Ohio Pumps up Infrastructure Funding Programs Designed to Prime Economic Development

$1.5 Billion was included for public infrastructure spending to encourage economic development projects across the state of Ohio through the recently enacted state operating budget.  These state programs include supporting the development of mega-sites tied to large scale industrial growth, funding critical water and sewer infrastructure, and supporting the development of other public infrastructure. 

All Ohio Future Fund.  The Ohio General Assembly’s state operating budget contained a proposal from Governor Mike DeWine to create a $667 Million All Ohio Future Fund to develop job ready sites for mega-projects like the announced Intel “fab” chip manufacturing center in New Albany, Ohio and the LG-Honda EV battery factory planned for Jeffersonville, Ohio. Megasites have traditionally been coveted by local, state, and utility economic developers, due to the sites’ ability to attract industrial and allied end-users. The presence of employers of this magnitude often leads to subsequent investment, multiplying growth opportunities within the commercial and retail sectors at the local level.  Megasites are often designed to be 1000 acres in size to accommodate transformational industrial or high-tech projects that can alter a region’s economic success. Megasites are not easy to develop as they not only require substantial acreage but also large public infrastructure and utility investments.

Connect4Ohio Fund. The Ohio General Assembly created a new fund to support Ohio’s rural counties defined as a county without a municipality with a population greater than 55,000, to improve roadway infrastructure. The new program through the Ohio Department of Transportation will provide $500 Million over the two-year operating budget and requires ODOT and the Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) to work together to prioritize the following projects: (1) Completing existing corridor projects, particularly corridor projects that benefit rural counties; (2) Eliminating traffic impediments along highways, particularly within rural counties; and (3) Replacing at least one bridge in each rural county that has been identified as requiring replacement. The new program also specifies that as part of the program, ODOT and TRAC fund Tier 1, 2, and 3 projects on the TRAC program list published in March 2023, and elaborates on project priorities as follows: (1) completing existing corridor projects, particularly corridor projects that benefit two or more connected rural counties; (2) eliminating traffic impediments on county, township, state, and federal highway routes, particularly within rural counties; (3) funding such projects at one hundred per cent of the project cost, when appropriate, particularly for projects that are located in a rural county or that extend between two or more connected rural counties; and (4) providing the necessary matching funds to receive TRAC approval for any construction projects that are related to the Program and its purpose.

Innovation Hubs. The Ohio General Assembly also supported Governor Mike DeWine’s proposed funding for $125 Million to create Innovation Hubs in regions throughout the state, beyond the current locations in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.  JobsOhio, together with the state of Ohio and partners, is investing over $3 billion to fuel the creation of three world-class Innovation Districts in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus. The goal is to create sustainable ecosystems of ideas, infrastructure, and talent where the world’s top people and companies come to roll up their sleeves, innovate, and grow.  In March of 2020, the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital formally announced their joint effort to promote and celebrate innovation in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Innovation District is a unique ecosystem that plans to graduate an additional 15,000 STEM graduates and drive an additional $2 billion in research investment over the next 10 years. The research will apply ultramodern technologies across multiple life sciences and computer science disciplines in the Greater Cincinnati Region. Launched in January 2021, the Cleveland Innovation District includes the collaborative efforts of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland State University, MetroHealth, and University Hospitals. With world-leading medical research and higher education universities, the Cleveland Innovation District is at the forefront of advancement in technology and healthcare and is focused on providing promising careers in research, education, and the healthcare supply chain.  The Cleveland Innovation District intends to leverage talent and research across multiple world-class clinical and academic institutions to drive the next generation of healthcare technology. At the center of this effort, the Cleveland Clinic will launch its new Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health to combat emerging infectious disease threats worldwide. Created in February 2021, the Columbus Innovation District is a collaboration between The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. As the geographic and economic center of Ohio, Columbus has unique opportunities to lead innovation across multiple industries. This Innovation District establishes inviting and amenity-rich places for leading educational and healthcare research organizations to collaborate in ways that lead to economic growth, discoveries, and impactful career opportunities within Ohio’s largest city.

Super RAPIDs.  The Ohio General Assembly also support the funding request of Governor Mike DeWine to provide $100 Million in funding for a “Super RAPIDS” surge in coordination with the Office of Workforce Transformation for high-tech training equipment requested in collaboration with local businesses to prepare Ohioans for high-skilled in-demand jobs. Regionally Aligned Priorities in Delivering Skills (RAPIDS) are an aspect of Ohio’s efforts to bolster and diversify its economy include strengthening the connections between the availability of high-quality talent and the attainment of economic development goals. States that lead the charge in this area develop strategies to build education and training infrastructures that draw on the dynamic nature of regional economies and labor markets. In pursuit of such opportunities, the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) makes regionally strategic investments that foster a resilient workforce ecosystem. These equipment investments develop and support workforce development initiatives at postsecondary institutions that focus on furthering the career aspirations of students and the economic growth of businesses in the region. Funded projects actively support Ohio’s efforts to retain and expand existing businesses, attract new enterprises, and further entrepreneurship in communities where talent and workforce issues are key cornerstones of business engagement.

Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Grant Program.  $124 Million in FY 2024 was provided for the Ohio Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Grant Program which provides grants to improve access to clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Grants are up to $250,000 for design projects and up to $5 million for construction projects to Ohio communities. Public entities within a political subdivision with the authority to own and operate public water and sewer systems and nonprofit, non-community public water systems could apply. As of June 2023, the Ohio Department of Development has awarded nearly $360 million to 253 critical water and wastewater infrastructure projects across the state. Public entities within a political subdivision with the authority to own and operate public water and sewer systems and non-profit, non-community public water systems may apply. Political subdivision means a county, township, municipal corporation, or other body corporate and politic responsible for governmental activities in a geographic area smaller than that of the state. There are two types of eligible projects, design, or construction. Design projects should be submitted after an eligible applicant has completed the preliminary planning phase of a project. Eligible design projects can receive a maximum award of $250,000. Eligible construction projects can receive a maximum grant amount of $5 million. At the discretion of the Director of Development, additional grant funding may be awarded for an individual project due to lack of matching funds and other inhibiting factors. Maximum project awards in these circumstances shall not exceed $10 million and are solely at the discretion of the Director. The development of public infrastructure remains a critical economic develop tool in the Ohio toolbox with the addition of new programs and funding for existing infrastructure-based programs in the state operating budget.