Buckeye Hills Forward creates economic plan for Southern Ohio

WOODSFIELD — Buckeye Hills Regional Council worked with local community members Thursday to create a five-year economic plan for southern Ohio.

The plan will be for 2025-2030.

Buckeye Hills representatives asked attendees to write down some of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to Monroe County’s economy.

Several officials including county Commissioners Diane Burkhart and Mick Schumacher attended, along with residents and other community leaders. Some of the main strengths the group listed include outdoor recreation and scenery, a strong work ethic and a strong sense of community and heritage.

Burkhart said she admires the community involvement in the county. She said the response to a morning tornado Wednesday is one example of the community coming together and helping those in need.

The main weakness the group pointed out is lack of access to health care.

The group also said there is a lack of shopping opportunities, including grocery shopping and access to healthy food options. Residents said they do a lot of their shopping outside of the county, many of them going to New Martinsville, West Virginia.

Several attendees also mentioned a lack of broadband and cellphone service as a downside to living in the county.

Ken Stewart, Family and Consumer Sciences educator at Ohio State University Extension Monroe County, said the COVID-19 pandemic especially shed light on the issue with broadband and Internet access.

“Kids had to sit in the parking lot at their school to have internet access, or they had to print everything out,” he said.

The attendees agreed that a big opportunity in Monroe County is tourism and outdoor recreation. They said the county already has scenic beauty, but there are not enough hotels for tourists to stay in the county.

Burkhart mentioned Shadow Lake as one major area for outdoor recreation that could bring in tourists.

“Shadow Lake is wonderful,” she said.

Schumacher said that oil and gas leases are also an opportunity to bring money into the county. He also said that access to the Ohio River is good for commerce.

The group said one major threat to economic development is negative population growth, which includes out-migration and the aging of the population.

“Even if you look at our own children, most of them wanted to get out of here,” Burkhart said.

Infrastructure, including water, sewerage and roads, was also listed by several attendees as a major issue and threat to economic development.

Stewart said drug abuse and addiction are a major problem in the county. He said part of the issue is a lack of mental health resources.

“There’s a lack of hope,” Stewart said.

Schumacher pointed out that the suicide rate in Monroe County is among the highest in the state. According to healthpolicyohio.org, Monroe County has a rate of 18.6-29.4 per 100,000 residents – the same range that includes Vinton County, which the site says has the highest rate in the state at 29.4 per 100,000.

Jada Riley, development specialist at Buckeye Hills Regional Council, said the organization did not get much input from the community in 2019 when making the plan currently in place.

She said she wanted to host a public meeting so community members could make their voices heard.

She said the input will help Buckeye Hills Regional Council members create the economic development plan.

According to a press release from Buckeye Hills: “As an Economic Development District designated by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Buckeye Hills Regional is responsible for working with local leaders and residents to draft and update a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy that encompasses Athens, Hocking, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Perry and Washington counties. This latest version of the CEDS, which looks ahead to 2025-2030, is titled Buckeye Hills Forward: A Regional Economic Plan.”

“The workshops we’re hosting for Buckeye Hills Forward will provide the opportunity for individuals, local officials, private industry, and other stakeholders to have meaningful conversations about efforts that best serve economic development and improve the quality of life in our region,” said BHRC Development Director Sam Miller.

Two more workshops are scheduled to take place in southern Ohio.

The workshop for Noble County will take place from 6-8 p.m. March 4 at OSU Extension Office, 46049 Marietta Road, Suite 2, Caldwell.

A workshop for Washington County will take place from 6-8 p.m. March 7 at Buckeye Hills Regional Council, 1400 Pike St., Marietta.

For more information about the Buckeye Hills Forward workshops, contact Riley at jriley@buckeyehills.org or 740-376-7636.

To learn more about Buckeye Hills Regional Council, visit buckeyehills.org, call 740-374-9436 or 800-331-2644 or email info@buckeyehills.org.


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