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Appalachian Ohio State of the Region Conference

Appalachian Ohio State of the Region Conference

Save the Date: May 14, 2024


The Appalachian Ohio State of the Region Conference brings public officials, economic development experts, business and organizational leaders and others to discuss different issues related to economic growth in the Appalachian Ohio region. The event is part of the Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Center project. 

Take a look back at the 2023 Conference

The recording of each session can be viewed by clicking on the session titles in the conference schedule below.


8:30 – 9:00 a.m.
Registration and Networking
9:00 – 9:15 a.m.
Welcome Remarks
9:15 – 10:20 a.m.
Quality of Life in Our Region

Cara Dingus Brook: The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio 

Mike Workman: Morgan Community Fund

Kristi Tanner: JobsOhio Vibrant Communities Program

Cole Massie: Renew Rio Project

Moderator: Evan Scurti, Ohio-Mid Eastern Governments Association

10:20 – 10:35  a.m.
10:35 – 11:25 a.m.
Building Appalachia’s Workforce

John Sherwood: Manufacturing Training and Job Opportunities

Jeff Magada: Flying HIGH Inc. Recovery & Reentry Employment Pathways

Megan Riddlebarger: Childcare Challenges for Working Parents

Moderator: Kathy Zook, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments

11:25 – 11:35 a.m.
Recognition of Dean Weinberg 
11:35 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.
Lunch Break 
12:05 – 1:10 p.m.
Economic Impact of Community Events

Melissa Wales: Nelsonville Music Festival

Robert Black: Final Friday in Boneyfiddle

Donnie Winchell: Geneva Grape Jamboree

Joe Croft: New Philadelphia First Town Days

Moderator: Stephanie Gilbert, Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission 

1:10 – 2:10 p.m.
Revitalizing Downtown Districts

Jennifer Tinkler: Marietta Main Street

Tammy Eallonardo: The City of Chillicothe 

Brennan Dudley: The Village of Byesville 

Stephanie Dyer: Mahoning River Restoration 

Moderator: Jada Riley, Buckeye Hills Regional Council 

2:10 – 2:15 p.m.
Closing Remarks

2023 Speakers

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Robert Black

Robert and Julia Black established the nonprofit Boneyfiddle Project in 2014 to revive the economy of Portsmouth, Ohio using the arts.  To date they have presented 50 free outdoor concerts featuring over 500 entertainers drawing tens of thousands of shoppers and concertgoers to the shopping district.  For their efforts the received the Governors Award for Community Development through the Ohio Arts Council 2021 and were presented Distinguished Citizen of 2022 by the National Chamber of Commerce.

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John Carey

John Carey was appointed Director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia by Governor Mike DeWine in February 2019. John Carey served as the Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education from 2013 – 2018. As Chancellor he worked to align higher education programs with Ohio’s job creation and workforce needs. Carey also implemented initiatives that increased collaboration among colleges, universities, technical schools and local businesses and community organizations. Prior to joining the Ohio Department of Higher Education, Carey was Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives at Shawnee State University. He led university workforce initiatives, working closely with local businesses. Carey served in the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate. He was the Mayor of Wellston for seven years. A graduate of Ohio University, he lives in Wellston with his wife, Lynley, and two sons.

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Joe Croft


First Town Days Festival President - 2018-2023

First Town Days Committee Volunteer - 2006-2017

RTY Summer Showcase Concert Series Producer - 2019-2023

RTY Summer Showcase Concert Series Volunteer - 2006-2018

Ohio Festivals and Events Association

Board of Directors 2013-2019

Business Development Manager - Sare Plastics Alliance, Ohio

2014 to Present

Construction Project Manager - Regional Manager

Industrial, Commercial and Institutional Construction Field

1995 through 2013

Began Career as a Surveyor (Land and Construction) and Field Engineer in the Construction Industry

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Misty Crosby

Misty Crosby joined Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service as a Senior Executive in Residence for Local Government Services in September 2022. In this role, she will assist in supporting local governments, most notably those members of the Mayors Partnership for Progress; work to strengthen relationships with key partners and organizations, and intentionally seek ways the Voinovich School can support the efforts of key partners and organizations.

