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Fifth annual Appalachian Ohio State of the Region Conference explores economic development within businesses

M.C. Tilton
July 28, 2016

View the live tweet stream from the conference

Nearly 200 business and community leaders from across Southeastern Ohio gathered in Ohio University’s Baker Center on May 17, 2016 for the fifth annual Appalachian Ohio State of the Region.

This year’s State of the Region theme was “Exploring our Business Ecosystem,” facilitating discussions on non-bank financing; operational safety, assistance and design; filling the talent gaps in the workforce; and meeting human resources and regulatory requirements. Local leaders had the opportunity to network and learn from government officials about the resources available to aid their businesses, as well as explore the national issues affecting the region.

The conference began with remarks from OHIO President Roderick McDavis, who highlighted the importance of regional development by mentioning that TechGROWTH Ohio’s initiatives have brought in nearly one billion dollars to the area.

“The fact that we have had five State of the Regions shows that this is a critical region,” McDavis said.  “Let’s make Appalachia all that it can be.”

TechGROWTH Ohio Executive Director Lynn Gellermann hosted the non-bank finance session and centered on the personalities behind financing resources.  He said leaders need to decide on the specific type of business they want to create, and pursue funding related to that niche, whether it be a lifestyle company or a high-growth startup with big aspirations.

“Economic development is not just about the grants themselves, it's about the personnel behind the development,” Gellermann said. “You have to consider the collaborations, partnerships, infrastructures and incubators all involved with a financer. Still, the best kind of financing is your own, and that’s something TechGROWTH Ohio encourages for all its Southeast Ohio businesses.”

Gellermann also said businesses should consider the additional services they might receive from a financier in addition to funding, including online support and training services. He introduced the concepts of seed funding (the initial capital used to start a business, often out of the pocket of its owner) and angel funding (investments from affluent private individuals) to audience members new to the finance-seeking environment.

Also speaking on the non-bank finance panel were Tracy Allen, project finance director for JobsOhio, and Lolly Ravak, loan fund administrator of the Ohio Mid-Eastern Government Association (OMEGA). Ravak explained that organizations like OMEGA may be able to offer low-interest loans to businesses in conjunction with bank financing, which she said is an underutilized form of funding. Ravak also announced that OMEGA has been chosen to host the regional 166 loan program, which is another option for job-creating businesses looking for low-interest loans.

During the operational safety, assistance and design session, moderator Kathy Zook of the Eastgate Regional Council of Developments emphasized the use of advanced technologies in considering new business enterprises.

“Manufacturing needs to stay within this country with a focus on localization, especially with the incredible capacities we have with our own technologies like 3D printers,” Zook said. “If we keep up partnerships for resources in this region, we’ll keep development in our region without duplicating services across organizations.”

Jason Jolley, Voinovich School assistant professor and director of the OHIO Economic Development Administration University Center, spoke to the importance of filling talent gaps in the workforce during his session. Cheryl Hay of JobsOhio, who presented tips on finding potential areas of company personnel enhancement, agreed with Jolley on the necessity for focus on building personnel. “Talent development is what's going to drive successful and prolonged innovation in our industries,” she said.

Each session included a thorough question-and-answer period with audience members to focus on each attendee’s unique needs. The final session, Staying Legal: Meeting your HR and Regulatory Requirements, was especially audience-focused as business owners examined their accountability in a shifting American economy.

John Glazer, director of TechGROWTH Ohio, said he considered the conference a success for everyone involved. “We are partnering and leveraging to move this state forward as a network,” Glazer said. “The attendance we had at this conference and the mix of community and government leaders who care about this region shows that we have great potential to continue uplifting Southeastern Ohio’s economy.”

To view the live tweet stream of the conference, click here.

The Appalachian Ohio State of the Region conference is presented by Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs in cooperation with the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, the Ohio Mid-Eastern Government Association, the Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District, the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission, the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, and the Ohio University Economic Development Administration Center.