Five-year plan adopted by E-Z board

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The blueprint is now in place to lead the Huntington-Ironton Empower-ment Zone through the final five years of its 10-year designation.

The EZ Board of Directors adopted Tuesday an updated strategic plan that outlined what has already been accomplished and the areas of focus through 2007.

In May, the board hired Benatec Associates, of New Cumberland, Penn., to conduct a 13-week study to update the strategic plan.

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Marjorie Ryan of Benatec met with elected officials, business leaders, schools boards, human resource managers, workforce development providers and others to get input on what the EZ has going for it and what can be done to improve the workforce.

The original plan was written in 1998 and everything in that plan has begun to be implemented. It focused on six areas: human resources, infrastructure, developable sites, job creation, creation of housing and workforce development.

Although far more funding was expected, the EZ has received $22 million to date and has been able to leverage this towards an additional $93 million for investment on the Huntington and Ironton communities.

Overall, the EZ has created or retained more than 3,000 jobs and trained more than 380 EZ residents, according to the strategic plan.

Local projects that have received EZ funding include The Point industrial park, renovations at the Marting Hotel, developing 50 affordable housing units on Storms Creek and 38 more in Ironton, the Ironton floodwall and streetscape projects, a workforce development partnership with Collins Career Center, approving job incentive dollars for entities like the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, funding a position with the Coalition for the Homeless and more.

The four goals of the update were to revise the demographic information using data from the 2000 census, to see how these individual strategic plans of school boards, chambers and business leaders will work with the Empowerment Zone,

see what can be done to improve the program and to identify new strategies and projects to be looked at between now and 2007.

"This will carry us through for four more years. It will focus our efforts so we don't get spread to thin since we have limited resources," said Cathy Burns, EZ executive director. "But, I think the goals are doable."

The updated strategic plan roughly outlines areas of emphasis and ways to continue the original areas of focus.

Approximately $3 million was allocated to five of the six original areas for the next four years but the actual dollar amounts will still be adjusted

- $400,000 to developable sites, $1.3 million for job creation, $200,000 for infrastructure improvements, $600,000 for workforce development, $200,000 for human resources and $300,000 for emergency needs.

Two primary areas of focus will be the downtown areas of both cities and developable sites such as The Point and the KineticPark in Huntington.

"The downtowns are what make our cities unique," Burns said. "We want to do what we can to stabilize these areas."

Funding for the future of the Empowerment Zones remains in jeopardy because President George W. Bush has not supported the initiative. Congress did approve the fifth year of allocation in February. The Huntington-Ironton Zone has been allocated $1.97 million for 2003-2004.

The House adopted a bill that included $1 million for for 2004-2005

for each of the round II Empowerment Zones, but a Senate bill did not include funding so the issue is expected to go to a conference committee this week or next, Burns said.

"We are still optimistic that there will be something put into the legislation," Burns said. "We sent a letter to the House and Senate and were successful in getting several members to sign including Senate Majority leader Bill Frist."

Ralph Kline, community development director for the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, said that an often overlooked aspect of the program is the way it has lead to a united community spirit that proves that "we are a single region divided only by three states and a river."

"When the money is gone, and it is going fast, that will be a footprint that remains."