Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Economic Networking: Rosier times for Athens by 2009?

Nina Wieczorek

Another economic network is going to be created in Athens County, after the HECSO (Higher Education Consortium for Southeastern Ohio) signed an agreement last week to work more closely together to improve education in Southern Ohio.
But the new one -- The Athens County Economic Development Council (ACEDC) -- focuses not on education, but on the economy.

The plan just presented to the City Council, created by the Athens Chamber of Commerce and its CEO President Jennifer Simon, is to function as an independent organization, but not when it comes to money. "We already receive dollars, so we're looking at a budget of around $230,000 dollars on an annual basis. We're going to work hard to raise the dollars that we need," said Simon.
She wants Ohio University to become involved as well.

The ACEDC and what it wants

Beginning in January 2009, the ACEDC plans to create partnerships among the local economy, the government and non-profit organizations.
Its goals are:
– Bringing new businesses to the Athens area,
– Keeping existing businesses here,
– Emboldening entrepreneurship,
– Helping businesses to expand.

Small Business Development Center director Shawn Mallett talks about the economic stability of the region.

A Network focusing on Ohio's future Economics?

A further goal of the new alliance will be to develop special sectors of the economy. Shawn Mallett, director of the Small Business Development Center, said: "Unfortunately we've been a blue collar manufacturer in the past, we've lost a lot of industry and businesses to competition, whether it be regionally or statewide or international. We need to look at new technologies to try to expand our manufacturing base."

The focus here will be set on three economical fields:
Life Sciences and Health Care and
Agriculture and Specialty Food.

In order to improve Athens County's economic situation, a wide range of potential partners is needed. According to Simon, cooperation could begin with institutions like the Athens City Council and the Mayor, OU Edison Biotech Institute and Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, and the Athens Farmers' Market.

The current economic situation in Athens County

60 companies on the Fortune 1000 Stock Price Tracker have their headquarters in Ohio. And although the Ohio Department of Development promotes the state with the slogan "Ohio means business“, not everyone in Athens County might see it that way.
Voters in Ohio, for example, are not that content. They would like to see government taking measures to improve the economy, according to a poll done this week by Zogby Internationalshows. The economy is people's biggest concern, with education, gas prices and health care following way behind.

According to the Census Bureau (latest data from 2000) 57% of Ohio's population is in the labor force - well below the national average of 64%. Ohio's median family income of nearly $40,000 is well behind the U.S. average of around $50,000. 14% of the families in the county are below the poverty level, whereas the average in the U.S. is nearly 5 percentage points less. The numbers for individuals are even more explicit: More than 27% have an income below the poverty level, which is 15 percentage points more than in the rest of the U.S. Jobs, according to these numbers, are something the region needs and the ACECD wants to help provide them.

Shawn Mallett pointing out the reasons for small businesses failing.

The Chamber's Annual Report - How local businesses see their Situation
At least the economic climate seen by the county's businesses seems to be good and supportive. According to the Annual Economic Development Report, created by the Chamber of Commerce, nearly 60% of the participating businesses rated the business climate in Athens as good to excellent. And local government received good grades. Half of the businesses said local government was good to excellent, whereas 21% were not content with its work and ranked it as poor to very poor.

Shawn Mallett highlights existing local networks.

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