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Economic development takes patience, focus

It has come to my attention that some of the citizens of Ironton are curious about the pace of economic development, i.e., why more isn’t happening sooner. Much is heard about action in other parts of the county and we all know more good paying jobs are badly needed.

Much is being done to get those jobs, but it isn’t easy. Ironton is in competition with the rest of the country (and the world) to get them.

The money to create attractive sites for companies is in short supply and slow to materialize, even when our proposal efforts are successful.

The city’s successful industrial past has left us with many old buildings and land which is encumbered with industrial waste which must be identified and removed or otherwise prevented from presenting a health hazard.

Those of you who grew up here in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s remember when many homes were black when the wind blew from the railroad and white when it blew from the cement plant. The smell of paychecks from the Solvay and chemical plants was with us always.

When I arrived back here after a 50 years absence, I could see that much has been done to provide affordable housing. Somewhat blighted areas have been replaced by neat rows of attractive dwelling units and the old Marting Hotel has been rescued from dilapidation.

That was very important, but it took many years and a lot of hard work to accomplish.

Recently, construction of new schools and realignment of the school system will help make Ironton attractive to business. Repairs to the water and sewer systems and the future separation of the storm and sanitary sewers will do likewise.

But it won’t be cheap and it won’t happen overnight.

We will be repaying loans on those projects for many years. Our thanks are due to city leaders who have had the courage and good judgment to take these very necessary steps.

All this pertains to economic development. Industry leaders will not set up or move their operations and people into an ugly town with sub-par schools.

They know that quality-of-life issues are paramount when recruiting workers and staff members. They also know that business success and profitability depend on the quality, morale and effort of those workers and staff members. In my experience, staffing is the most important function of successful management.

The next areas of needed improvement are the downtown area and the provision of a hotel here. Planning and some progress has been made on revitalizing the downtown in the past twenty years, but much more needs to be done. But doing so will take a lot of money and a lot of work and time to get that money.

Something as relatively simple as opening the dialysis center on North Second Street will have taken more than two years by the time it opens – very soon!

That project didn’t involve getting the State or anyone else involved and the dialysis folks and the building owner seemed anxious to move forward from the start.

It just takes time to get the planning, financing, contracting, construction and fitting out done.

When public money is involved, whether it is city, county, state or federal, appropriated or grant, it seems every step in the process must be reviewed and agreed to by everybody, his brother and his mother-in-law.

Often changes along the way to anything must go back to the beginning and agreed to all over again. If some regulation or statute changes or election of new people occurs, additional delay is involved.

It bears little resemblance to the process of building a garage apartment on the back of your lot. In particular, months, or years in some cases, are necessary to address environmental concerns before funding can be obtained and work commenced. Ironton’s strong industrial past makes us particularly susceptible in this area.

Despite these hurdles, city and county leaders are working diligently and hope to see major progress in the coming months and years.

Your public servants are just as frustrated as you are with the pace of economic development.

But Fighting Tigers and Flyers don’t quit and neither shall we!

Paul Woods

Chairman

Ironton Port Authority