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Impact Ohio Southeast Regional Conference gathers state, university, community leaders

Christina Van Fossen
January 13, 2020

The recent Impact Ohio Southeast Regional Conference brought together state and community leaders with key stakeholders to talk about the current and future state of Ohio’s infrastructure, economic development and public health. 

The event, held at the Ohio University Inn and Conference Center on November 7, featured a luncheon address by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.

“If you look at Ohio’s economy, we’re outpacing growth in terms of wages and overall net growth of most midwestern states right now,” Husted said. 

He also discussed Ohio’s changing industrial landscape, innovative technology, the importance of collaboration, and how we can continue to get better. Athens, he noted, continues to improve through its abundance of talent. 

“All these are important in how you collaborate to get things done to achieve the goal on the horizon,” Husted said.

Attendees also heard updates from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, and Treasurer Robert Sprague.

LaRose discussed ways to overcome low voter turnout. One tactic, he suggested, is making new voters comfortable with technology. LaRose said his office arranged for several high schools to hold their homecoming court votes on real electoral voting machines to show future voters how easy the process can be. After completing their ballots, students received an “I voted” sticker along with a voter registration form. 

LaRose’s office also approves articles of incorporation for new businesses in Ohio, and he noted that the Buckeye State had a record-setting number of business started for the month of September.

“My vision for Ohio is a prosperous economy and a thriving democracy,” LaRose said.

Sprague briefly spoke about the Family Forward Project, which will alleviate some of the financial burdens that accompany the adoption process by offering low-interest loans to first-time adopters.

Sprague also singled out Ohio University’s contributions to the state’s progress on several fronts. 

“A lot of the innovation that we are talking about statewide is coming out of Ohio University,” he said. 

OHIO’s innovations stem from programs such as TechGROWTH Ohio, the Ohio University Procurement Technical Assistance Center, the Innovation Center and LIGHTS, along with University’s supported start-ups such as Global Cooling, said Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis. 

“I firmly believe that here at Ohio University, we want to be a partner with all of you to collaborate relative to economic growth and development and improvements in the quality of life for our citizens of this region,” Nellis told the attendees. 

In addition to high-level speakers, the event featured several panel discussions. Jason Jolley, professor at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, moderated the panel “Exploring Infrastructure Needs in Southeast Ohio.” Panelists were Bret Allphin, development director of Buckeye Hills Regional Council; Jay Bennett, public service director of the City of Zanesville; Craig Butler, district chief of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Southeast District; and Stephanie Gilbert, transportation planning coordinator of the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission. 

Conversations largely surrounded the need to integrate technology into Ohio’s infrastructure, relying on partnerships to make it possible. 

Bret Allphin

“The good thing is, partnership and collaboration is how rural Appalachia and our heritage has survived as a culture,” Allphin said. 

Marsha Lewis, senior associate dean of the Voinovich School, moderated a panel on “Economic Opportunity and Elevating the Regional Economy.” 

Panelist were Matthew Hammond, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association; Sharon Hopkins, director of the Ohio University Procurement Technical Assistance Center; Mike Jacoby, president of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth; and Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency. 

“The center of entrepreneurial development and success is in Athens County in the great work the Voinovich School is doing,” Jacoby said. 

Since 1984, Impact Ohio has organized bipartisan conferences where representatives of government, media, academia, business, and non-government organizations can discuss the effect of policy, politics and elections on communities and the state.