Brown hears concerns

Published 10:53 am Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The junior senator from Ohio came to town and got an earful when he sat down with civic and business leaders Monday afternoon.

It was all a part of a roundtable discussion Sen. Sherrod Brown conducted at Ohio University Southern asking how can the federal government help out Lawrence County.

As to how much help was wanted depended on where you sat in the caucus room. For some long-established entrepreneurs the refrain was “less is more.”

Email newsletter signup

When Brown asked Carl Grover of Engines Inc., a South Point-based manufacturer of railcar parts, steel mill rolls and mining equipment, what can the government do to help jobs, the answer was succinct.

“Mostly stay out of the way,” Grover said.

That began a recapping of experiences some at the table had experienced with government regulations, red tape and paperwork.

On a recent massive expansion at McGinnis Inc., Rick Griffith told the senator it took the barge company three years to get a permit to move dirt. Carl Darling said it took 10 years for a permit for the Haverhill area plant of Americas Styrenics, a joint venture of Dow Chemical and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.

“It was all paperwork,” Darling said. “It was the nitpicking way (the rules) are enforced.”

However, Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship detailed a case to the senator on the need for federal help with infrastructure woes that include overhauling the city’s water and sewage systems and an aging water tank that leaks 300,000 gallons a day.

Along with that Blankenship explained the necessity for a new Ironton-Russell bridge.

“This is very crucial to our city,” he said. “We are doing everything we can do. We need that extra assistance.”

County Commissioner and Rock Hill teacher Tanner Heaberlin, representing education at the table, said there are huge technology gaps for students in the county, especially in rural areas. He also discussed the dissatisfaction with the federally mandated “No Child Left Behind” program, which he said made teachers feel that “they have to teach to the test.”

Ohio River Bank chief Jodi Rowe-Collins, the only woman at the table, said the foreclosure problem had hit the county, but not to the extent it has swept across the state or the nation.

“This region is not typical of Ohio,” Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the county’s chamber and development group, said. “We are tied into the West Virginia economy.”

Defense contract entrepreneur Rob Slagel gave the roundtable one of its bright spots when he said he had talked that day to the leaders of New Steel Inc., the American arm of the Russian steel company that proposes a steel mill at Haverhill.

Slagel reported that the project was on track and not expected to be affected by the current economic downturn. In fact, plants of that size that take two to three years to build can benefit from an economic slump.

By the time the mill is ready, the cyclical nature of business can be in an upswing, he said.