A $2.2 million grant was awarded to Ohio University’s Voinovich School in January by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help fund economic acceleration and new industry in the surrounding Appalachian region.

The Voinovich school is working with the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association (OMEGA) and Buckeye Hills Regional Council (BHRC) to help the region move away from a coal-centered economy, according to OU’s website.

The grant is supposed to help encourage the use of opportunity zones to improve economies in the area, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“This $2.2 million federal grant to Ohio University is great news for our economic development efforts in Southeast Ohio and our workers and families in the region. Opportunity Zones boost investments and jobs in struggling communities throughout Ohio which is exactly what Congress intended to accomplish when we created this incentive in the 2017 tax reform law,” Sen. Rob Portman said in the press release.

The Voinovich School and their partners are helping communities within those zones develop their economic planning, Jason Jolley, director of the Master of Public Administration program at the Voinovich School, said.

All of these communities are at different stages of need, Jolley said. Using their partnership with OMEGA and BHRC, OU will work to help these communities regardless of what stage they are in economically. 

“What we're going to help them with might be very advanced, maybe legal assistance or, real estate development assistance, design assistance. There may be other zones which are not at all at the level of being investable as projects,” Jolley said. “And we're going to help them with more broad-based planning, more broad based visioning with their communities about what they're looking to do both for community development and economic development projects.”

All of these changes will be taking place under an OU-lead program called Resilience Initiative for Southeastern and Eastern Ohio (RISE Ohio), according to BHRC’s website. In addition to the USEDA funding received for the program, RISE Ohio has also received $250,000 from JobsOhio and $300,000 in match funding through the Voinovich School’s Appalachian New Economy Partnership.

Although this project was only funded in January, it has already been kicked off through working with Coshocton County, Jolley said. 

The first steps will be working with Coshocton County to identify the immediate needs of the county that can be addressed by RISE Ohio. A Voinovich School employee has already been placed in the Coshocton County Port Authority office, Jolley said.

“Omega just released yesterday a call for proposals for an economic recovery coordinator too. So they're soliciting proposals for someone, it could be a firm or a person, to fill that role to begin to work immediately on some of the recovery efforts in Coshocton,” Jolley said.

However, Coshocton will not be the only county OU and their partners will work with. This is a three year project and other first steps taken will be to identify which areas have the best opportunities for this collaboration to be of use, Jolley said.

“Our partners at OMEGA and Buckeye Hills are going to be contracting for services for consultants to provide that specific assistance to communities. Those services again could be legal services, they could be real estate development services, they can be planning services,” Jolley said. “They're really going to manage the community aspects of determining what the community needs and then contract to get that legal assistance.”