Athens County Commission

Economic Development Plan Shoots for Thousands of Jobs

Posted on:

< < Back to

“Within five years, Athens County should add 2,500 new jobs, cut the poverty rate for children by five points and increase the per capita income by 15 percent.”

Those are the goals listed in the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan accepted by the Athens County Economic Development Council.

The  five-year outline is what the County Commission sees as the roadmap to move the region forward.

“It’s ambitious,” said Athens County Commissioner and Chairman of the ACEDC Lenny Eliason. “If you don’t have any benchmarks you don’t know where you’re going to be or how you’re going to get there.”

One of those benchmarks is creating jobs that pay $17.40 an hour, an estimate the commission said is high enough to sustain a family of four.

Chris Chmiel, Athens County Commissioner and advocate of the plan, said he believes these higher-wage jobs can be created.

“I really like the idea of more technology-based jobs in our community,” he said. “The Economic Development Plan kind of downplays tourism and retail, but I do appreciate the technology focus.”

Chmiel said the county needs to turn its attention away from the public sector to focus on higher-paying private section employment.

Eliason said this is the first time a plan like this has been developed, and he thinks it’s necessary.

“It’s important because we need good paying jobs,” Eliason said. “We have 36 percent of our children under the poverty level, so we need to find ways to get jobs in here that will take them out of that poverty level so they can stay in town.”

The brain-drain from Athens has always been a problem. It’s hoped this economic plan will provide the incentive to reverse that process. But, Athens County must overcome some obstacles before companies see the area as a worthwhile location.

“It’s hard to get big industrial parks coming to Athens County,” Chmiel said. “We don’t have big chunks of land; compare us to Central Ohio where it’s a lot easier to put a large facility – we just don’t have the real estate.”

Six tactics are offered in the plan:

• ACEDC should be re-tooled by increasing its private sector budget support, implementing an aggressive Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) Program, remaking its web site, and launching a comprehensive economic development marketing campaign for the region targeting manufacturing, advanced services and technology industries for future growth.

• ACEDC should engage in the site development business by developing two industrial parks/ office complexes tied to rail, road, broadband and energy infrastructure focusing marketing efforts on manufacturing, advanced services and technology oriented companies.

• ACEDC should explore the use of the new Ohio Downtown Redevelopment Program to enhance Historic Downtown Athens’ redevelopment efforts for additional office space by focusing marketing efforts on small business and advanced services firms along West Union Street connecting Downtown to the Ohio University Innovation Center to O’Bleness Hospital,

• ACEDC should explore developing a major mixed use development at The Ridges on the Ohio University campus to provide a new office, retail and residential development through a private developer partnership focused on advanced services and technology firms.

• ACEDC should explore acquiring the Athens County Fairgrounds for future development purposes.

• ACEDC should build on an already successful small business and technology based economic development program by developing small businesses and attracting technology jobs through the establishment of an Athens Community Fund and development of a technology accelerator.

The full plan can be viewed here.