Crosby previously served with the Buckeye Hills Regional Council and retired as Executive Director in August of 2022. In this role, Crosby led a 65-member team in their efforts to bring resources and affect positive change in state and federal policies and programs important to local governments and communities in rural Southeastern Ohio. Under her leadership, Buckeye Hills Regional Council facilitated the investment of more than $625 million in its eight-county region from 2007-2021.

Representing the Midwest Region of the country, Crosby serves as President of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Board of Directors and as President of the NADO Research Foundation. Crosby has served as President of The Development District Association of Appalachia and also served as Chair of the Training Committee. Crosby also was appointed to Ohio University’s Board of Trustees as its first Regional Trustee. She was appointed by Governor Mike DeWine to the Ohio Advisory Council on Aging and she currently serves on The Hippodrome/Colony Historical Theatre Association Board of Directors and is also a member of The Executive Order of the Ohio Commodore.

Crosby holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management from Ohio Valley University and earned Executive Women in Leadership Certification from Cornell University. She also holds an Associate’s Degree in Accounting from Washington State Community College.

She resides in Belpre, Ohio with her husband Dave.

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Cara Dingus Brook

Cara Dingus Brook is Chief Executive Officer and President at The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, a regional foundation with a mission to create opportunities in Appalachian Ohio by supporting and inspiring philanthropy.

With Cara’s leadership, the Foundation has grown its reach, impact and assets significantly, developed the nation’s first nonprofit “IPO” and facilitated numerous public-private partnerships creating opportunities in the areas of education, economic development, environmental stewardship and health care.

Cara received a BA in English degree from Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College, a MPA degree from the Ohio University’s Voinovich School for Leadership and Public Service, a certificate in Creative Writing and studied at the Center for Creative Leadership. She is a graduate of the Jo Ann Davidson Leadership Institute and The Ohio State University’s Community Scientist Academy.

In 2018, Cara became a presidential appointee to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Community Development Advisory Board, a citizen leadership group to the Treasury’s Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) programs. In 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine appointed Cara to serve as a commissioner for the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA), which serves to provide for the conservation of air as a natural resource by financing air quality facilities for small and large businesses, utilities, government, and universities.

Cara also serves on Ohio University’s Public Affairs Committee and the advisory boards of The Voinovich School for Leadership and Public Service, the newly formed Appalachian Children’s Coalition and the Patient Advisory Committee of the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center at The Ohio State University’s James Cancer Center. She is a past board member of Philanthropy Ohio.

Cara’s work as a community builder was recently featured by journalist David Brooks in his 2019 book The Second Mountain.  She has received numerous awards including the 2019 Visionary Leadership Award from the Appalachian Partnership, Inc. (API), for her instrumental role in helping to found API. A two-time cancer survivor, Cara served as the 2018 Honorary Co-Chair of The Komen Foundation’s Southeast Ohio Race for the Cure.  She is the recipient of the “Emerging Philanthropist of the Year” award from Philanthropy Ohio, the “Spirit Award” from Ohio University’s College of Arts and Sciences and the “Appalachian New Economy Partnership Award” from The Voinovich School for Leadership and Public Affairs.

Cara grew up in southern Ohio and now resides in the Hocking Hills. She and her husband, Dominick H. F. Brook, are the proud parents of Hugh Oliver and Lucia “Lucie” Ann.


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Brennan Dudley

Brennan Dudley is a long-time resident of Guernsey County and currently resides in Byesville, Ohio. Brennan attended Meadowbrook High School and Muskingum Perry Career Center where he studied Audio and Video Production. Brennan attended Zane State College where his focus of study was Business Management. 

Brennan has served in a leadership capacity most of his life. Such leadership roles include retail management, pastor, business owner, and the board of directors for several community organizations. In 2019, Brennan was selected as 1 of 40 individuals across 13 states to serve in the inaugural class of the Appalachian Leadership Institute.   

Brennan has served the last 11 years as the Village Administrator for Byesville Ohio. Brennan’s primary responsibility is to direct the operations of the Village. Additionally, he serves the Village as a liaison between other municipalities and community organizations. 

Most recently, Mr. Dudley was instrumental in working with developers to secure the necessary infrastructure at the new $1.5 billion-dollar Guernsey Power Station located off I-77, just south of Byesville, Ohio.  

