“Where Do We Want To Go?”
The strategic direction portion of the CEDS document should be the logical responses to the internal and external factors identified during the SWOT analysis. This section should address the regions assets and limitations as they pertain to capacity building within the region. The strategic direction should include a clearly defined vision with prioritized goals and measurable objectives.
As a result of planning meetings held during spring and summer 2015, as well as conversations with local governments, community officials, and other stakeholders, a list of prioritized regional goal areas was developed for the region. The goal areas and objectives listed in the Action Plan are as follows:
Members felt that issues in these areas presented the greatest challenge to the region, and require specific attention in order to mitigate potential negative impacts to the region. Further information about each can be found below.
Amid the many conversations held during the CEDS revision process with committee members, local officials, and other interested parties, it was clear that workforce issues were a vital concern. Of particular concern were three specific issues; addressing the need for soft skills, addressing transportation challenges, and creating an information network between workforce organizations and other regional parties.
In the rural eight county region, infrastructure continues to be a primary focus to ensure local communities are able to capitalize on economic development opportunities. Discussion during the planning process focused on the realization that new infrastructure development is being prioritized at a lower level by local parties than the maintenance and update of existing infrastructure. This seems to be true across all utilities, but especially true for critical water and waste water assets. Many of these systems are rapidly aging and deteriorating, providing challenges to system owners and municipalities to insure these systems remain functional and providing benefits to the region.
Several comments were also received about telecommunications infrastructure, and the practice of installing conduit or other telecommunication infrastructure in open trenches as projects are taking place. Buckeye Hills staff was not aware of this taking place in the region due to additional costs and contracting challenges during construction. When further information was sought about this topic from a local engineering firm, concerns were raised about damaging the telecommunications infrastructure during periods of repair or maintenance, which adds additional liability to those companies completing the work.
During committee meetings, issues of economic diversification were discussed, and several points were widely agreed upon. Primarily, that rural communities – including those in the Buckeye Hills region, still largely depend on one or a few major employers as the economic anchor of the area. Along the same lines, many local economies coalesce around a single product or natural resource (polymers, metals, natural gas, etc.). These realities do pose a higher risk of disaster to those economies if any disruptions in those supply chains or markets does occur.
Among the members of the committee, there was a perception that the Buckeye Hills region has a competitive advantage over other locations in the state in the area of educational assets (public schools, post-secondary institutions, and trade/training facilities). These facilities play an important role in ensuring that industries in the region are able to meet the demands of a changing workforce. The committee felt it was important that these institutions were continually included in the information network between local officials, economic development professionals, and workforce representatives.
It was also expressed that it is becoming increasingly important to educate students about pathways to careers, especially those careers that are projected to have employment shortfalls in the Buckeye Hills region. Many of these careers do not require a four year degree, but do require a worker that has certified trade skills that can be obtained at community colleges, career centers, or local specialized training programs.
Members of the committee identified several community based issues related to economic development that are proving to be challenges for local officials and stakeholders. Based on these discussions and other interactions with local officials, housing is a growing concern for stakeholders in the region. Specifically the availability and affordability of housing. Concerns were voiced regarding some communities being very heavy populated with student housing, and fewer options for young professionals and families. Concerns also continue to grow regarding the affordability of rental housing across the region as oil and gas activities continue to grow. Some communities are reporting an increase in rental costs, as well as increased home prices for those looking to purchase. The concern is that as these costs rise, residents who need low cost housing will be unable to obtain it, causing a potential short term homeless situation. Members felt this particular issue was difficult to address, due to the lack of resources available to local governments to provide assistance, and the general lack of political motivation to become involved in housing projects.
Members also identified access to health care as a continuing concern, but did recognize that good progress on this had been made in at least two counties in the region during the past two years. New health care facilities have been established in Belpre Ohio (Washington County), and near Pomeroy Ohio (Meigs County), providing much needed services for residents of the area.