local officials.
“We do have leaders in Adams County who want to come together for the common good and Leadership Adams has been able to spearhead that movement,” he says. “We’ve got both private and public folks who participate in Leadership Adams to focus on issues that matter to us like getting natural gas into Adams County because we need to get additional resources to our county’s largest and best employer, General Electric, and we’ve got leaders thinking about that.”
The featured speakers for the break-out session focused on local tourism were Tom Cross, Director of the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau and Matthew MaClaren, Director of Tourism Ohio.
According to Cross, tourism is quickly becoming one of Adams County’s fastest growing industries.
He cited an Ohio Department of Development study that found tourism growth in Adams County jumped by 8.1 percent, 3 percent higher than the statewide average of 4.9 percent.
“Visitors to Adams County generated $34 million in business sales, directly and indirectly, in 2015,” Cross told those attending the discussion. “Tourism sustains 7 percent of salaried employment in the county which includes a composite of economic activities such as transportation, recreation, retail, lodging, and food and beverage sales.”
Cross also reported that tourism in Adams County created $13.2 million in wages and $4.7 million in state, local, and federal taxes.
Those are numbers he hopes to increase in coming years.
Under his leadership the Travel and Visitors Bureau has improved its website, beefed up its social media presence, used imagery, engaged the media, improved access to visitor information, created visitor attractions, built relations with the Cincinnati market and financed television ads in Cincinnati and Columbus.
Cross says the tourism boom is largely due to the appeal of local Amish shops, Serpent Mound, Murphin Ridge Inn, the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, hunting and outdoor related activities, and the many festivals and events that draw visitors.
He says it’s a trend he expects to continue for the foreseeable future.
Other speakers featured throughout the day-long event included Senator Joe Uecker; Dave Hall, State Director of the USDA; Jim Zehringer, Director the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; Andera Boxill from the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services; Sarah Smith and Hank Harned from the “Start Talking” drug prevention campaign; Jerry Wray, Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation; and Chip Tansill, Director of the Ohio Department of Veterans Services.
Pell says the day-long event shows legislators that Adams County is “a real place with concerned citizens who are focused on the same thing – making our community a better place”.
“When we ask members of the Governor’s cabinet to come and speak to us, it’s important what they have to say,” says Pell. “But it’s equally as important that they realize there’s a group of leaders from Adams County who want to hear about what they’re doing.”