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(L to R) John Molinaro, president and CEO of the APEG, Ohio University President Roderick McDavis, Michelle Decker, CEO of Rural Action, U.S. Small Business Administration Deputy Administrator Douglas Kramer

Ohio University Voinovich School, APEG partner on $2.5M SBA award

Appalachian Ohio wood product industry funded through economic development initiative

Daniel Kington
October 16, 2015

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced on Oct. 15 the addition of three new clusters to the portfolio of communities it supports through the Regional Innovation Clusters initiative. Among these new additions is the Appalachian Ohio Wood Products Cluster, which will serve 32 Appalachian Ohio counties and will be administered by the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG).

“Clusters are public-private partnerships that are driving innovation and job creation in our most promising regional hubs,” Deputy Administrator of the SBA, Douglas Kramer explained during the announcement at Ohio University Inn in Athens.  “SBA has built a strategic infrastructure of financing and consulting resources in key regions to help new companies launch and small companies grow, particularly in underserved communities across the country.”

SBA described the initiative as a “spectacular opportunity” noting “the regional wood products industry has a nearly identical geographic footprint as the coal sector.”  The award is part of the inter-agency Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative, designed to assist communities impacted by changes in the coal economy.  

The SBA awarded $500,000 the first year, which can be renewed four additional years for a total of $2.5 million. These funds will assist APEG in partnership with Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and local non-profit Rural Action to improve manufacturing productivity; provide industry workforce training, mentoring and counseling services; offer export assistance; and conduct industry research.

Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs will research and discover new markets and technologies to extend the wood industry, as well as build a database to connect cluster participants with suppliers and export opportunities.  Dr. Jason Jolley, Master of Public Administration program director and assistant professor with the Voinovich School, will lead the partnership with APEG, as the School provides the research necessary to best serve the Appalachian Region.

 “The SBA received more than 40 applications for the Regional Innovation Cluster program, and we are honored to be one of the three awards. The Voinovich School has more than 20 years of experience in collaborative research projects with numerous entities in the region.  This grant provides an opportunity to take our expansive work in this area and continue to make a difference in the economy and lives of the residents of Appalachian Ohio, ” Jolley said.

Ohio University President Roderick McDavis affirmed the value of both Ohio University and the Voinovich School to the Appalachian Ohio region. “Ohio University is an anchor institution working with regional partners to position the state of Ohio for long-term economic prosperity and economic resilience,” President McDavis stated. “Voinovich School faculty and staff are continually collaborating with regional partners to support economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship throughout southeast Ohio. Today’s SBA investment announcement is reflective of these efforts.”

The wood products sector is one of the state’s top five manufacturing sectors for projected employment growth through 2020. While the area’s wood products industry has particular strength in furniture manufacturing, this cluster’s industry focus includes a number of sub-sectors, including veneer and plywood manufacturing, flooring and engineered wood manufacturing.

Kramer stated that he is proud of SBA’s ability to provide this funding “where it is most needed.” Kramer went on to state, “That gives me great comfort – knowing that the grant will be of good use.”

For more information on the SBA’s Regional Innovations Clusters, visit www.sba.gov/clusters.