Portsmouth Named One of Top 50 of America’s Best Communities
Portsmouth is in the running to be named as one of America’s Best, not only bringing recognition to the riverside community, but also big prize money if it’s selected as one of the winners. Local officials are keeping their fingers crossed and eagerly awaiting the results.
America’s Best Communities is a multi-stage competition sponsored by Frontier Communications that awards $4 million in grant money to support economic development and revitalization in small towns and rural cities. The winning community will be awarded $3 million, second place will get $2 million, and $1 million will be given for third place. Portsmouth was one of 400 communities that applied for the grant, and now the city is a quarter finalist.
Jason Kester, executive director of the Southern Ohio Port Authority, wrote the proposal detailing how the grant money would improve quality of life in our area. Input was solicited from numerous groups including the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Portsmouth, representatives of the city of Portsmouth and the village of New Boston, the Scioto County commissioners, the Southern Ohio Port Authority Board, and a regional economic development group.
The grant proposal focuses on using the Ohio River to attract industrial and manufacturing jobs as well as promoting and developing its recreational uses. An additional component is developing a marketing plan for the area that will highlight cooperation between individual communities. “We tend to think of ourselves as Minford Falcons or Valley Indians or whatever, but business doesn’t care. We need to work together on a plan that moves all of us forward. A lot of the communities that have been successful in business attraction are the ones that are coming together,” Kester said.
Plans to attract businesses include marketing access to the two primary transnational natural gas lines that run from New England to the Gulf of Mexico as well as access to national railways. Our central location will also be emphasized as a benefit to businesses. “Most people are unaware that Portsmouth is within a day’s drive from half of the population of the United States,” Kester said, noting that it is especially important to draw manufacturing and industrial jobs because they typically grow wealth in the community. “For each of those type of jobs created, three to five additional jobs are created,” he stated.
River access also provides opportunities for recreational development. Kester emphasized improving bike paths and running trails, repairing lighting, taking measures to prevent flooding of the amphitheater, creating spaces beyond the floodwall to enjoy the scenic beauty of the river, and potentially forming a complete recreational area along the riverbank.
Marketing the area requires having a vision of the future, according to Kester, who believes it is imperative to draw smaller manufacturers and industries rather than larger ones, so as not to have a great number of jobs depend on one business’ ability to survive and thrive. “What we’re focused on is attracting a number of 50 to 200 person projects. Diversifying the economy will benefit everyone. Your health metrics, your drug addiction metrics, educational opportunities, exposure to a wider world, everything will improve with economic development.”
The winners of the next round of the America’s Best Communities competition will be announced in early 2016, with an ultimate winner being selected in April 2017. Kester and his colleagues feel good about the work they’ve done even if Portsmouth doesn’t advance. They’ve identified several concrete things that can be improved about the community and created innovative plans to implement these changes.
Kester believes individuals can help promote and revitalize Portsmouth by challenging the negative assumptions many citizens have about our area. “I see a lot of positive things about this community, and 90 percent of the people who comment about them say something positive, but there is the 10 percent who respond with vitriol. Confront those people. Ask them why they believe what they do. Do they really have the facts? We’ve had a lot of $100 million investments in this area lately, we’re a quarter finalist in the America’s Best Communities competition, and we’ve won a variety of awards. There is a lot of positive stuff going on. Challenge the rhetoric of those who disparage our community.”
Nearby cities and towns that also made the quarter finals are Circleville, Ohio; Charleston, West Virginia; and Huntington, West Virginia. For the complete list of quarter finalists and further information about the competition, visit www.americasbestcommunities.com.
Photos Ashley Gallaher Quinn and Compliments Main Street Portsmouth