Economic Development

Columbiana Chambers Host Development Update

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LISBON Ohio – Columbiana County needs to be the fourth “C” in Ohio, joining Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, the so-called three C’s, posits Penny Traina, CEO of the Columbiana County Port Authority.

Traina was among the local and state officials and representatives of local nonprofit groups and consultants who made presentations Tuesday during the Good Morning, Columbiana County! economic development update. The morning-long program was presented by the combined Columbiana County Area Chambers of Commerce.

The other speakers were county Commissioner Mike Halleck, state Rep. Tim Ginter, Tad Herold of the county development department, Drew Cooper of the East Liverpool Community Partnership for Revitalization; Ben Kenny of WSOS Community Action; and Mark Peluso of Town Center Associates.

Columbiana County is on the cusp of great things, Traina told the 70 chamber members and guests at the Columbiana County Government Services Building.

Of the 60 port authorities in Ohio, Columbiana County’s is the only one that generates its own revenue and doesn’t rely on taxpayer support, she said. Its assets include the Wellsville Intermodal Facility on the Ohio River, the only one on that segment of the river.

The industrial park is well-positioned to capitalize on downstream industries related to Royal Dutch Shell’s $6 billion cracker project under construction in Monaca, Pa., as well as PTT Global’s proposed cracker in Belmont County should it move forward, she said.

“We want to start getting out in front to let them know that we can start attracting those businesses to Columbiana County,” she said.

One focus of the port authority this year is a joint initiative with other counties along the Ohio River to create the Mid-Ohio Valley Statistical Port District. Creating such a district would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to better monitor the volume of commodities carried on the Ohio River.

Once that information is gathered, it can be shared with the member counties, Traina said.

“Currently we have no way of knowing how much commodity goes up and down the river,” she said. That data can be used in applications to secure federal or state funds to repair locks on the river or for marketing.

Herold, director of the county economic development department, focused his presentation on the county’s land bank and efforts to demolish building and reclaim properties.

As of yesterday, the program had $3.2 million to raze tax-delinquent, vacant residential properties in the three targeted communities, he reported. The houses must be owned by the land bank before they are razed.

So far, the program has leveled 39 houses in East Liverpool, 20 in Wellsville and six in Salem. With the funding available, the county could take down at least 150 more properties.

Using money from delinquent taxes collected and assessments, the county is also looking to tear down properties that can’t be demolished with the targeted funds, such as houses outside the three designated communities or commercial properties.

Commercial blight isn’t as bad in Columbiana County as it is in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, and most of it is “kind of removed,” Herold said.

“We do have some buildings within our downtowns that are blighted and might really be a safety hazard,” he said. “If we do go into the commercial realm, I would at least encourage the land bank board to think about targeting those kind of things,” he said.

Ginter, R-5 Salem, discussed several pieces of legislation as well as the state budget due Friday. He told the audience that a joint conference committee has been meeting since last Friday and he could be contacted at any time to return to Columbus to vote. “I understand there are some intense discussions taking place,” he remarked with intended understatement.

Ginter also shared his thoughts on House Bill 178, which would provide FirstEnergy with an annual subsidy of $300 million for 16 years – paid for by FirstEnergy customers — to subsidize two aging nuclear plants.

According to estimates provided by the Ohio Manufacturers Association, the provision would be the equivalent of a $90,000 increase in the electric bill of a small manufacturer, and up to a $90 million increase over 16 years for a large manufacturer. Despite “some pressure,” Ginter said he would vote “no.”

“There is no way I can see us putting this on the backs of the customers,” he remarked. “We operate in a free market.”

After hearings on that bill, the legislature was hit with a bill to subsidize two coal-fired plants, legislation he says he also opposes. “We’re headed down a dangerous pathway when we pick and choose what power generation company or what power companies we’re going to prop up,” he explained.

Pictured above: Tad Herold, director of the Columbiana County Development Department.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.