Ohio Rural Development State Director Tony Logan

Ohio’s economic turnaround is picking up steam.

Ohio Rural Development State Director, Tony Logan

As of this writing, Ohio’s unemployment rate sits at 6.7 percent. While still too high, this represents a significant drop from the double-digit high of 10.6 percent in January 2010 and is the culmination of 36 straight months of slow but steady job growth.

What’s particularly exciting about Ohio’s recovery from the Great Recession of 2009 is that we are leading—not trailing—the national recovery. Ohio’s current jobless rate is more than full percentage point below the national jobless rate of 7.8 percent. No one is calling Ohio a “rust belt economy” any longer.

Many have suggested, with considerable validity, that the Administration’s auto rescue effort in 2009 helped spur Ohio’s recovery. Indeed Chevy, Ford, and Jeep assembly plants in Trumbull, Lorain and Lucas counties are back to running extra shifts, employing nearly 80,000 Ohioans with an average annual wage exceeding $53,000. Jobs at the assembly plants also keep nearly 350 automotive supply chain businesses throughout the state humming with new orders.

But the recovery is apparent in rural and small-town Ohio as well. In the eastern part of the state, much of the growth has come from increased activity in the Marcellus and Utica gas shale plays. USDA Rural Development is partnering with gas field supply businesses and hoteliers to help manage growth in the region through the Business & Industry guaranteed loan program. Also, in an effort to keep some of this new wealth here in Ohio, Rural Development awarded a $200,000 grant to our friends at the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio in Nelsonville to help create local philanthropic foundations in many small towns across the region. Our objective, along with FAO, is to ensure that this “boom” doesn’t go “bust.”

Growth has also taken hold in other parts of the state. For example, the sprawling Timber Road and Blue Creek wind farms in Paulding and Van Wert counties became operational last year. The installation created 495 construction jobs, 30 permanent jobs, and infused $21.3 million into the local economy. The 207 wind turbines, which tower 300 feet over the western Ohio landscape, will generate enough electricity to power 107,000 homes while contributing $3.6 million annually in local taxes.

In southeastern Ohio’s Noble County, the largest solar array east of the Rockies – Turning Point Solar – has the potential to create up to 600 permanent and temporary jobs in small-town Ohio, including some 330 jobs at a proposed solar panel assembly plant in Napoleon. A joint endeavor of Ohio’s New Harvest Ventures and Agile Energy of California, the array will be deployed on reclaimed strip mined land and will generate power for 25,000 homes.

Soybean growers in southwest Ohio also are going green. In conjunction with Mercer Landmark, the Ohio Soybean Council has received Rural Development funding for a pilot project to produce bio-based commercial jet fuel from soybean oil. Last July, Cincinnati-based GE Aviation announced plans to begin acquiring 5 million gallons of jet biofuel annually beginning in 2015 for its engine testing facility in Adams County. This bold move by GE Aviation will require cooperation from stakeholders across academia, farming, financing, logistics and the refining industry to literally build a new industry here in the state. But this innovative technology holds unprecedented promise for future Ohio jobs.

Water and wastewater projects are always a priority for USDA. This past year we funded a dozen new water and sanitary projects with Rural Development loans of more than $25 million and grants exceeding $9.5 million. Small towns in 13 Ohio counties also received about $6 million in capital financing for necessary community facilities and equipment through Rural Development.

Housing is always an indicator of economic recovery and the venerable Rural Development single family home loan programs enjoyed a robust year. Our Guaranteed Rural Housing program, where Rural Development partners with local lenders to guarantee a home loan, served more than 4,400 homeowners with total funding exceeding $477 million—a record year for the program. An additional $23 million was issued in direct home loans.

Finally, funding from USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service benefits millions of rural households and businesses nationwide through increased broadband access, enhanced reliability of electric service, and improved water quality and wastewater systems. This year, RUS electric loans for Ohio approached $25 million, with an additional $322,000 allocated for telecommunications.

All told, Rural Development invested nearly $610 million in loans, loan guarantees and grants across 86 Ohio counties during 2012. We’ll leave it to future economists to value our contribution to Ohio’s recovery from the Great Recession. But I know I speak for our experienced and passionate staff when I say that it is our distinct honor to serve small town Ohioans—in good times or bad.

Biography for Tony Logan