Striking up a conversation with Andy Kuhn ’05 about the potential of the Mid-Ohio Valley, it’s clear that he’s a man on a mission — and he’s not the only Pioneer on that journey.
Kuhn, who was hired as the Executive Director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority last year, has been busy gathering data about Washington County and the surrounding communities, as well as forging partnerships with other groups that are dedicated to improving life in Southeast Ohio through economic development.
One such ally comes from a background similar to Kuhn’s. Bret Allphin ’01 is the Development Director for Buckeye Hills Regional Council and has collaborated with Kuhn on identifying specific traits of Southeast Ohio that would prove attractive to companies looking for a new place to call home. Buckeye Hills serves eight counties in Southeast Ohio, assisting communities in addressing their needs by making connections to state and federal resources that can improve the overall quality of life for residents.
When Allphin learned there was an opening in the Port Authority office, he contacted Kuhn, who was working for the Wake Board of County Commissioners in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I reached out to Andy in late 2016 about the opening because I knew what he was doing [for Wake County],” Allphin says.
Kuhn was working with county-wide staff and management, and “well-intentioned commissioners who were really trying to help that community manage its growth effectively and, at the same time, provide the high-level services that people in the area came to expect — from transit to green space/open space parks and bonds to managing school expectations to overall waste management, solid waste management … you name it, they had to do it all.”
When he began his role at the Port Authority, Kuhn began looking at areas that he could apply what he learned in Wake County and could loop in other organizations also dedicated to making impacts in the community. Downtown development projects, incubator programs and special programs such as the Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneurship Expo all feed into the underlying goal of economic stability and sustainable growth.
In addition to finding areas that could be improved easily or relatively quickly, Kuhn and Allphin began looking at long-term projects that could lead to economic development.
“Our goal from a Port perspective is to build more shovel-ready sites in our area,” Kuhn says. “We want to have a 30- to 35-acre site where a business can move in and it has all of the utilities in place so all that is needed from them is to construct or, if necessary, to have a building that is retrofitted that would allow a company to inhabit it immediately on a lease, to be able to grow and create 30 to 40 jobs out of it.”
Both alumni agree that Marietta College is one of the aspects that make the region attractive to prospective business. As the College branches into the community with more frequency — such as being a First Fridays host, spearheading entrepreneurship programs and exemplifying strategic growth — community partners and neighbors have taken notice of the many benefits that the College brings to Washington County. Additionally, prospective businesses know that Marietta College’s current students and recent graduates provide a direct link to highly educated young professionals.
“I want to continue to highlight those and help break down any remaining barriers there are so we build a spirit of cooperation and the community sees the true economic benefit and value that the College brings and we use that as an inertia tool to grow our community and bring more attractive businesses into the area because of our talent pool,” Kuhn says.
As their lists of projects continue to develop, Kuhn and Allphin know there is a tight-knit supporting cast — from their offices to the local Chamber of Commerce to groups like Marietta Main Street — ready to help them pursue those goals.
“Obviously, I care about this community, and I know Andy does as well,” Allphin says. “We both know it’s going to take collaboration and attention to our communities and their specific needs to make and keep this region of the state economically strong.”
- Gi Smith