Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses crowd at JackieO’s Tap Room in Athens Ohio (WOUB News)

Community Hears Clinton’s Take on Jobs, Economy

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For the first time in this presidential election cycle, Southeastern Ohio residents got to hear a candidate’s goals for the region.

More than 300 area residents joined local, state and national media at Jackie O’s Taproom and production facility to hear Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton speak about jobs and the economy.

The crowd filled the warehouse of the taproom, listening to Clinton address jobs and the economic stability of the Appalachian region, along with her goals when it comes to mental health and substance abuse.

The stop at the taproom was the culmination of a two-day tour of the region, which included stops in Ashland, Kentucky; Williamson, West Virginia; and the University of Charleston before taking time at Court Street Diner and finally landing at Jackie O’s.

The people that took time out of their Tuesday to attend the event said they were interested to hear what Clinton’s plan would be for improving employment and economic development in the area.

“Most of our population is underemployed…I want her to address not just unemployment but also underemployment,” said Sara Marrs-Maxfield, the Athens County Economic Development director, who was one of the first in line to hear Clinton speak.

Before the former Secretary of State spoke, though, the owner of Jackie O’s, Art Oestrike, talked about his small business experience and the benefits small business loans had on him. He was able to bring his business from a small bar with few employees in 2005, to a full brewery employing 102 people now.

“I call them employees, but really they are family,” Oestrike said, looking to a small group of employees that stood behind the stage.

Oestrike said he provides healthcare to employees, and hopes to continue to create jobs for people living in Appalachia. He said he hopes the federal government will support business like his, including the use of solar energy, which offsets 50 percent of the energy usage for the taproom and production facility.

At the beginning of Clinton’s speech, she made what she called a campaign promise.

“If I’m elected president, Jackie O’s will be there, too,” she said to cheers and applause.

Small businesses like Jackie O’s and those brought to fruition through local incubator ACENet are important models for the nation to use, Clinton said.

“Think of what we will create together,” Clinton said.

Most of Clinton’s speech touched on the opportunities for coal, along with the new energy that she said will inevitably be a part of the new American landscape. She made mention of coal mining deaths and even the conviction of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine, where an explosion killed numerous men.

“We need to invest in coal communities, we need to bring new jobs and industries to them,” Clinton told attendees, adding that there also needs to be a plan to help retirees of the coal industry.

Retraining programs and better education, along with better healthcare programs were part of Clinton’s proposed plan to help Appalachian communities. She expressed her support of the Miners Protection Act and the Mine Safety Act, two proposals awaiting review from the U.S. Congress.

“These are critical to keeping workers safe,” she said.

The transition to renewable energy would not happen immediately, Clinton said, adding that communities where energy plants are the major industry, will need help coming into a new age.

While retraining of coal workers was one form of education Clinton spoke about, she also emphasized the importance of having good schools and teachers in general, which she said would be important for improving the economy. Part of bringing about better education would be making it more affordable, she told the audience.

“We are going to make community college free,” Clinton said. “We are going to make sure people come out of public colleges and universities debt free.”

The event did include dissenters of Clinton’s politics and history. The Ohio Republican Party scheduled a press conference across the street from Jackie O’s, bringing with them coal miners from the area.

“Heaven forbid she should ever be elected president,” said Matt Borges, chairman of the party.

Borges said a Clinton presidency would “cripple the coal industry,” and claimed she makes comments based on the interest group she’s speaking to, not based on long-held beliefs.

Mitch Miracle, a coal miner from St. Clairsville that spoke during the press conference, said it was “hard to fathom” an energy plan for America that did not include fossil fuels. He called Clinton’s plans to reduce coal consumption “anti-American.”

After a lengthy talk about the energy industry, Clinton talked about another issue the Appalachian region faces: drug abuse and addiction.

“Addiction isn’t a moral failing, it’s a disease,” Clinton said, promising to commit to treating substance abuse disorders along with mental health issues.