Brennan is an ODPS Certified Fire Fighter and serves on the Byesville Fire Department.  Additionally, he is an Emergency Medical Responder, Certified in FEMA Incident Management & Command, elected Republican Central Committee for Guernsey County, Notary Public, serves on the Ohio State University Extension Advisory Board for Guernsey County, and is an OHSAA Basketball Official. 

Brennan is supported by his wife of 22 years Tiffiny and their two daughters Bre age 20 and Leah 13. 

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Stephanie Dyer

Stephanie is starting her 20th year at Eastgate Regional Council of Governments where she is the agency's Environmental Program Manager and District Six Liaison for the Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Program. Through her work she manages the Areawide Water Quality Management Plan (208 Plan) for Mahoning and Trumbull Counties and collaborates on and developments of watershed plans. Since her start, she has led Eastgate's growth from 208 Plan management into the world of watershed planning.  Stephanie works closely with the Ohio EPA's Division of Surface Water's Northeast District staff to revitalize the Mahoning River; collaborates and provides technical assistance to the region's surface drinking water providers and storm water management agencies. Stephanie brings the Mahoning River and its watersheds back to life by championing for the removal of the river's low head dams, providing education to local and state officials, civic groups, residents, and students, and participates in outreach activities promoting watershed functions, quality improvement techniques, and personal responsibility. 2001 YSU Environmental Studies Program graduate with a BS of Science. 

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Tammy Eallonardo

Director of Greater Chillicothe & Ross County Development, Eallonardo works to promote the region as the perfect mix of work, life and legacy. GCRCD actively promotes the industrial, economic, commercial and civic development of Ross County through industry attraction, business retention & expansion, inventory of sites and buildings and workforce development. In 2022, Eallonardo earned the Ohio CED credential, a Best-In-Class distinction awarded by the Ohio Economic Development Association. 
Previously, Eallonardo managed a top-performing regional staffing company where she earned the credential of Certified Staffing Professional from the American Staffing Association. Her passion for manufacturing has led to strong relationships with business and industry throughout Ross County and southern Ohio.  
Eallonardo has worked to improve her community as President of Chillicothe City Council, Chairman of the Board of the Economic Development Alliance of Southern Ohio, Chairman of Chillicothe’s Design Review Board, President of the Chillicothe-Ross League of Women Voters and Vice Chairman of the Chillicothe-Ross Chamber of Commerce. 
She is a life-long resident of southern Ohio and the daughter of a small business owner and a paper mill worker. She lives in Chillicothe’s historic downtown district and enjoys teaching the virtues of small town living to the next generation. 

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Stephanie Gilbert

Stephanie Gilbert serves as the Transportation Planning Coordinator at the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission.  She began working at OVRDC in 2013 and has been working on the transportation program for 6 years.  Mrs. Gilbert studied Business Management at Shawnee State University.  She resides in Pike County with her husband and son. 


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Jeff Magada

Jeffrey M. Magada is the founder of Flying HIGH Inc. and has served as its Executive Director since its incorporation in 1994. Throughout his career, Jeff’s mission has been to help people develop their potential and discover their destiny. That mission has become a reality through the cultivation of programs that have provided thousands of individuals with opportunities to make their lives better by developing themselves and advancing economically. Jeff has authored grants that have harnessed over $14 million in federal and state funds for the Mahoning Valley. He is the recipient of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber’s 2022 Non-Profit Professional of the Year, Mahoning County Mental Health & Recovery Board’s 2022 Program of the Year Award, A.C.T.I.O.N.’s Frances Kerpsack 2019 Humanitarian Award, and numerous proclamations from federal, state, and local government officials recognizing the milestones in his career and the evolution of Flying HIGH Inc.

Cole Massie headshot

Cole Massie

Cole Massie serves as the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College’s Director of Economic Development and Center for Entrepreneurship. Under an agreement with the Gallia County Commissioners, Massie also represents Gallia County Economic Development. A native of Jackson, Ohio, he returned to the region in August 2022 after various marketing and communications roles with General Electric’s aerospace division. 

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Evan Scurti

Prior to his role as OMEGA’s Senior Development Specialist, Evan’s 22-year Ohio economic development career included various leadership roles at the local and regional levels, including serving as a Regional Manager within ODOT’s Division of Jobs & Commerce and Executive Director of the Ashland Economic Development Council and Jefferson County Port Authority. Evan was hired by OMEGA in August 2021 to manage RISE Ohio and assist staff in grant writing to support OMEGA’s member communities.

