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ACEDC plans for economic development

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The Athens County Economic Development Council has sent out a survey collaborating with Ohio University and the county to “assess and improve the Athens business area,” according to the city website.

The business climate survey was sent out through a mailing list kept by the council and put on the Athens City website on Aug. 26 of this year, coinciding with the first day of classes at Ohio University. 

“As the economy is bouncing back, you always see [economic] needs, and there will always be needs here,” said Sara Marrs, director of the ACEDC. “The first step is to gather information.”

The survey is part of a larger project, spearheaded by Ohio University. The project is still in the beginning stages, according to Marrs.

“We are working with OU on making Athens the best place it can be,” Marrs said. 

The group is hoping to find some constructive data from this survey but do not have any specific projects in mind.

“The one thing that I have learned in the five years that I have been working here [is] never predict what you are going to find. We are hoping to find some commonalities,” Marrs said. “A lot of the small businesses have trouble finding small pools of funding.”

Commercial lenders tend to lean towards investing in larger pots of money in bigger companies in order to get greater returns, Marrs said.

“But the lending environment has gotten a lot better recently,” Marrs said. 

The survey begins by asking the participants about their relationship to Athens County; specifically, if they are a business owner, a decision maker at a business, an employee, or a resident. 

It asked 33 questions spread over six categories, including regional workforce, business resources, Ohio University’s technical colleges, city infrastructure, quality of life, and government control over incentives, regulations and taxes. 

Christine Tom, owner of Lamborn’s Studio & Custom, feels her location on uptown West State Street is not ideal. 

“I wish there were more businesses uptown, but I understand why there aren’t. Because there is just nowhere to park, and it’s difficult, and there is mostly student traffic, so most people just don’t want to come to town,” Tom said.

Tom’s business has been in Athens since the 1800s, in her family since the ‘40s and on West State Street since 1988. 

“Our main emphasis is how to grow businesses out here,” said Mayor Paul Wiehl, chairman on the board of ACEDC. “It is not always easy because you are competing with the world market.”

ACEDC was created in 2009 as an independent non-profit entity. Under the brand name Business Remixed, its focus was to develop and sustain economic growth in the county. 

Business Remixed will stop taking surveys at the end of 2013 and put together all of the data in order to start a new project. 

“We try to bring everybody together and find out, how do we improve quality of life for everyone?” Wiehl said.

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