Wilson works to promote Appalachia

January 19, 2013

Wayne Allen

PDT Staff Writer

Jason Wilson, Director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia was in Portsmouth earlier this week to promote some of the good things happening within Appalachian Ohio, including Portsmouth.

“The Appalachian region which I represent is 32 counties in Ohio, from Clermont County through this region, up along the Ohio River all the way to Ashtabula County. Those 32 counties represent a third of the geography of the state of Ohio,” Wilson said. “Governor (John) Kasich has a big state of roughly 12 million people and the roughly million people living in Appalachia, need representation and at the same time they need to be heard and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Wilson said he and members of his staff spent time this week in Gallia County, Lawrence County and in Scioto County learning about all of the good things going on in Appalachian Ohio.

He said within the region, there are a number of engaging things going on.

“There are some exciting things going on with GE Engines and with the river front in Portsmouth. There is some federal money that’s coming for the Portsmouth Bypass, which is slated to be an ODOT project in the coming months,” Wilson said. “We are working to spread the message that Ohio has better days ahead of it and that we’re listening and communicating within the Appalachian region. Our goal in Appalachia is to improve the lives of Ohioans.”

Wilson said his office has demonstrated how to do that in several ways.

“We just visited a project in Crown City, in which the ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) with a $250,000 grant matched with about $3 million in federal money are providing sanitary sewer and water to a community that has not been served in a long time,” Wilson said.

He said locally some of the projects the Governor’s Office of Appalachia has been involved with include, “in July 2011, the Community Action Organization of Scioto County, Inc. – Scioto County Center for Dental Wellness Service Expansion in Portsmouth received $143,700 from the federal Appalachian Development program to add a full-time dentist and dental assistant to the clinic staff and contract with a pediatric dentist for children, which will expand the current staff of nine. This will enable the clinic to serve an additional 1,200 patients per year; create two health professional jobs; and retain seven health professional jobs.

In September 2011, the Scioto County Counseling Center Inc. dba Second Chance Counseling Center in Portsmouth received $39,947 from the federal Appalachian Development program to purchase equipment, such as a commercial stove, ovens, and other kitchen items, for food preparation training; computers and software for training; and a van to assist in getting clients to training and to work sites.”

Wilson said some of the many initiatives of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia for 2013 includes a focus on outreach.

Wilson is a former state legislator. He said one of the fist things he did as a member of the legislature was draft a resolution on the Greenup Dam.

“It’s a choke point to the river north for coal, minerals and now possibly oil and gas. When we sit in Columbus with the governor’s key people and talk about key points in Ohio. The Greenup Dam is going to be on my list of places to talk about,” Wilson said.

He said any conversation about Appalachia would not be complete without talking about broadband.

“How we connect, function and operate is totally different than how we did five, 10 or 15 years ago. The connectivity through the citizens of Ohio in Appalachia is critical for getting them, ‘up to speed,’” Wilson said. “Giving them the same opportunities as the people in other parts of Ohio have is important.”

He said the goal of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia is to get Ohio’s Appalachian region up to the national average of broadband availability within the next two years.

“We’ve demonstrated some success with some investment. It’s a great opportunity for small business. We’ve been able to work with banking institutions to help fund that,” Wilson said.

He said the goal to have Appalachia connected to broadband in two years in ambitious.

“When the governor appointed me to this job a little over a year ago, he did not ask me to mind the store. He asked me to make a difference,” Wilson said. “I’m taking my background in the legislature and as a private business owner and saying, what can I do to make a difference, make an impact. That’s really what we do often is, try to figure out where can we put resources, time and effort to say if we do this, things can happen.”

He used the example of the Shawnee State University and the impact it has on the community and the region.

Wilson said his office will be working with SSU on a river conference later this year, to discuss the many possibilities it holds for the communities it surrounds.

“When the governor told me, he wanted me to make change in Appalachia I took that very seriously. I think we’ve demonstrated projects where we can do that,” Wilson said.

For more information about the Governor’s Office of Appalachia visit, www.development.ohio.gov/cs/cs_goa.htm.

Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228, or tallen@civitasmedia.com