Evan is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville (2000) and received a Master’s in City and Regional Planning from The Ohio State University (2003). He is also active in the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), having obtained IEDC’s Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) credential in 2009.


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John Sherwood

John Sherwood serves as Director of Talent Strategy at JobsOhio, Ohio’s private economic development corporation. John leads JobsOhio’s strategic talent investments, assisting Ohio companies in JobsOhio’s ten priority sectors through investments that increase talent pipelines. Prior to working at JobsOhio, John served in the Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, where he led the DeWine-Husted Administration’s programming focused on developing tech talent and efforts to improve data-sharing and technology assets for the benefit of Ohio’s companies, workers, and students. John’s background also includes several roles at Columbus State Community College in enrollment management, experiential learning, and customized training. John has a Bachelors from Ohio University and an MBA from Ohio Dominican University. 

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Megan Riddlebarger

Megan Riddlebarger has spent her career educating, advocating, and learning.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, a Graduate Certificate in Education and Public Policy Leadership, and an Ohio Teaching license. As Executive Director of the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD), Ms. Riddlebarger works every day to improve the quality of life in Appalachian Ohio by leading a team of dedicated professionals who reach children, families, and seniors with a variety of supports including education and meaningful work, as well as numerous energy saving programs and services.   

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Jada Riley

Jada is a life-long resident of Southeastern Ohio, having been raised in Morgan County and now residing in Washington County. She graduated from Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication in 2017 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Communication Studies and a Writing Specialization.  Immediately following high school graduation, Jada started as the receptionist at Miba Bearings in McConnelsville and was promoted to Customer Service while earning her degree. She built connections in the Morgan County business community and developed a deep understanding of the manufacturing culture. In 2019, Jada received a position at United Bank in Parkersburg, WV where she was able to expand her customer service background.  Most recently Jada worked for the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce as Membership Manager. Conducting member visits in Washington County gave her a sense of the business community’s needs and motivated her to focus on economic development in her region. 

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Kristi Tanner

Kristi Tanner is a member of the JobsOhio leadership team responsible for the organization’s Economic Development Inclusion Strategy, which strives to attract capital, create jobs and grow talent for all Ohioans. The strategy is designed to drive investment and job creation in distressed areas of the state and support the growth of small and medium-sized businesses that are owned by an underrepresented population or located in a distressed area.  

Kristi has led economic development efforts at the local, regional and state levels, including establishing the governor’s first regional economic development office in Southern Ohio and serving as the assistant director and chief operating officer for the Ohio Department of Development. She is currently Vice Chair of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio and a past board member for One Columbus and Ohio Southeast. She graduated from Morehead State University in Kentucky with a bachelor’s degree in communication and marketing.  

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Jen Tinkler

Jen Tinkler serves as the Executive Director of Marietta Main Street since February 2022. She is an active member of several boards, including the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Historic Harmer Bridge Company Board of Directors, and Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Board of Directors. Before assuming her current role, she managed the Third Street Deli, gaining valuable experience in customer service and management.

Jen’s contributions to the community extend far beyond her professional life. She is President of the Catholic Women’s club at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Assumption. She recently received the Lindsley Community Partner Award for her partnership through programs at Marietta College. Jen’s athletic achievements were recognized with her induction into the Marietta College Athletic Hall of Fame. Through her diverse experiences, Jen has demonstrated a commitment to serving the Marietta community.

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Melissa Wales

Melissa Wales is the Executive Director of Stuart's Opera House, which is the cornerstone of the historic Public Square in Nelsonville, a regional leader in the arts community, a center for public expression, and an economic development partner for Southeastern Ohio. Stuart's Opera House presents a wide range of acclaimed regional, national, and international artists in our beautiful 144 year-old theater, produces the annual Nelsonville Music Festival (NMF) which brings thousands to Athens County annually, and offers a dynamic array of innovative arts education programming to our community, often free to participants for inclusive and equitable accessibility.

