picture by: Eric Ayres
WHEELING – Local officials have been working to establish a new collaborative effort aimed at pooling resources and maintaining a common focus on driving economic development and combating local population decline.
This week, Ohio County Commissioner Zach Abraham provided preliminary details on a proposal to create a Shared Resource Growth and Retention Team. The proposal was presented to members of the Ohio County Development Authority’s board of directors, who are asked to be a key player in the business.
“We asked many different organizations to be part of this, primarily those that could help provide shared resources – whether it’s cash or in-kind labor, so to speak,” Abraham said. “What it’s centered and focused on is: how we’re growing population and bringing business to Ohio County.”
The proposed plan would bring the OCDA together with the City of Wheeling, Ohio County Commission, Wheeling Park Commission, Wheeling Heritage, Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce, Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Belomar Regional Council, The Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley and RED (the Regional Economic Development) Partnership. Representatives of a number of these entities have already held a handful of meetings to discuss the proposed plan, Abraham said.
In addition to sharing financial resources for the effort, officials are also exploring the possibility of securing additional funds to put behind. A proposal to apply for funds through the Benedum Foundation is currently underway, officials noted.
“It sort of coincides with the remote worker assessment that Belomar is doing for the City of Wheeling,” Abraham said. “There are four main categories that we try to focus on, and it’s all related to demographics.”
The first focus would be on people who can move to the Ohio Valley for remote purposes or have some connectivity to the Valley and want to return to stay full time. The second group would target “snowbirds” who may stay in the area for about six months and then live elsewhere for the rest of the year.
The third demographic group would be people who engage in some sort of temporary stay for a number of months, and the fourth would be visitors who may only be staying for a weekend, a week, or a few weeks, but who, when they leave, are always taking with them the message of what Ohio County has to offer.
Abraham said that all of these entities are working on elements of this plan, but that there is not a particular team that is focused on recruiting these people to the area or specifically trying to retain people who are already here.
“This idea kind of brings together a dedicated team,” Abraham said.
The plan would likely require two employees – one to manage the project and another to analyze data and coordinate research results. Due to the administrative flexibility of the OCDA, the board should be encouraged to employ team members, who would be offered benefits with the cost of salaries shared by participating entities. The target duration would be an initial period of three years.
“We will have set goals and objectives,” Abraham said. “The actual team will have some sort of committee or board of directors made up of the people who are going to share those resources. That’s who that team will report to.
The team would also focus on a joint marketing effort using social media and traditional advertising channels to attract people and businesses to the area, according to Abraham, who noted that city and county leaders held a joint working session at the end of last year which touched on elements being addressed in this shared resource proposal.
“I think it would be a good thing for the county and for the city in particular,” Abraham said, adding that there will still be work to do before the plan is officially presented for consideration before the OCDA. “We need a group of people who are focused on bringing people here in a meaningful way. We do it in different ways, but I think we have two goals in mind: how to increase business and economic development and how to increase population.
“We all do our own things, but sometimes it’s hard for us to focus on how we do it together. So that’s what this team is really going to be tasked with doing.