Looking Ahead to 2009

Published 11:18 pm Saturday, January 3, 2009

A New Year. Will it be one of new growth and opportunity? Lawrence County leaders think so.

From a new medical complex to (possibly) new jobs to new infrastructure, there are bright spots on Lawrence County’s horizon.

Local leaders hope the bright spots become solid achievements in 2009.

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Good for what ails us

Many local leaders agreed one of the brightest spots on the horizon is the medical complex planned for Ironton.

A group of area entities including St. Mary’s Medical Center from Huntington, W.Va., announced plans for a medical complex at State Route 141 and U.S. 52 in the fall of last year. If this medical venture is successful, it could evolve into a hospital — something Lawrence County doesn’t have at the moment and many believe sorely needs.

“It’s going to be tremendous for the residents of our county, to be able to go to a hospital in our county,” Lawrence County Commissioner Doug Malone said. “And its going to employ a few people, but the medical care is the best thing.”

When the medical complex was announced, the target for a groundbreaking was spring or summer of 2009.

Open for business

The late President Calvin Coolidge once said, “The business of America is business.”

Many local leaders believe the businesses in Lawrence County with the strongest possibility of future success are small businesses and recently more than a dozen prospective business owners approached Ironton leaders with their dreams of opening shops in the city’s now-vacant storefronts.

With an eye toward nurturing those future successes, the city of Ironton, the Huntington-Ironton Empowerment Zone and Unlimited Future, Inc., are offering a course called Business Planning for Profit, aimed at giving prospective business owners training in how to actually plan and operate their own store.

Ironton Economic Development Director Bill Dickens said when the course was first developed, he anticipated having 10 people take the class. But the popularity of the idea mushroomed quickly and interest exceeded expectation.

“Not only did we get 10 interested parties, we had to go back to Kathy Burns (at the empowerment zone) and she agreed to fund five more slots so now we have a total of 15 people taking the class,” Dickens said.

The empowerment zone is picking up a large part of the cost of the class for each 15 participants. The staff of Unlimited Future will teach it.

Dickens said class participants include people who have expressed an interest in opening a baked good shop, a specialty toy store, a specialty tee-shirt shop, a bicycle shop, an antiques store and a Longaberger-style basket store.

“We all tend to agree if we’re going to turn our downtown around, it will be with these niche-type businesses. We can’t compete with the big-box stores,” Dickens said.


Malone said he thinks the recently announced plans by Chatham Steel to build a plant in the western end of the county will be a bright spot on the horizon in 2009. He also looks forward to the planned Liebert expansion and said he thinks 2009 will be a good year for Ironton.

The commissioner may have a point: Dickens said he has a purchase agreement to sell the former Honeywell administrative building at the South Ironton Industrial Park.

The building was donated to the Ironton Port Authority by Honeywell. Dickens declined to name the potential buyer at this time but said the proceeds from such a sale will be used, in part, for the renovation of the old Ro-Na Theater.

While the renovation of the old theater will take years — its a lengthy process to find funds and rehabilitate an old building — the proceeds from the Honeywell sale will help.

Dickens said he is in preliminary discussions with an entity that may locate a distribution facility somewhere in the city and several sites are under consideration. He is also in preliminary talks with a manufacturing company that could locate at the industrial park and employ 25-30 people.

He did not want to give specifics at this time.

Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation, said the major bright spot on the horizon for The Point industrial park is the continued work to have an intermodal facility there.

“Our highways are so congested. Seventy-one percent of freight is moved by truck and that figure is projected to double by 2025,” Dingus said.

An intermodal facility would allow freight to be shipped by water and rail as well by truck.


Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens said he is pleased that in spite of the trouble with the national economy, Lawrence County is weathering the storm better than many of its neighbors. The latest economic figures show Lawrence had the fourth best jobless rate in November among Ohio’s 88 counties — 5.5 percent, lower than neighboring Scioto, Athens and Meigs counties.

“Granted, it’s a relative figure but this is still a good number — not that it can’t be better,” Stephens said.

Stephens said one of the reasons why Lawrence County seems to be suffering less than some other areas is that Lawrence’s economy has become more diversified since the 1980s when big industries were the norm here and when they closed, they idled hundreds or even thousands of workers.

Quality of life

It is viewed as both an economic development tool and a quality of life issue: the Union-Rome Sewer District expansion should be completed and the new plant operational by fall of this year.

The new plant will have twice the capacity of the old one, meaning greater ability to handle additional growth in the eastern end — something local leaders hope will continue. It will also improve the quality of life for those who live in the sewer district.

Stephens said another potential bright spot is the construction of two new AT&T cellular telephone towers, one in Getaway and the other in Scottown.

Stephens said he is hopeful cell phone companies will see the need for — and the money to be made by — investing more heavily in Lawrence County with towers in Pedro and other areas where service is non-existent.

Ironton’s riverfront park is likely to take another step forward early this year. Dickens said he anticipates the city will be awarded a roughly $260,000 Clean Ohio grant that will pay for the required environmental assessment of the property.

Once the site is declared clean, city leaders will approach the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for grant funding to pay for design and construction of the project.

City leaders want to take a 17-acre tract of land along the riverfront and turn it into a recreational venue with an amphitheater, picnic tables, walking and biking trails and restrooms.

“Ironton needs it and in my opinion certainly deserves it,” Dickens said.

Demolition of the old River Valley Hospital building may be completed by the end of January, enabling old land to have a new use.

Once the site is cleared, consulting engineers Burgess and Niple will write a “no further action letter” (a bit misleading since the letter will probably be a two-inch-thick report) declaring the site clean and ready for reuse.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has six months to respond to that letter. After the OEPA signs off on the cleanup and demolition, the site can be subdivided and used as new housing sites for as many as 16 new upscale homes. Dickens said he hopes to have the first lots sold in late summer.

“I’m very pleased with the project,” Dickens said.

J&L Management is conducting the demolition. The property is owned by Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital and will be donated to the Ironton Port Authority once the land is declared clean and ready for reuse. The Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization is a partner in the project.

Malone said he anticipates more hard work — and positive results from such civic groups as Ironton in Bloom and the Operation TLC, in Chesapeake, both of which have undertaken beautification efforts in their communities, as well as the Lawrence-Scioto Solid Waste Management District.

Malone pointed out that the SWMD has been aggressive in pursuing illegal dumpers and the hard work is beginning to pay off.

Beautification efforts and aggressive measures to enforce basic cleanliness are quality of life issues that Malone sees as imperative to the future of Lawrence County.

“I’m looking forward to a lot of good things in 2009,” Malone said.


Dingus said the one bright spot on the horizon that he sees is a continued spirit of cooperation among Lawrence County’s various government, social and business leaders. Infighting can doom even those projects with the best potential.

Lawrence County’s leaders these days are all singing from the same songbook and the harmony is helpful if the county is to move forward.

“There are unified goals in the private sector and the public sector,” Dingus said. “That’s a very powerful part (of success),” he said.