Appalachia#039;s future in promoting its strengths

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 20, 2004

SHERIDAN - Southeast Ohio may be a wonderful place to live, but a state official says the key to its economic future may be in getting the word out.

"Marketing is absolutely critical to the future success of any community," said T.J. Justice, director of the Governor's Office of Appalachia, adding that marketing a community helps promote traditional business development as well as tourism in an area.

"We recognize tourism is a driving part of our economy," Justice said. "Tourism is a big part of the economy in Appalachia. The tourism dollar goes a long way."

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Justice spoke Friday to members of the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce during a meeting at the Grandview Inn and Suites.

"It's a beautiful region," Justice said. "It really touches you to see the wonderful tourism attractions and the people working hard through the region."

Justice said an increased interest in Appalachian tourism means great potential for creating opportunities for outside dollars to come to a community.

"It's great to have industrial sites, industrial parks, training centers Š but we have to do a better job of marketing our communities," he said. "We must work on getting the message out that this is a great place to live and work."

Viviane Khounlavong, Lawrence County's Convention and Visitors Bureau Director, said interest in Appalachian tourism is growing.

"Tourism 15 or 20 years ago was probably minute," she said. "I think people in our area and people nationally are traveling more."

Khounlavong said the are has great tourism potential, but the sites need to be developed further.

She pointed to the floodwalls in Ironton, for example. They are great tourism attractions, she said, but "ours need a lot of work."

"The iron furnaces and the Underground Railroad history here, both are important to our heritage and culture," she said. "We need to preserve that. It's what makes us unique."

The Governor's Office of Appalachia (GOA) launched a Web site approximately a year ago to promote Ohio's 29 Appalachian counties: Ohio receives approximately $4.4 million annually from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The state matches the federal funds as well.

Recent GOA projects in Lawrence County include partnering with the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation to help extend infrastructure into The Point industrial park in South Point and work on a wastewater treatment facility in Coal Grove. Another project under development with Ohio University would extend wireless broadband Internet access to the area.

Justice said ARC funding is "under attack in Washington."

"It's important that your congressmen hear from you that the ARC is critical," he said. "Lawrence County has benefited from this. Lawrence County will continue to benefit from this."

"Yes, we have our challenges. Yes, we have our needs," Justice said. "But, you know what? Our people want to work. This is a region I believe in."