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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Economic Development

It’s not always pretty, rarely action-packed, and likely wouldn’t make for the most compelling movie screen play, but creating a long-term regional strategy is an essential piece of any economic development plan. I traveled to Columbus recently to learn more about one such project. This one involves a 25-county region in Ohio and how it can leverage shale development (i.e., oil and gas drilling) to expand manufacturing employment, an industry sector where that region is strong.

So how do you get leaders and planners from 25 counties to develop this plan? Turns out there are many players helping facilitate the process. For one, the Economic Development Administration1 (EDA) issued a planning grant to The Ohio State University Extension office and four EDA regional groups, which make up the 25-county area. OSU Extension staff provide some data analysis and technical assistance to help facilitate the planning process, while each of the four EDA regions sets up meetings with stakeholders to discuss what a regional, manufacturing-centric development plan involving shale drilling would look like.

The four regions themselves are clusters of Ohio counties experiencing indirect and direct impacts from shale development in Ohio. Under indirect, the two northern regions encompass counties around Youngstown and Akron-Canton where fewer oil and gas wells are being drilled, but manufacturing and other support services for the industry area expanding. More directly impacted are the two southern regions, centered around Athens and Guernsey Counties where the bulk of the region’s oil and gas drilling, pipeline construction, and processing facilities construction are taking place. What all four regions have in common is a strong manufacturing cluster, which they hope to capitalize on as the oil and gas industry develops further.

One wild card is the recent drop in oil and gas prices, and how that price movement might impact future development. While I got a look at just a single point of the planning process during my visit to Columbus, the group continues its work and expects to complete their strategy by the end of 2016.


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Footnote

  1. The EDA is a federal agency housed in the US Department of Commerce with a focus on providing grants and technical assistance to economically distressed communities and helping them develop regional economic development strategies.

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