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Voice in Columbus

COLUMBUS — The movers and shakers of Columbus had the full attention of Lawrence County on Thursday.

More than 75 business representatives, economic development members and elected officials joined the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce at the capital to focus on issues important to the region – transportation, economic development and legislative.

The trip was part of the chamber’s popular Legislative Day.

Now in its 17th year, the annual conference allows state senators, representatives and other political figures in Columbus to sit down one-on-one with Lawrence County to discuss problems, possible resources and solutions affecting the county in three separate, two-hour breakout sessions.

Thursday’s keynote speaker at an afternoon luncheon in the statehouse’s atrium was Interim Director of Development Mark Barbash. Chief architect of economic development strategy for Gov. Ted Strickland, Barbash talked about the challenges currently facing the state and how it can turn around.

“Economic development is a critical component to growing the state,” Barbash told the lunch crowd. “We currently have 800 prospects under consideration which could result in more than 35,000 jobs.”

Some items Barbash focused on in his speech were the day-to-day impact the economy has on government, the importance of making existing businesses a priority and the elimination of “boundary thinking” when it comes to expanding in the Tri-State area.

In closing, Barbash said that despite the enormous challenges, Ohio is about its residents.

“We have challenges with limited resources and a tough economy, but the assets the state has are its people.”

Following Barbash’s speech, representatives gave updates on their breakout sessions.

Gary Cochenour, project manager of the Ohio Department of Transportation, and Ralph Kline of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization gave updates on the still-unfunded, $140 million Chesapeake Bypass and a 2012 timetable on the reconstruction of the Ironton-Russell Bridge which now is funded in part by ODOT’s major bridge program.

Cochenour said in total Lawrence County received nearly $20 million worth of construction projects for fiscal year 2009.

On the economic development side, Dan Mooney, president of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, highlighted several job growth opportunities within the county along with in-state and out-of-state partnerships including development at The Point industrial park in South Point and the proposed St. Mary’s clinic at State Route 141 and U.S. 52 in Ironton.

The breakout session also focused on the current wage structures and its underemployment issues.