Ohio General Assembly approves Appalachian investment

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Jun. 5—$500 million request by DeWine is granted

COLUMBUS — The Ohio General Assembly has approved a $500 million request by Gov. Mike DeWine to invest in the state's Appalachian counties.

The bill, passed by legislators on Wednesday, invests in 32 of the state's Appalachian counties, including Lawrence County, and can be used for purposes including infrastructure, tourism development, education and workforce training and community health.

"Isn't that something?" State Rep. Jason Stephens, R-93, whose district covers most of Lawrence County, said on Thursday of the news that it had passed both chambers at the Statehouse. "It's headed to the governor's desk."

Stephens, who voted for the proposal, said it initially passed with American Rescue Plan Act funds in the House, then was added to in the Senate.

"And we concurred on that," he said.

Stephens, who met with the governor at a breakfast prior to the State of the State address, where DeWine made the proposal, said he wanted to recognize Rep. D.J. Swearingen, Jr., R-89, of Huron, who he said was a sponsor and instrumental to the proposal passing.

Stephens noted that $15 million of the funds would be spent on planning and then the remaining $485 million would be rolled out for projects.

"This is unprecedented," he said. "It will be good for Ironton, good for Jackson and good for Gallipolis and the smaller cities in the district. It's a real opportunity that we've never seen before and it is a tribute to the governor and his vision."

Stephens said the planning would involve county commissioners and mayors saying what the priorities for their areas are.

"Then we put together a plan that will effectively and efficiently address things," he said. "It could be things like more parking spaces in Ironton, and they'll also hear from the little villages like South Point and Chesapeake — the kind of places that make living in Appalachia awesome."

Stephens said the goal is to make Appalachian Ohio not just competitive with Ohio and Kentucky, but internationally with China and Europe.

"We need to make sure the infrastructure is in place," he said, citing developments, such as Intel announcing Columbus as a site for manufacturing chips, and the need to be prepared for "spinoff" from that.

"This will help people," Stephens said. "If you care about the future, we need our counties and economy to be strong so we can build a brighter future."

DeWine thanked the general assembly for passing the package.

"As I stated during my State of the State address, this $500 million investment will support local initiatives to revitalize downtown districts, enhance quality of life and help rebuild the economies of Ohio's 32 Appalachian counties," DeWine said in a statement. "This investment will secure a better future for this region."

The County Commissioners Association of Ohio commended lawmakers for supporting the proposal.

"Ohio's Appalachian counties are deeply grateful for state lawmakers' support and are excited about the possibilities these funds will unlock," Tuscarawas County commissioner and CCAO second vice president Chris Abbuhl said in a statement. "Counties look forward to putting these funds to work to strengthen our communities, improve community health, prepare our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow and much, much more. It is a strong partnership that will serve Ohio well."

The plan received bipartisan support and was endorsed by all 96 county commissioners from the state's Appalachian counties, the CCAO said.