Ohio Governor Mike DeWine launched the Ohio BUILDS – Small Communities, Big Impact – A Plan for Appalachia” legislative initiative that would provide $500 M to support local initiatives to revitalize downtown districts, enhance quality of life, and help rebuild the economies of Ohio’s Appalachian counties. Appalachian Ohio is a bioregion and political unit in the southeastern part of the state characterized by the western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau. The area consists of 32 counties which cover 39% of the state. Ohio’s 32 contiguous Appalachian counties are: Adams, Ashtabula, Athens, Belmont, Brown, Carroll, Clermont, Columbiana, Coshocton, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Highland, Hocking, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mahoning, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Trumbull, Tuscarawas, Vinton, and Washington. The proposal would direct funding into restoring historic downtowns, improving community health, and rebuilding the local workforce. The proposal specifically includes a $50 M planning phase to allow Appalachian communities and regional partnerships to develop plans that incorporate each of these three funding priorities. Following the planning, $450 M in implementation grants would be invested to help communities and regional groups carry out qualifying projects to rejuvenate the region and stimulate economic growth.
Appalachian Ohio is historically economically disadvantaged and sparsely populated, with 124 persons per square mile compared to the statewide average of 285. In 2016, the Appalachian Ohio community had a significantly lower percentage of bachelor’s degrees (17.10%) compared to the rest of Ohio (28.75%) as well as the entire United States (30.30%). The area also had the highest poverty rate at 17% compared to the Ohio state average of 14% and the nationwide average at 15.10%. Appalachian Ohio also saw a 1.9% decrease in population between 2010 and 2016. Meanwhile, the Buckeye State overall a 1.2% population growth and the U.S. population grew at a 4.5% rate.
Since the beginning of the DeWine-Husted Administration, the Ohio Department of Development has invested more than $472 million in Appalachian Ohio to improve infrastructure, expand broadband access, and boost development. As shown in Figure 1, the economic distress scores for Appalachian Ohio have improved in recent years due to these initiatives. This new proposal aims to build on those investments by prioritizing funding to create vibrant downtowns, recreational areas, and cultural attractions to draw residents and tourists to the region. The proposal would also provide much-needed health care services to area residents and address substance use disorder as well as develop the local workforce to prepare the next generation for jobs of the future. Once funding is secured, the program is to be administered through the Ohio Governor’s Office of Appalachia within the Ohio Department of Development and other agency partners.