PDT Staff Writer
When asked where he sees the future of economic development for Scioto County, Commissioner Tom Reiser, called it an excellent question and one the commissioners have been concerned about for some time.
Reiser was defeated in November in his attempt for another term in office. He will retire at the end of the year. Steve Wells, Scioto County Economic Development Director has also announced his retirement at the end of the year.
“For the past four months, we’ve had a group of about 20 people meeting once a month. The subject of those meetings has been, what are we going to do about economic development?” Reiser said.
He said the people that makeup this group are people who are engaged in mostly management roles in a lot of different areas.
“We have people from education, we have people from the city, Shawnee State. We have people from financial institutions, we’ve got production managers from a lot of different places,” Reiser said. “We’ve tried to get a cross section of people and we’ve intentionally targeted people younger than me and Steve Wells. People who we thought would be around for a while.”
He said group discussions have centered around how does Scioto County move forward and how does Scioto County put itself in a position where it can be competitive with other areas.
“People talk about economic development but, what people do not really think about is that there are a thousand communities similar to ours, that all have similar concerns,” Reiser said. “So, the competition is really stiff. In order to meet that competition we really have to be organized. We have to have someone knowledgeable about economic development. That’s been our focus, how do we do that.”
He said on Wednesday of last week the group met with a representative from Washington County, Ohio who has an organization a public-private partnership organization.
“The goal is to, not really replace Steve Wells as a county employee. The goal is to go to a public-private partnership for economic development. The county would contribute to this organization, hopefully the city (Portsmouth) would see the advantages of some contribution. Possibly the college would be a partner and then possibly business and industry would become members like SOGP (Southern Ohio Growth Partnership) for example. SOGP’s focus was a little more narrow than what we are talking about here though,” Reiser said. “Collectively we think the way to do that is to lay out a plan and implement that plan. To do this would take action by the county and of course I will not be here to be part of that action. I think the plan is going to comprehensive and good enough that no matter who is in the commissioner’s seat they will see the need for it and support it.”
He said the plan is in the process of be constructed.
“My goal is to have that plan, that recommendation in writing before I leave here,” Reiser said.
When asked if this plan is essentially starting over, when it comes to county economic development. Reiser said, “that’s a fair assumption. It’s not totally starting over. We’re trying to build upon what we’ve done. With all the things that happened in the past year. We had some fall back positions, when SOGP decided they were no longer going to operate,” Reiser said. “We still had the (Southern Ohio) port authority. When Bob Walton died, that was a real blow to the port authority. We still have a port authority board but, a board without leadership it’s pretty useless. It’s sort of like a canoe in the middle of the river without a paddle.”
He said there has been a void in the Community Action Organization of Scioto County since the death of Chief Executive Officer of Bob Walton, Sr.
“We’ve been real fortunate we’ve had Steve Wells who had previous experience in economic development and who still knew a lot of the people involved,” Reiser said.
He said people in the community have questioned him on why he does not want to take that job, upon retirement as commissioner.
“I keep telling people I’ve never been interested in a position I had no qualifications for,” Reiser said. “I’ve worked with economic development in many ways but I don’t have the expertise that you need.”
Reiser said once he leaves office he has no plans of walking away from his involvement.
“My thinking is that whatever we do will have to be done under auspices of the port authority. Why do I say that? Because if you read the Ohio revised code, there is really not any other organization that has the abilities and the powers the port authority has,” Reiser said. “The port authority can own and lease land and they can issue bonds. A lot people may not know the Southern Ohio Port Authority was the organization that issued the bonds for the sports complex at Portsmouth High School.”
He said the port authority may be a canoe in the middle of the river without a paddle but, it’s not the port authority’s fault.
“Most port authorities have an executive director. They are the ones that do the grunt work for the port authority. A board is just a group that’s interested and has some expertise but, they respond to the directors direction,” Reiser said. “There is no director now of the local port authority. The port authority has always had for years and years the advantage of having Bob Walton. Bob Walton never got a dime from the port authority. He loved economic development. CAO (Community Action Organization) allowed him to do that. So, when he passed away there was no there.”
He said the port authority can’t afford to hire a director.
“When we get down to where we want to go with this, they are going to have to be the major player. Does that mean the port authority will be the same people and the same organization it is right now? The same people may be on the port authority but the organization will have to change. There will likely have to be some changes made for possibly more members. If you go to a public-private organization, those people are going to want representation,” Reiser said.
He said some of the conversations have centered around hiring someone after Wells leaves and this organization is setup.
“There are areas of development we are going to be lacking in if we at least do not have anyone in that position in an interim basis. Steve is our representative on a number of boards. I would love to see the commissioners reemploy Steve as a consultant, just to keep abreast of all of the things going on,” Reiser said. “If we can move quickly, maybe in two or three months, we could find someone.”
He said the permanent person would have to be a real professional and not someone who just has an interest.
“In order to do that we have to raise more money than what the county would pay someone. To get someone with those qualifications,” Reiser said. “They would be expensive but, you can be cheap and get no result or you can be expensive and expect better results.”
Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.