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Series exploring Appalachian Ohio’s economic future shines a spotlight on OHIO


A series of articles written by a Yale University publication explores the economic future of Appalachian Ohio and highlights a number of Ohio University people, programs and University-community partnerships that are elevating the region.

In a series titled, “Building Hope in Appalachian Ohio,” Yale Insights, produced by the Yale School of Management, examines ongoing efforts in southeastern Ohio to overcome the region’s history of poverty and underinvestment. Five of the six articles included in the series prominently feature Ohio University, with the main article, “Can Appalachian Ohio Build a New Economy?,” stating: “Today, the entrepreneurial ecosystem around Ohio University is one of the most robust in rural America.”

“These articles illustrate the profound impact of the work we do on all of Ohio University’s campuses every day,” said President M. Duane Nellis. “Not only do we make a difference in the lives of the students that we serve, but our work has a deep impact on the communities and the region that we call home. A recent economic impact study measured Ohio University’s value, both to its students and to the state, and this reporting by Yale Insights clearly supports one of my strategic pathways – the building of a University engagement ecosystem. For the past 214 years Ohio University has sought to elevate the economy and the quality of life in Appalachia, and our commitment to this region remains as strong as ever.”

A section of the series’ main article explores entrepreneurship in southeastern Ohio and focuses squarely on the initiatives and impacts of some of the entrepreneurs and companies supported by TechGROWTH Ohio. Part of Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and one of Ohio Third Frontier’s entrepreneurial service provider programs, TechGROWTH Ohio provides technology start-up companies in the region with access to business assistance and sources of capital. 

“TechGROWTH and the other University-affiliated operational-assistance programs have worked with more than 2,000 entrepreneurs since 2007,” the article states. “In that period, client companies have created 661 jobs with an average salary of $55,567 while generating $450 million in economic activity.”

The article highlights two of TechGROWTH Ohio’s many success stories, Stirling Ultracold and Ecolibrium, and quotes Jennifer Simon, OHIO’s executive director of regional innovation, and John Glazer, the director of TechGROWTH Ohio. 

The series’ main article also features: 

  • Bill Dingus, dean emeritus of Ohio University Southern who now serves as executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) and the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce. 
  • The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs’ Social Enterprise Ecosystem (SEE) project, which seeks to make positive changes to health and wellness, education and the environment. 
  • David Wilhelm, a notable OHIO alumnus, the son of longtime Ohio University Professor Emeritus of Geography Hubert G. H. Wilhelm, a former chair of the Ohio University National Alumni Board, and a current Voinovich School Fellow. Wilhelm’s career spans the worlds of energy, finance, academia, public policy and politics, having served as the youngest-ever chair of the Democratic National Committee. Born and raised in Athens, his contributions to Appalachia are many, including, as the article notes, leading the creation of Adena Ventures, a $25 million Appalachian-focused venture fund, and helping to build support for Ohio Third Frontier, the state’s entrepreneurship-focused economic development program.
  • A project underway in the Wayne National Forest, with the assistance of members of the local and Ohio University communities, to develop the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System and to establish southeastern Ohio as a mountain biking destination.

Three of the series’ five companion articles are question-and-answer pieces that highlight Ohio University and/or individuals affiliated with the University.

“Perspective on Appalachian Ohio: The Federal Agency” features a Q&A with Ray Daffner, the entrepreneurial development manager for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). In the interview, Daffner calls Ohio University “a critical institution in leading development efforts and providing vision.”

“Ohio University has become a hub by investing in programs and partnering extensively with nonprofit organizations, local government, regional organizations and the philanthropic sector,” Daffner says. “They’re fostering the region’s economic transition with support for entrepreneurial activities, downtown development programs and healthcare initiatives.”

“Perspective on Appalachian Ohio: The Philanthropist” shines a spotlight on Ohio University alumna Cara Dingus Brook. Holding a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in English from Ohio University, Dingus Brook has served as the president and CEO of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio since 2007. 

“Perspective on Appalachian Ohio: The Small-Town Mayor” features Tom Johnson, a former investment banker, current mayor of Somerset, Ohio, in nearby Perry County, and an executive in residence who works on regional issues as part of Ohio University’s Rural Revitalization Partnership Initiative. Part of the College of Health Sciences and Professions, the initiative seeks to support regional collaborations to improve the quality of life in Appalachian Ohio.

In the article, Johnson notes a few of the ways Ohio University is working to improve the quality of life in the region. Specifically, he mentions the $2 million in funding that OHIO’s Jennifer Simon secured from the ARC for a network of innovation centers in Appalachian Ohio and the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s commitment to educating doctors that practice in rural communities.

Another of the series’ companion pieces is a photo gallery featuring the talents of Ohio University alumna Erin Clark, who graduated in May with a master’s degree in photojournalism. Yale Insights commissioned Clark, a 2016-2018 Voinovich School Photojournalism Fellow, to document the individuals working to transform Southeast Ohio. 

To view Clark’s photos and read the entire series, click here.