Port Authority looks to future

Rising early for the annual meeting of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority, a crowd of more than 80 business owners, local government representatives and development directors spent Tuesday morning recognizing past successes and looking to the future of industry in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“We exceeded 2016 goals for leads and inquiries, site placements and expansion visits,” explained Jim Black, the port authority’s executive director. “It was a year of uncertainty, but we were busy in handling inquiries from both local companies and those outside our area looking to expand. But with the uncertainty of the election hanging in the balance many of those companies put things on hold.”

At the end of 2016, the port authority reported 92 sites and buildings available in Washington County. A total of 84 leads and inquiry responses pushed the port to 40 percent higher than its original goal for the year. The port authority also achieved its goal of generating 12 site placements in the county last year, creating 75 new jobs.

With an eye on 2017, Black said “cautious optimism” is to be had.

“The future of the oil and gas business remains the question with falling prices, but we continue to look to be a part of economic development,” he said. “We continue to hear from industries looking to expand that the biggest challenge for coming here has been the provision of infrastructure. They need the water, sewer, electric, natural gas and fiber optics in place.”

With the focus on infrastructure, Black said the port authority has seven goals for the coming year: to prevent losses of major area employers, sponsor one bond issuance and two tax increment financing plans, bring eight new businesses to Washington County, find tenants for 16 buildings in the county, attend meetings with top economic development partners, obtain 90 marketing leads and raise $120,000 from donors.

“But I don’t like to call that fundraising,” said David Haas, chairman of the port authority’s finance committee. “It’s supporting the development of this area. It’s an investment and we run a really tight ship.”

Also on Tuesday, the port authority directors also recognized the 20 years of service of Jack Haessly, president of Haessly Hardwood Lumber Co., who retired from the port authority’s board at the end of January.

“In the tough times my dad would say, ‘we’ll get up earlier, work harder and do the best we can do.’ That’s what it takes in the world we live in,” said Haessly. “I have been very fortunate to have worked with the port authority over the past several years and am overwhelmed with these acknowledgments.”

Greg Kozera, director of marketing for Shale Crescent USA, told those gathered that there is hope for industrial-and thus economic-development in the area. Shale Crescent USA is a privately-funded advantage comprised of industry members, universities, consultants and more with the goal of showcasing the area to potential employers.

“The biggest challenge for all of us is that you have to keep hope,” said Kozera. “We need the enthusiastic populace to stay upbeat and sell the valley to these manufacturing and petrochemical companies looking to expand their business.”

Kozera said he will be attending a petrochemical conference in Texas later in March to pitch the amenities of the region to just such companies.

“We’re trying to let the world know that if you want to expand, the best place to do it is in the shale crescent where natural gas is cheap and the river provides transportation, easy access to your markets and the water needed for processing,”said Kozera.

“If we bring these companies back to Marietta and Parkersburg, then we’ll see not only those jobs rise, but that economic prosperity filter down as the average $94,000 salaried petrochemical job motivates people to go out and eat more, spend more on flowers and gifts, and provide an influx of income to all in the area.”

From The Marietta Times  |  March 1, 2017