Home Politics State Rep. Jay Edwards alleges JobsOhio is neglecting southeast Ohio

State Rep. Jay Edwards alleges JobsOhio is neglecting southeast Ohio

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JobsOhio's operating regions. Photo courtesy Ohio Labor Market

Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) took to social media in recent weeks to criticize JobsOhio, the state’s non-profit economic development agency, for not providing enough economic aid to Southeast Ohio, particularly Athens and Meigs counties.

The criticism came through a series of tweets that claimed JobsOhio,  a private, non-profit corporation with ties to the state government, and the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG) — a regional partner of JobsOhio — neglected some of the state’s regions and unfairly distributed capital investments.

The state lawmaker claimed the lack of aid may be politically motivated. 

“JobsOhio and APEG don’t ignore all of Southeast Ohio. Just the parts that don’t have a powerful statehouse politician advocating for them,” Edwards said in a tweet. “If that’s the case, they’ll give millions for zero jobs.”

The representative also claimed the agency has invested in other political agencies which led to no jobs being created — instead, creating new facilities for the organization. One instance Edwards cited was a $10 million donation to the 2015 Republican National Convention (RNC) — the highest contribution sum that year.

Athens and Meigs counties are among the states with the highest unemployment rate, with Meigs County being the second highest at 7%, according to a report from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

JobsOhio aims to narrow economic disparities within the state’s regions by investing and economically developing areas of the state that apply through a “Site Pilot Initiative.” Money is awarded to communities or developers to prepare sites or buildings for redevelopment prior to a company committing to a project.

The agency owns the rights to Ohio liquor profits, which means It keeps a percentage of all private liquor profits to fund its projects. It, however, does not collect liquor taxes.

“We have been criticized for not delivering ‘comparatively’ enough money to our region,” said APEG president Mike Jacoby. “The region’s primary struggle is that much of our economy is different than the rest of the state.”

JobsOhio focuses its efforts on nine sectors of the state economy economic which include: advanced manufacturing, aerospace and aviation; automotive, energy and chemicals; financial services, biohealth, food and agribusiness; logistics and distribution; and information technology. 

These sectors create new investments and diversify Ohio’s economy, Jacoby said. 

Southeast Ohio has comparatively fewer jobs and companies in JobsOhio’s nine targeted sectors relative to the rest of the state. Underrepresented sectors in Southeast Ohio include information technology, financial services and aviation/aerospace.

“Our region is one of the most distressed in the state of Ohio, there’s no question about that. No one is satisfied with the economic conditions of our region compared to the rest of the state,” Jacoby said. “So, I think that’s the basis of concern, we have some particular challenges, but I’m hopeful that there are going to be some new initiatives made public in the near future that will be targeted toward the region.”

Despite clear obstacles in place, JobsOhio and APEG have managed to implement projects and capital investments in the region.

Earlier this year, APEG and JobsOhio worked with the Career Center Adult Technical Training, a trade school in Washington County, to identify training opportunities that support the region’s industrial maintenance workforce. JobsOhio awarded $300,000 to the career center to implement the program, according to a report provided by JobsOhio.

JobsOhio reports also show that between 2016 and 2018, the APEG’s region received $18 million in Site Redevelopment Pilot Initiative Funds from JobsOhio — more than any other region in the stae — and 26% of statewide funding to redevelop underutilized and contaminated properties.

Other representatives in the area don’t have the same concerns Edwards expresses. Giovanna Loccisano senior legislative aide to Sen. Frank Hoagland who represents various southeast counties, including Athens, Meigs and Jefferson counties expressed this sentiment.

“We don’t share the same issues that Edwards has been currently expressing over the last month or two,” said Loccisano. “As with everything there’s always room for improvement on how we serve our constituency, but as far as what they’ve (JobsOhio) been doing now, there’s no complaint and we have a great working relationship with them.”  

2018 APEG reports show significant capital investments, including the JSW Steel USA’s acquisition of the former Wheeling Pitt rolling mill and restart of the electric arc furnace in Jefferson County. The $270 million project is expected to generate 280 jobs.

“Regions across the state and across the country are most successful in economic development when there is close collaboration with all partners, including elected officials,” said JobsOhio President and CIO J.P. Nauseef in a written statement. “We welcome input from all parties as it will take a holistic approach over the long term to lift the region.”

Edwards did not respond to The New Political’s multiple requests for comment.

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