GALION — Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, offered up information on economic development opportunities and the upcoming 2020 Census to Galion Kiwanis members this week.
“We’re trying to get around the state as fast as possible,” Mihalik said. “I’m trying to get to all 88 counties in the state during this first year. The governor was very clear with me when I accepted this position. He wanted me to make sure I reached out to local communities to make sure they knew how important they are to the state’s well being. If you take a look at what the governor has put in his budget during this biennium you can see he’s all about investing in local communities, investing in children, investing in families. It’s our job to get out and communicate to local communities as to exactly what that is.”
“It’s nice to be able to bring a local perspective to what we do with local development,” Mihalik added. “We do a host of things at development. We do business development, we do community development, we even do a little bit of tourism.”
Mihalik talked about how the governor’s budget relates to what is done in the development sector, pointing out one of Gov. Mike DeWine’s largest proposals is a $15 million per year in the biennium to get out 10,000 tech credentials to employees in Ohio, in the first year.”
“Hopefully we’ll get to 20,000 this biennium,” she said. “These are credentials that take less than 12 months to achieve and it is in recognition of an advance skills. It’s going to be employer driven, it’s employer focused. We have a lot of employers who are looking to skill up their existing employers and we want to make sure we can match those skills with the employees we have today.
“Our hope is that by working with the Department of Higher Education we can come up with a list of approved credentials businesses can take advantage of,” Mihalik said. “What will happen is that there will be a reimbursement program, and development definitely will be a part of that.”
“We’re very focused on Opportunity Zones,” she explained. “They are an aspect of the 2017 Job Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that designated low-income, high-poverty census tracts across the country as places ripe for investments. Places that had yet to see the investment or the improvement that other communities have seen.”
Mihalik said Ohio has 320 Opportunity Zones and Galion happens to have one of those Opportunity Zones.
Mayor Tom O’Leary said Galion’s Opportunity Zone is on the east side of town near the Ohio 61 interchange.
“When this first came out, there was a lot of clamoring because they thought the only things that could go (in Opportunity Zones) and be successful and qualify was really residential,” Mihalik said. “Now you can actually put industry or another business in those Opportunity Zones.”
She also talked about energy efficiency programs for schools, noting that older building are hard to retrofit with efficient heating and air conditioning.
“We’re going to take a couple of existing programs within development, and we’ve combined them together to do energy audits within a school district and particular buildings. Once we find out what those energy-saving projects are then development will have money to loan the school to pay for those particular projects with the savings that has been estimated in terms of the project itself,” she said.
“There’s also a workforce component to this as well,” she noted. “If there is a trade organization, skilled trade classes that are utilized within that project there can be a forgiveness of the loan as well. So we’re trying to get kids excited about skilled trades because we all know how much of skills gap we have relative to those particular needs.”
As far as the 2020 Census, which is right around the corner, she talked about how important accurate numbers are.
“I have to make sure everyone gets counted, because it’s not just about representation in Washington, but it also determines how much federal money (Ohio) gets,” she said. “More than $675 billion is distributed based upon what happens in the Census.
“The amount of funding that gets allocated to your community when you have a disaster declared by the federal government is determined by how many people are counted in the Census,” she said. “So there’s a lot of little things and nuances with we want to make sure are taken into account.
“It’s so important that we get everybody counted,” she explained. “Not just in the urban areas, but also in the rural areas of Ohio. We need to get everyone counted regardless of who they are or where they live.”
Mihalik noted the people are needed to help with the census. They pay is $15 to $35 an hour. Those interested can Google Census Ohio 2020 for job information.