Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 15, 2012

Hannah calls for regionalism

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — A spirit of cooperation and regionalism could be the keys to future economic growth in the Ashland as well as Tri-State area as a whole, according to Ashland Alliance President Bill Hannah.

With only a few months on the job, Hannah said he has drawn conclusions “from four months of looking at it cold,” and developed confidence that Boyd and Greenup counties’ economic interests could be well served through increased partnerships with officials in southern Ohio and southwest West Virginia.

Hannah said the alliance serves as both a chamber of commerce and an economic development agency, and compared the chamber side of the office to a church, pointing out each has a staff and members to provide services for.

“Then there’s the economic development piece,” he said, before explaining he recently used placed dots on a map of the state in places where new business or industry has been located during the past five years. Only one of those dots landed in Boyd and Greenup counties and three were in the greater northeast portion of the bluegrass, he said, representing roughly 2 percent of the state’s new businesses. “In my business, that’s not real good.”

When he made a similar study with dots on maps of Ohio and West Virginia, Hannah said southern Ohio and southwest West Virginia reflect a similar single-digit rate for new business and industry locations.

“I firmly believe it could be a lot better,” he said, noting he has become familiar with Kentucky concepts including “the Winchester wall,” and “the golden triangle.” People in this area have made it clear there is “no love from Frankfort,” he said, while his economic-development counterparts in adjacent portions of Ohio and West Virginia have stated they get “no love” from Columbus or Charleston.

“If nobody loves us, why don’t we get together and love each other?” Hannah asked, adding the three states can compete with one another after working together to get business and industry to move into the region. “Once we get their interest then we can fight over who gets it.”

Citing a woman who works in downtown Ashland, but lives in Ironton and attends church in Huntington, Hannah said regional economic development will be felt at home. Noting the number of area business with the words Tri-State or Kyova in the title, Hannah said the area is already poised to be marketed as a region, providing new business or industry with a labor pool of 450,000 employees within a 65-mile range.

“This is not magical, mystical stuff. It’s blocking and tackling,” he said, citing area resources including the Ohio River, Interstate 64, building-ready properties and abundant railroad access. Tri-State Airport is another plus for the region, Hannah said, pointing out the airport was an outstanding example of local officials working together toward a common goal. If local officials in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia work together, Hannah said the region would also have triple the amount of political pull.

Hannah said he hopes the alliance will also be able to further develop local partnerships, such as an ongoing effort with Ashland Community and Technical College, while continuing with fact-finding efforts and adopting the regional economic development program.

“As it grows we all grow,” he said. “We have everything we need to be successful here.”

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.