‘Diamond in the rough’: Development groups join forces to promote U.S. 30 corridor
BUCYRUS — For years, Ohio’s economic development efforts have centered on the “Three C’s”: Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Gary Frankhouse, executive and economic development director for the Crawford Partnership, wants to add a fourth C: the U.S. 30 Corridor.
“We’re trying to eliminate a county-boundary mindset and create a regional marketing approach,” he said.
Since last fall, Frankhouse has been working with economic development leaders in Richland and Wyandot counties. Ashland County has come on board, too.
He pointed to a map of the state’s regional economic development groups.
“It explains why Richland and Crawford have never really flourished, because we’re the outliers to the regional partners,” Frankhouse said.
Crawford County is served out of Toledo, Richland is served out of Cleveland, while Morrow and Marion are served out of Columbus, he explained.
“So you see all the counties along U.S. 30 are these outliers,” he said. “And they (state leaders) fail to see the value of that highway.”
Barrett Thomas, the Richland Community Development Group’s director of business retention and expansion, cited the same issue.
“We get a lot of value out of that structure, but certainly, we are more similar to Crawford and Ashland and Wyandot counties than we are to Cleveland and Toledo,” Thomas said. “What we’re trying to do is do economic development with other counties that are similar to us, so we’re handling all the same issues and coming up with solutions that are directly applicable to each other.”
Greg Moon, executive director of the Wyandot County Office of Economic Development, said the effort includes all counties along U.S. 30’s path across the state.
“Essentially, we try to get these different economic development stakeholders that have a piece of U.S. 30 together to try to figure out how we can best market that asset that falls in these different JobsOhio regions, but we’d like to promote as one contiguous unit, one joint effort,” Moon said.
State development leaders focus on the Ohio Turnpike and Interstate 70 as the major routes through the state, overlooking U.S. 30 — which has the highest travel reliability rating of any highway in the state, Frankhouse said.
“It’s still kind of in its infancy stages; it was widened in ’08,” he said of U.S. 30. “So people are just now starting to realize what is this diamond in the rough? It’s U.S. 30.”
The central region of the state has the further advantage of having U.S. 30 connect to U.S. 23 to the west and Interstate 71 to the east, Frankhouse said.
“You know really, I don’t want to be on the turnpike, because those people are just trucking through,” he said. “But industry can set up here, get to those resources quickly and then get their product in and out fast. We have this wonderful, reliable highway. And I think that story needs to get spread hugely.”
The region’s assets go beyond its central location and reliable transportation, Frankhouse said.
“Typically in our country, it’s always brown fields that need refurbished,” he said. “Well, we’ve got wonderful green space with all these new interchanges because of U.S. 30.
“And there’s wonderful assets in education. I mean, we have three OSU campuses — really four if you want to include ATI (OSU’s Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster) — but you’ve got Mansfield, Marion and Lima. You talk about a global brand that industry can identify with? We’ve got partnerships with them; they understand the needs of workforce. …
“So we put together kind of a value proposition pitch, of all those — whether it’s education, whether it’s logistics, whether it’s affordability.”
Moon has been working closely with Frankhouse on the project.
“The U.S. 30 asset is under-promoted; it’s kind of why we started this whole conversation,” Moon said. “It has very good travel reliability, and that word just never gets out there. What we’re trying to do is an analysis of the other assets that fall along the U.S. 30 corridor, whether it’s educational, human capital, natural resources, things like that that prospective companies that are expanding would be interested in.
“So really, it’s just to bring to light these different assets that fall within the U.S. 30 corridor or the geography that surrounds the U.S. 30 corridor that really hasn’t been pushed out there before.”
So far, state economic development leaders have been receptive to the approach, Moon said.
“We took it to Columbus initially to JobsOhio, to some of our state legislators, and then JobsOhio has helped us to continue facilitating the discussion in these subsequent meetings throughout the end of 2019 and kind of up until COVID hit — it kind of put a delay on things,” he said. “But they’ve been very receptive to helping us however they can with the resources that they have in Columbus and with our regional partners.”
Now the four counties — Crawford, Richland, Wyandot and Ashland — are ready to move on to the next step, the economic development leaders said. They’re planning to develop a joint Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS.
Traditionally, these planning documents have been county-based, Frankhouse said. But now, the federal Economic Development Association is requiring CEDs to be regional; which means the Corridor group has a head start.
“Then we can get grant dollars because of the CARES Act to pay for what is typically a $100,000 strategy document, but you can get almost 80% of it paid for,” he said.
“It gets us to list out the assets we have and strategy moving forward to promote 30 and grow our local economies,” Moon said.
The CEDS is an opportunity to start to really objectively look at each other and try to prioritize projects, Thomas said.
“And we can do that as a group, which gives us a stronger voice with JobsOhio and the Development Services Agency when we’re asking for funding for these projects, to say ‘All of us need this, and we’re all going to work together,'” he said. “Our needs are different from the messages you’re getting from Cleveland or Toledo. It’s more specific to who we are.”
None of these efforts are going to pay off in the next month — or even in the next year, Thomas and Frankhouse said.
“All this stuff takes a long time,” Thomas said. “Economic development is a long game. We’re not going to land new businesses this year as a result of this work. We’re planning for the future, to have success further on. So we’ve got to plant those seeds now so that we can kind of reap that harvest later.”
People are conditioned to expect instantaneous results, Frankhouse noted, but economic development requires perseverance and commitment.
“Economic development is not a lens of a month; it’s a lens of five to 10 years,” he said. “I think we have the right strategy right now, but it’s not going to happen tomorrow … success is a long-term thing.”
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