PDT Staff Writer
Todd Book, Scioto County Interim Economic Development Director and Chairman of the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA), spoke to members of the Kiwanis Club of Portsmouth on Wednesday addressing a number of topics.
Book touched upon the recent and current activities of SOPA.
“The title I was given whenever the commissioners contacted me was to be the interim economic development director. But, the job description was more, ‘boy we have a lot of things we want to change, will you help us try to make some of those changes,’” Book said. “They (the commissioners) had a very extensive list of items they were concerned with and things they wanted to see done differently. It’s been an honor for me to work with them to try to make some of those things happen.”
Book said one of those items that needed attention was the Southern Ohio Port Authority.
“The commissioners have a similar philosophy to former Gov. Jim Rhodes. There is a statue in front of his building in Columbus and on that statue it states something along the lines of, ‘many of a community ills can be cured by getting the unemployed in that community a job,” Book said. “The commissioners concern was that there has really not been much of a plan when it came to economic development. What has been going on was duplicative, you have a lot of folks trying to the same thing at the same time.”
Book said the commissioners want him to work on the system of economic development within the community.
“They wanted a unified approach to economic development. If we were going to do that, we had to look at what the best vehicle is for that to occur. After you look around at the group with the most tools it was clear the Port Authority was that vehicle,” Book said.
He said the Port Authority has done some great work in the past and used the example of the work that was done in cleaning up the brown field site in New Boston.
“With the passing of Bob Walton a few years ago, the Port Authority had lost a lot of its direction. The commissioners wanted the Port Authority to be the point of the spear for economic development, so to speak,” Book said.
Earlier this year the commissioners expanded the membership of SOPA from 11 to 21 members. Also, earlier this year the group adopted a new set of rules and regulations to govern itself.
The adopted rules and regulations call for the hiring of an executive director for the Port Authority.
“This person, who we have not found yet, would be the operating officer of the Port Authority and would be responsible for it’s day-to-day operations. Their job would also be to help create and implement a plan for economic development,” Book said.
Book said creating this position brings up two issues for the Port Authority: How are you going to pay for it and where are you going to find this person?
“There are two committees (of Port Authority members) working on these issues. One is to find a director and the necessary staff to make this work. The other committee to to find necessary funding.”
He said the Port Authority is looking at a number of different avenues to fund the position including a public, private partnership.
“We are going to need at least $100,000 to start this operation. We are going to advertise for an executive director with a salary range from $45,000 - $65,000,” Book said. “The idea of trying to levy a tax to pay for this would not be feasible. So, we need to look at a lot of different sources.”
He said one of the places they are looking is local governments.
“Some of the places we’re looking towards include government sources. Right now the county has an Economic Development Department, the city has a sparse economic development and the village of New Boston does as well. We’re talking with those groups to focus one operation to make this (economic development) happen, as opposed to three different groups going in different directions,” Book said. “To be honest, no one is being that effective because they don’t have the time or the funds to make it work so, why not consolidate, and make that make sense.”
Book said efforts are underway for the Port Authority to be self sufficient.
“Something that we’re kicking around is the idea charitable gaming to help fund economic development activity. That’s still in the preliminary stages,” Book said.
The next meeting of the Southern Ohio Port Authority is set for Aug. 15 at the ADAMHS offices located at 919 Seventh Street in Portsmouth.
For more information about SOPA visit them on Facebook.
Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Wayne on Twitter @WayneallenPDT.