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Port authority attempting to draw #039;back room#039; jobs

Ironton Port Authority Chairman Bill Dickens is tired of seeing jobs go elsewhere.

As new call centers and paper processing businesses, which Dickens calls "back room jobs," have sprung up in Ashland, Ky., Huntington, W.Va., Jackson and Portsmouth, Dickens decided that sort of business would be a perfect fit for his town.

"The quickest way to bring jobs to Ironton, a way that will benefit downtown merchants, the way that will benefit the landlords is to try to fill some of these buildings, such as the old National City Bank building, as well as several other buildings with what we're calling 'back room jobs,'" Dickens said.

If a recent meeting with Sen. Tom Niehaus (R-14th) and the Ohio Department of Development is any indication, the IPA won't be trying to entice these employers alone.

The IPA held a special meeting with the senator and ODOD in Columbus on Thursday to try to find out what the state government could do to help bring jobs into the Ironton area.

What officials were able to offer was a lot of advice, a strategy for the city and some leads

that the Ironton Port Authority can look into.

"My role is more just as a facilitator," Niehaus said.

"The state does have a lot of resources. Really, the focus of the meeting was to bring those resources together to allow the port authority the chance to ask questions and to see how the state could assist and become a partner in this effort."

The ODOD informed the IPA of some incentive programs and tax reform packages that it could offer, as well as some of the foundations that focus on revitalizing urban areas.

Among several other ideas, Niehaus suggested that Ironton apply for some funding from the tobacco settlement.

At Monday night's meeting of the IPA, Dickens said he was extremely encouraged by the meeting with ODOD and Niehaus, who asked to meet with the group again in 45 days.

"I have to think that they meeting came off in such a manner that they're going to do what they can to help us help ourselves," Dickens said. "And that's all we're asking for."

Although Dickens knows that "back room" businesses have a stigma of being short-term, the chairman emphasizes that he's looking for more than a quick fix.

"I think it's more than short-term," Dickens said. "It can be done in a much shorter time span than going out and building a plant. But I see it as long-term also, there's no reason we can't bring these jobs here and keep them here for many years."

The IPA is not starting from square one. A few tools are already in place including being part of the Huntington-Ironton Empowerment Zone, which supplies more economic tools to work with.

Soon, the IPA may also have a property to offer incoming business as they are currently in negations to have a former Ironton employer donate their facility to the group.

Niehaus said that he was encouraged by groups such as the IPA willing to work to help draw jobs to Ironton.

"I think Ironton is blessed by having so many people willing to volunteer their time to work on projects that will improve the community," Niehaus said. "I really commend the port authority for the work that they've done in trying to create an atmosphere that will encourage businesses to expand and the relocate to Ironton."

One of the first steps Dickens hopes to take to attract business is to improve the signage around the four entrances to the city from U.S. 52.

The port authority is also working on their Web site and a video to help promote the city in an attempt to make it the first choice the next time one of these "back room" employers starts looking for a location.