Columbiana Consortium Briefs Local Officials

LISBON, Ohio — Government officials from throughout Columbiana County gathered for several hours Thursday for a briefing on economic development, hosted by the county Economic Development Consortium.

The consortium is composed of the Columbiana County Port Authority, the board of county commissioners, Office of Economic Development, Land Utilization Corporation (Land Bank) and the GIS (geographic information system) Department.

Officials from the county’s two largest cities, Salem and East Liverpool, as well as other cities, townships and agencies participated in the briefing.

Representatives from the consortium offered detailed reports on what their department offers, beginning with Penny Traina, executive director of the Port Authority, which she described as a “quasi-governmental organization” created to conduct maritime, airport and economic development activities.

“The broad power of a port authority is a strong, useful tool for economic development,” Traina said. “It allows us to promote, advertise and publicize the services, facilities and programs to help stimulate economic development in Columbiana County.”

Although the Columbiana County Port Authority is one of 61 in Ohio, Traina said CCPA is one of the few that is completely independent and self-sufficient, receiving no government funding but instead generating revenue through rental income on property it owns. 

“We are different and unique,” she declared.

In 2018, Columbiana County moved 2.3 million tons of cargo on the Ohio River, Traina continued.

“It is less expensive to move cargo on the Ohio River,” she said, noting one small barge is equal to 16 rail cars or 70 large semi trucks. “That’s pretty significant.”

With the oil and gas, and petrochemical industries continuing to develop in the region, Traina anticipates an increase of tonnage hauled on the Ohio River. It is important to “go to Columbus and explain to them the Ohio River does exist,” she added, because the river “has been under-marketed and under-utilized.”

As for the broader powers of the port authority, Traina said its tax-exempt status can be deployed to help developers and companies control the construction costs through sales tax exemptions on building materials; receive federal and state tax exemptions, and establish bond funds and issue revenue bonds. It can also exercise powers on behalf of a subdivision since it has more flexibility; can receive state and federal grants and loans for businesses; and assist in creating and managing Foreign Trade Zones.

Tad Herold, director of the Columbiana County Office of Economic Development, outlined how his department has improved services in the seven years he has been at the helm. These include business retention and expansion, attracting new business, workforce training, incentives administration, county branding and marketing, entrepreneurial development, consultation with subdivisions, planning, infrastructure, affordable and stable housing and GIS.

“If we were honest, [before then] we were only doing two things right: infrastructure and affordable homes through the CHIPS grant program. Then the commissioners had the foresight to say, ‘We need to do other things,’ and we started to move up,” Herold said. 

Much of what the department has done has been through grant funding, he explains.

One of the programs Herold cited was entrepreneurial development made possible through the county community improvement corporation, created in 1970, which uses revolving loan funds to make loans to new or existing businesses. 

The amount lent is based on the number of new full-time positions created. Herold said businesses that have received such loans have “run the gamut,” among them a bottled water company, corrugated cardboard operation and a daycare.

Herold also outlined the enterprise zone program, which allows for abatement of new taxes associated with real property improvement;  Community Reinvestment Areas; and Opportunity Zones, a federal program that temporarily defers taxes on previously earned capital gains and permanent exclusion of taxable income on new gains.

Among the projects the department has assisted with the enterprise zone program is the South Field Energy plant in Yellow Creek Township, Pennex and Haltec, both in Leetonia, Herold noted.

A presentation on the county land bank was given by director Bobby Ritchey, who discussed acquiring vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties. The goal is to make such properties productive again while reducing blight, increasing property values and improving quality of life.

County commissioners authorized funding the land bank in 2014 with an initial $1.6 million from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, followed in 2015 with an additional $1.6 million.

The three target areas are East Liverpool, where 118 properties have been torn down or restored with nearly $1.5 million spent; Salem, where 18 properties were torn down/restored at a cost of nearly $278,000; and Wellsville, where 48 properties were torn down/restored at a cost of more than $533,000.

Ritchey said he has found neighbors are beginning to invest in their own homes where the Land Bank has removed or restored long-abandoned structures.

And the program has begun moving beyond residential structures, he said, citing a project involving commercial structures in East Liverpool that the committee acquired and turned over to the city’s CIC for potential development.

The “newest and freshest thing we’re working on,” according to Herold, is the GIS program, which was outlined by Chaz Chavara and Jake Miller, who work through Auditor Nancy Milliken’s office.

Herold said there are 77,000 parcels in Columbiana County and it took two years to draw each of those shapes. “But from those parcels, we can do all kinds of other things.”

Potential uses for GIS include showing the health of crops on a farm, displaying post office boxes so residents can locate the closest option for mail delivery, looking at potential competition so businesses can choose ideal locations, creating a hot spot map for crimes to determine patterns, highlighting areas with the best habitat to introduce endangered species, and charting evacuation routes, among others.

Also discussed was the importance of the 2020 census. To promote full participation, County Commissioner Tim Weigle said commissioners created a census committee and a Facebook page, Columbiana County Ohio Census 2020. He emphasized the importance of getting an accurate population count, which determines the amount of grant funding the county receives.

Pictured at top: Penny Traina, right, is the executive director of the Columbiana County Port Authority. She was one of the presenters Thursday at the consortium’s meeting with local officials.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.