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CIC, port panel to discuss future

November 21, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

STEUBENVILLE - Later today, members of the Community Improvement Corp. and the Jefferson County Port Authority will come together for a meeting that, at best, could bring about a unified approach to economic development in Jefferson County.

It's the "at worst" that has CIC leaders on edge.

"It's not about personalities, it's about the citizens of Jefferson County," CIC Chairman Bob Chapman said after Tuesday's CIC and Progress Alliance meetings at Voto Sales. "It's about getting opportunities for new jobs, creating new opportunities. We need to move forward. It's going to take the cooperation of everybody, not just us."

Earlier, Chapman had told the CIC board that the meeting is an opportunity "to sit down and talk about their goals and objectives, our goals and objectives and where we are headed to. We're going to have to see what their thoughts are, what their board would like to see happen."

"The landscape is changing, we understand that," Chapman said. "But you have to have a vehicle in place for economic development for one of them to take a reduced role. It doesn't exist yet. I'm not saying it can't, but it doesn't at this particular time."

The CIC and its Progress Alliance have supported formation of a port authority, seeing it as a necessary progression for an organization that has been able to leverage private as well as public dollars to bring new business and jobs to Jefferson County.

The port authority was organized in August, numbering among its members some of the most powerful and influential businessmen in the region. Four members were appointed by the county commissioners, four by the city, and one by Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission.

CIC members say that at some point, the port authority will be ready to take the economic development lead in Jefferson County. But until the port authority nails down its procedural issues and becomes self-sustaining, CIC members said they don't see that happening - meaning that, for the foreseeable future, the two organizations will have to work together to foster development opportunities in Jefferson County.

"Both entities need to cooperate or it will all go away," said Jim Emmerling, a CIC board member , adding that the port authority "is still going to need private funding" to operate.

"Every year we have to fight for our money," said board member Ken Perkins. "Now we have a new competitor in the ring."

"As long as they're considered a competitor, it's going to be bad," Emmerling said. "It shouldn't be about egos, it shouldn't be about self-serving interests."

Chapman said both organizations "need to look at what's at stake, and what's at stake is economic development for Jefferson County."

"I think everybody needs to put everything aside and move forward," he said. "It's time for us all to sit down and figure out how we can all work together."

Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci Jr. struck a conciliatory note, saying economic development opportunities "in our community and our county" are at stake.

"Look at it as an opportunity and bring them into the fold," he said. "We need to move forward for the sake of economic opportunities. We need to rise about (grievances) and understand that, ultimately, the goal is to provide economic development opportunities. (This) is going to be a very important meeting. I think the majority of that board and the majority of this board wants it to be successful."

Mucci said Jefferson County is at a critical juncture, with the shale oil and gas boom driving job creation. He said community and government leaders have been discussing "innovative" funding sources for Progress Alliance.

"It's important that we continue economic development in Jefferson County in one fashion or another," he said.

Progress Alliance Executive Director Ed Looman, who resigned Tuesday to accept a position with Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, reiterated his support of the concept of a port authority, saying its formation "is a step in the right direction."

"This newly formed group can enhance the economic development activities currently under way," he said. "It is my hope the CIC board and the port authority board will work together in the near future for the good of the county as a hole.

"Going forward, I would encourage everyone to remember how strong the public-private partnership truly is in Jefferson County," he added. "Our organization stands as the model used by several counties when developing economic development organizations. The private support of Progress alliance has been nothing short of amazing. This strong partnership needs to continue."

Preliminary budget projections, meanwhile, put funding needs for Progress Alliance at about $270,000. About 52 percent of that is funded through the business community and fundraisers, the remainder is local government money. With Steubenville, in particular, strapped for cash, board members are taking a wait-and-see approach before setting spending plans for 2013.

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