Solutions to economic challenges are rarely simple, especially in Appalachian Ohio. But starting in fiscal year 2001, a modest dedicated appropriation in the state budget called the Appalachian New Economy Partnership (ANEP) through the Ohio Department of Higher Education provided funding to Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs that would ultimately prove to be one of the driving forces to propel a new era in regional economic growth and opportunity.
In fact, since 2012, the Voinovich School has generated nearly $2.5 billion in economic activity for the region and state by leveraging the $1.25 million ANEP annual line item. The secret to their success is the ability to form public-private partnerships to bring a winning formula to Appalachian Ohio.
“The Appalachian New Economy Partnership funding has been one of the best investments ever made to transform southeastern Ohio,” Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey, said. “By leveraging this capital with the resources, partnerships and talent of Ohio University, the Voinovich School’s been able to make real progress impacting communities and individuals in the region.”
The ANEP has meant that the Voinovich School has been able to attract more local follow-on investment to the region from businesses and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Appalachian Regional Commission, to make a genuine difference in boosting economic development.
For example, a new grant funded by the EDA’s 2018 Assistance to Coal Communities program and matched with ANEP funding was just awarded to a partnership between the Voinovich School and the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission for the development and operation of the new Building Opportunities Beyond Coal Accelerating Transition (BOBCAT) Network project. The BOBCAT Network is a regional development project that will promote entrepreneurship, support economic diversification, and identify infrastructure and workforce needs in southeast Ohio.
“The economic development and entrepreneurial ecosystem that the Voinovich School developed through baseline ANEP funding should be a national model of what can be accomplished by taking university resources and applying them to really difficult community challenges,”said Jeff Finkle, president & CEO of the International Economic Development Council.
ANEP’s economic impact is significant and growing. The ANEP provides match funds for the School’s 12-county Small Business Development Center, recently named SBDC of the Year in a six-state federal region. The Ohio University Procurement Technical Assistance program – recently selected by NASA to host its multi-state procurement conference - now serves 55 counties in Ohio and helped 709 clients win contracts worth more than $592 million in 2017.
“One of the strategic pathways for Ohio University’s future is focused on strengthening the University’s public service mission and engagement,” Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis said. “The Voinovich School certainly does that for the state of Ohio, exemplifying the university’s special commitment to Appalachia through its important work in spurring economic development, environmental sustainability, and quality of life. This work would not be possible without the ongoing financial support by the state legislature through the ANEP.”
Building on the momentum created by ANEP, the Voinovich School secured Ohio Third Frontier funding to launch TechGROWTH Ohio, Ohio University’s 20-county Appalachian entrepreneurial service provider whose mission is to significantly increase revenue growth and capital investments in technology-based businesses. Since its inception 11 years ago, TechGROWTH has assisted 1,800 entrepreneurs to generate more than $460 million in economic activity. Every $1 invested in TechGROWTH generates $21 in return – a remarkable return on investment for the region.
Global Cooling is one of the great successes of this partnership. A TechGROWTH Ohio portfolio client, Global Cooling, Inc. manufactures and sells the world’s most energy efficient ultra-low temperature freezers. The company grew more than 75 percent in 2017 and now has about 100 employees, 70 of which reside in southeastern Ohio.
“The investment from the state through ANEP and Voinovich School programs like TechGROWTH have created an entrepreneurial venture community right here in southeastern Ohio,” Lane said. “It’s been enormously valuable, because you want successes like Global Cooling to happen again and again. That’s the goal — it’s not to grow one great company, it’s to create an environment that grows companies as a matter of course.”
Another component of ANEP’s investment into rural communities includes helping nonprofit organizations to further their impact. Established in 2017 with funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission and ANEP, the Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem (SEE) Appalachia assists social enterprises to enhance and grow their organization. SEE also aids established organizations in measuring their social impact through a revolutionary return-on-investment methodology. In its first year, the SEE program helped 63 clients to earn more than $4.7 million and create 47 new jobs and 13 new businesses.
One of these clients is the Epicenter Makerspace founded in 2017 in Marietta, Ohio, and supported by ANEP. The Epicenter grows local businesses, enables innovators, and ties adult entrepreneurship to mentorship and internships for regional youth, as part of a larger ‘Building Bridges to Careers’ program. BB2C is a highly successful organization, which grew from a volunteer job shadowing program for youth into the thriving nonprofit it is today. Presently, it offers a multitude of services, programs and other opportunities for high school and college students to bridge the gap between education and employment, and is currently being replicated in adjacent counties.
“The SEE program has helped us take a look at our fundraising practices. As we are a novice in this work, they’ve given us experience - a sounding board. They’re incubating us, essentially, so to have a group of people that can help you through all of those parts and pieces is extremely helpful,” Tasha Werry, Epicenter Executive Director, said.
Part of providing opportunity for communities and improving quality of life in southeastern Ohio involves addressing health and wellness for its residents. Ohio – and especially rural Ohio – faces formidable challenges in this area, and opioid addiction has reached crisis proportions. Through numerous partnerships with organizations such as the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the School has been building, evaluating and implementing innovative substance abuse prevention and community outreach programs to begin healing this significant problem in Ohio. ANEP has helped to provide funding for this important work.
The School has recently partnered with the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio on a new ANEP co-funded collaboration. Building on the Voinovich School’s track record of growing youth-led prevention across the state, the FAO and the Voinovich School are focusing on engaging more of Appalachian Ohio’s young people in this work as leaders in the identification and implementation of evidence-based prevention strategies.
"We have always found that we make bigger advances when we work together, but collaboration requires support, or glue. The ANEP provides the glue for the Voinovich School to help many organizations achieve much more and we have felt that support here at the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio through many years of partnership,” Cara Dingus Brook, President and CEO, Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, said.
The Voinovich School also continues to tackle other health and wellness issues, through the ANEP. High incidence of chronic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes plague families statewide. ANEP funding has enabled the School to work in partnership with the Ohio University Heritage College of Medicine to restructure diabetes delivery and education. Last year, the Diabetes Institute released a groundbreaking new collection of data on diabetes in the region and shared best practices for combatting the disease.
“Infusing state capital into a rural, economically disadvantaged region like southeastern Ohio has enabled the Voinovich School to activate statewide public-private partnerships to lead not only regional economic development, but also impact education, health and wellness, and the environment in the area,” Finkle said.