Melissa holds a Bachelor’s degree in both Music and Political Science from Heidelberg College (Tiffin, OH) and a Master’s Degree in International Development (with a focus on Appalachia) and Women’s Studies from Ohio University. A long-time patron and supporter of Stuart’s Opera House and NMF, she’s thrilled to be working with the excellent staff and volunteers of the premier arts organization in the region. She is passionate about the power and potential of the arts to benefit the health and wellness of individuals and communities, as well as the creative economy’s ability to have a transformational impact on Appalachia Ohio. She’s also passionate about social, economic, racial, LGBTQ+, and environmental justice work and learning how to integrate new frameworks and structures that prioritize inclusivity and equity in all aspects of operation. She’s also an enthusiastic bird and nature lover and, when not working at Stuart’s or spending time with her family, can be found wandering in the natural areas of our region, appreciating and advocating for the incredible biodiversity assets we have in Southeast Ohio.


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Mark Weinberg

Mark L. Weinberg is a professor of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University specializing in the areas of organizational strategy and public sector value creation. He is the founding and current Dean of Ohio University’s George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. In 2002, he was named the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Whisman Scholar and served in that capacity for three years. He currently is a member of the Ohio Innovation Funding Commission.

Mark received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Maryland and his doctorate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has taught a range of management courses including the capstone seminar in Public Administration, Public Budgeting, Financial Management, and Public Policy Analysis and published in these areas. He was on the faculty of the Ohio University Executive Leadership Institute from 1998 to 2010.

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Donniella Winchell

Donniella Winchell is currently the Executive Director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, chair of their Vintage Ohio wine festival and coordinator of the License to Steal national wine marketing conference. 

She is past chair of the WineAmerica State Advisory Committee and is active in Winegrape Growers of America, the Ohio Travel Association and serves on several other state and national committees. She is a member of the Ohio Agriculture and Ohio Wines Halls of Fame, a Rotary Harris Fellow, a member of the Knights of the Vine and the recipient of the Monteith Wine Award. In 2020, she was named an industry influential by Wine Business Magazine and in 2021 was award the Rich Smith Award of Excellence in American Wine. In 2022 the Wine Industry Network named her one of the industry’s ten most inspiring people. She has contributed to several national wine publications, writes weekly wine columns for a dozen Ohio print and online publications, authors a marketing e-letter called Tuesday Tidbits, speaks at numerous wine and tourism conference. She is an Adjunct Professor at Kent Ashtabula teaching wine related courses. Winchell is a graduate of Allegheny College with a BA in history and taught in Ohio public schools before retiring to raise a family. She has been Executive Director of Ohio Wines for over 40 years.

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Mike Workman

Mike Workman founded Contraxx Furniture in 1996 as an at-will cooperative that includes 200 family-owned furniture factories throughout the United States and Canada. The business impacts incomes of more than 1,000 blue-collar workers in rural communities.  

He formed his business in response to many American furniture manufacturers closing their factories in the 1990’s, leaving skilled workers and their families unemployed and severely eroding the tax base of many small, rural communities in Appalachia. 

Mike believes that every business owner should contribute to the well-being of her/his employees, and actively support philanthropy in her/his local community. 

Kathy Zook Square

Kathy Zook

Kathy Zook has worked in public service for Eastgate Regional Council of Governments for over two decades serving as the ARC Program Manager for the last 13 years.  She is a founding member and acting Secretary of Ohio Rural Development Alliance (ORDA) and has been appointed to the Development Districts Association of Appalachia (DDAA) Board in 2022. She is a graduate of the University of Akron and lives in Cortland, Ohio. As the ARC Program Manager, Kathy works with communities in her 3-county district to identify and prioritize projects to utilize Federal and State Appalachian funding to make investments to support economic and community development, critical infrastructure, workforce development, job training, and improved access to health care. 


About the EDA University Center

Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service was first established as an U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Center in 1996. The Voinovich School University Center is a joint project with Bowling Green State University which collectively serves 59 rural Ohio counties: 32 Appalachian counties and 27 counties in northwestern Ohio.

EDA University Centers are a partnership of the federal government and academia that makes the varied and vast resources of universities available to the economic development community.

The ongoing support received through the EDA assists the Voinovich School in providing direct business assistance services, applied research initiatives and an annual State of the Region Conference. The overall result is the positioning of the region for economic growth.

Get to Know the Conference Partners

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