Editor’s note: The following event featured local, county, state and federal legislative representation. This article is the first in a short series covering the topics covered at this year’s Meet Your Legislators event. Pick up editions of the Gallipolis Daily Tribune later this week for more on this important local event.
GALLIA COUNTY — Representatives of local, county, state and federal government came together Friday morning to discuss challenges and new signs of life in Gallia County and throughout southeast Ohio during the annual Gallia County Chamber of Commerce ‘Meet Your Legislators’ event held at Holzer Medical Center and sponsored by AT&T.
This was the 17th year in a row for the increasingly popular event. Event organizers were pleased that the event was so well attended.
“I cannot tell you how exciting it is to see additional chairs brought out, to be standing up here looking out at this room and see how many folks in our community are interested in the issues and topics that affect Gallia County and our surrounding areas,” said Gallia County Chamber of Commerce President Kyla Carpenter. “So, thank you all very much for taking the time this morning to be here.”
The event kicked off with remarks from BJ Smith, AT&T Director and External Affairs. AT&T is the premiere sponsor of the event.
“Thank you to the legislators and elected officials for participating today,” said Smith. “AT&T is happy to sponsor this activity for you to hear from them, but more importantly, for them to hear from you.”
Participants included U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson; Representative of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown Jeanne Wilson; Nick Gatz representing Ohio Gov. John Kasich; Todd Shelton representing U.S. Sen. Rob Portman; State Sen. Bob Peterson, Ohio’s 17th District; State Rep. Ryan Smith, Ohio’s 87th District; Gallipolis City Commission President Jay Cremeens; and Harold Montgomery, president of the Gallia County Board of Commissioners.
Gallia County Chamber of Commerce member and Chair of the Legislative Committee Jimmy Wiseman served as moderator for the event.
Each member of the panel was alloted two minutes to speak before opening the floor for questions from the audience.
Cremeens outlined several successes and challenges within the city limits including the recent opening of two new municipal buildings including the Justice Center and the new administrative building. Cremeens voiced concerns about downtown revitalization and said he hoped city employees’ presence in the new buildings will help to boost that effort.
Cremeens highlighted the pending repair of Mound Hill Cemetery Road and noted the overwhelming generosity of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in helping to fund the extensive repairs. He had little new news regarding the “flood escape route”, otherwise known as Farm Road. He said the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is not making the completion of Phase II a priority among other state transportation projects at this time, which limits the city’s ability to move the project forward.
In a county-level update of the Gallia County Commission, Montgomery explained that the county strategic plan, a cooperative effort involving the whole community, is moving forward with the recent incorporation a marketing plan with a company called Atlas Marketing. The marketing contract is a collaborative effort that includes the county, the city of Gallipolis, the Gallia County Community Improvement Corporation (CIC), American Electric Power (AEP), Gallia County Agricultural Center Board and Bob Evans Farms, and sets out to create 500 new jobs in the next three to five years.
Montgomery outlined the progress of a fuel cell project at the Gallia County Airport which will make it a self-serve model, providing greater availability to private pilots.
J.B. Nets has continued to expand rural broadband availability to residential and commercial customers. Montgomery said that Gallia Rural Water has been instrumental in providing easements to help facilitate that expansion. He said that J.B. Nets, along with the assistance of programs provided through the Gallia County Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS), also helped to minimize the negative impact of the closing of the InfoCision Call Center in the past year by providing the technology needed to allow many of the otherwise displaced workers to continue to work from home.
Montgomery also spoke of the Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Foundation (SOACDF) — sometimes referred to as the tobacco grant fund — and the opportunities made possible through its available competitive grant funding. Recently, $112,000 was awarded through the foundation for the new Holzer Health and Wellness Center, a $540,000 project.
According to Montgomery, GKN Sinter Metals has also been awarded a sizable SOACDF grant totaling $350,000 toward a “rebuild” of an integral piece of equipment that will facilitate the manufacture of a high torque gear — a project totaling approximately $1.2 million.
It is Montgomery’s hope that this smaller project will help to leverage even greater expansion, and with it, even more local jobs.
Montgomery recognized SOACDF Executive Director Don Branson as a “true friend of Gallia County” and publicly thanked him for his support of Gallia County projects.
“It was very fortuitous the way that turned out because we had just this past year modified our economic development program where counties had a small budget to work with historically, and we did that, but after so many months if there were any unused monies, they were put up for competition among the counties [with competitive projects],” said Branson. “The timing was right. Otherwise that money wouldn’t have been available right now because Gallia County had already used theirs for the Health and Wellness Center. This project is very unique. It’s a great opportunity.”