Chamber looks at Ironton

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2003

SOUTH POINT - Empty buildings and money being spent in the Tri-State area have become a reality in Ironton.

However, a group that met at the Greater Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning is seeking to make this a thing of the past.

Since October, officials at the Chamber, along with Ohio University's Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs, have been working with funding from an $80,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission on a technology demonstration project.

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Pat Clonch, executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, said this project is an effort to restore the city of Ironton's central business district.

The meeting which consisted of Clonch, Ralph Kline, Ironton-Lawrence County CAO community development manager, Bill Jett, services coordinator for the Workforce Development Resource Center, Jim Crawford, director of the Ohio University Southern's Center for Development and Matt Ward, Ironton economic development director amongst others. Amy K. Harries,

community entrepreneurship development manager for the Voinovich Center, explained how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software can be a tool

to attract business to the area by showing what types of business would be viable.

One program she introduced was Target Pro, which is used by major retailers. The program identifies the characteristics of consumers in a given area and gives their geographic location by using market analyses and Census data. It also identifies how the consumers in a given area spend their money. Using Target Pro, Harries developed a list of the types of consumers within a 30-minute drive to Ironton.

However, Target Pro may not be financially feasible for a small community. The program itself would cost several thousand dollars, Harries said. Because of its complicated nature, someone would have to be trained how to use it. To keep the data current, update fees are needed for the program.

Also, the data from Target Pro had some flaws. The data from Target Pro included a list of types of businesses in the 30-minute drive area, and this list read that there were no places to buy a ATV when one can be purchased in downtown Ironton. Businesses that sell more than one type of product identified on the Target Pro list, were listed with each product category they sell. Businesses such as a grocery store or a Wal-Mart could be listed more than once. Bookstores were listed as making approximately $2 million dollars in the area. However, Marshall University's bookstore would be included in this, Harries said.

Clonch also suggested expanding the scope of the Target Pro research to a 40-minute drive area.

"I see more Ironton people at the Huntington Mall than I do in Ashland," she said.

Harries said the Business Map program would provide geographic information about properties in which a business could locate. This program, she said, is much easier to use and less expensive, making it more financially feasible for a small community.

The group then agreed that the next course of action should be looking at the vacant buildings in Ironton and finding ways of filling them. Harries said an inventory of properties will be taken and GIS software will be used to point out properties available and possibly make them available online.

360 software, which gives a computer user a circular view around a property, could possibly be used to do this. This software is frequently used on Web sites such as to show a potential tenant what an entire room in a piece of real estate looks like.

Ward said many of the ideas discussed at the meeting reflect his own and also reflect what he is already doing since taking the city's job.

"This has reiterated what I have wanted to do from the beginning," he said.

One of the ideas discussed at the meeting was building a dormitory at Ohio University Southern, which Ward said he and Mayor Bob Cleary have already discussed. The Reciprocity Agreement that went into effect this year could increase the number of students wanting to attend OUS because with this agreement, students from Boyd, Carter, Elliott, Greenup, Lawrence, Lewis and Mason counties in Kentucky can now attend OUS as in-state students. These students may need a place to live in Ironton.

One problem, however, with the vacant buildings, Ward said, is absentee owners. There are good buildings in Ironton that are structurally sound which only need minor cosmetic work, he said. However, the city cannot move in a tenant until the absent owner relinquishes the property.

"It's a problem, a mess," he said.

Some of the crumbling buildings, Clonch said, may be of better use if they are torn down for parking.

The clock is ticking on this grant project. The group now has four months to complete their work, and their next meeting is scheduled for July 1 at 10:30 a.m. at the Chamber of Commerce.