WINTERSVILLE - An evening to check troubles at the door and celebrate what works in Jefferson County was attended by about 250 people at St. Florian Hall Tuesday as Progress Alliance presented nine Best of Jefferson County awards.
Ed Looman, executive director of the economic development organization, said the nine honorees "demonstrate Jefferson County Pride."
"If you have any negative baggage, I hope you checked it at the door," Looman said.
The honorees included Don Snyder of Wildfire Motors, Richard Pflug of Tri-State Printing, Mayor John Geddis and the city of Toronto, retired agricultural agent Gabe Rozsa, the Jefferson County Airport Authority, Jim Emmerling of Em-Media, Mark Nelson of Nelson Woodcraft/Catholic to the Max, Alex Marshall and the Herald-Star and attorney William Blake, outgoing president of the Community Improvement Corp., which oversees the operation of Progress Alliance.
Beyond the award winners, Looman cited a number of positives in Jefferson County, including Trinity Health System; the Franciscan University of Steubenville; Jefferson Community College; and Superintendent Jene Watkins and the Indian Creek Local Schools for working to have a levy passed to build a new junior high school.
Looman, a Steubenville native who was a newspaper publisher and economic development executive in Ashtabula County before taking the helm of Progress Alliance nearly a year ago, said he is pleased with the support the organization receives.
"We have dedicated elective officials who support and cooperate with Progress Alliance. That does not happen everywhere in Ohio," he said.
Looman also cited the area's work force and the quality of its people.
Keynote speaker Lou Gentile, assistant director of the Governor's Office of Appalachia, outlined work being done by the administration of Gov. Ted Strickland to keep Ohio growing despite budgetary problems. He noted Ohio had a $1.57 billion economic stimulus in place before the federal government moved on its stimulus package.
He said Strickland has been named states' co-chairman of the 12-state Appalachian Regional Commission, which means Ohio will host the commission's conference in the fall.
"We do need to create a positive perception of Appalachian Ohio and Jefferson County," Gentile said.
He said under Strickland and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who heads the Ohio Department of Development, a state investment plan was developed guiding how the state makes investments and forms partnerships. Jefferson County developed a similar plan and delivered it to Fisher late last year.
"Lt. Gov. Fisher was really blown away," Gentile said. "He said we've got to model this plan throughout the state."
Gentile, a Steubenville native, said Toronto's work in securing $1.2 million in grants to refurbish the closed Hancock Manufacturing Co. plant for a new factory user is a model for the state in urban redevelopment. He also cited work by his office on grants and tax credits for Snyder's Wildfire Motors, a grant to help complete the Ralph Freshwater Terminal at the Jefferson County Air Park that freed up the old terminal to become a local base for STAT MedEvac's medical helicopters, as well as a $200,000 grant for a water project in Rush Run.
"Perception could become reality if we travel forward with a positive message," Gentile said.
Pflug was honored for Tri-State Printing, which made a $1.2 million investment and expansion in downtown Steubenville in 2008.
Snyder's Wildfire Motors doubled in size last year, and he said expansions could continue during the next five years.
Nelson Woodcraft was honored for its investment in a business known internationally for producing Catholic items, including having a contract to produce items for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the U.S. in 2008.
Geddis and the city of Toronto were honored for the work in obtaining the grants for the Hancock plant refurbishing. Geddis credited Progress Alliance, state officials, City Council and former Solicitor Mike Calabria.
Emmerling was honored for his work in developing the marketing campaign that has successfully targeted Western Pennsylvania businesses and is raising awareness that Jefferson County is as much a suburb of Pittsburgh as any Pennsylvania counties east of the city.
Rozsa was honored for his decades of work in assisting agriculture in the county, and Cathy Cucarese accepted the airport authority's award, which was given for growth and expansion at the airport.
Marshall was honored for his work in converting the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce building into the Jefferson County Center for Economic Development and for the Herald-Star's commitment to the community.
Blake was honored for his long service with the Community Improvement Corp., which oversees the operation of Progress Alliance, including his two-year term as the corporation's president.
(Giannamore can be contacted at email@example.com.)