A Better Future for All of Us: A Vision for Ashtabula County
Thank you for coming to read about my vision for Ashtabula County! This plan is meant to inspire, to educate, and to serve as a roadmap for what I hope for Ashtabula County and how we can move forward. A lot of meetings and research have gone into developing this plan, but I know you can help me improve it. Please send your thoughts and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can continue to work together to ensure a better future for all of us.
Ashtabula County is at a crossroads. We can either stick to the status quo and expect nothing to change, or, together, we can create a better future for all of us through community, hope, and leadership.
We deserve a future that is brighter than our past, where our children return home to raise their families, and where hope drives everything we do. That is the American Dream, and it is my dream for Ashtabula County.
Members of strong communities help one another through hard times and celebrate victories together. Local schools, businesses, and nonprofits only thrive when they are backed by strong communities. We fail or succeed together.
If Ashtabula County is going to thrive, we need to be a community that is made up of people who are invested in seeing each other succeed. Not just our own families or neighborhoods, but all of us. We are one county, with one future.
Lasting change cannot be created without hope that it is possible. Hope is not an empty, wistful feeling of “wouldn’t that be nice.” It’s about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. It’s about planting the tree we never expect to sit under, knowing our grandchildren will reap the benefits. Hope breaks through initial barriers and sustains our efforts when new challenges appear. It is the difference between long-term success and continued failure.
Leadership is not about being in charge; it is about having a vision for the future and empowering members of the community to develop and achieve that vision together. We need a leader who is honest about our challenges and who can harness Ashtabula County’s potential to overcome them. We need a leader who is willing to challenge the status quo because we can do better than “the way it’s always been done.”
There is no room for ego; there is no time left for indecision. It is time for action.
Ashtabula County is made up of many townships, villages, and cities, each with their own needs, desires, challenges, and opportunities. The thing that binds us together is that we are all part of one county with one future. We have strong communities within Ashtabula County, but we need to do a better job of connecting and strengthening our relationships with each other. Without cooperation and collaboration, we have little chance to make a lasting difference.
- Host an annual conference with representatives from each local government entity to exchange information.
- Designate a single point-of-contact for knowledge about venues, businesses, and services available within the county.
- Grant the public access to the Commissioners’ events calendar.
- Facilitate community-led coffee hours to discuss issues facing the county.
- Encourage collaborative public art projects that convey messages of hope and togetherness.
- Offer summer work programs for students that are focused on beautifying neighborhoods.
Rural communities across the United States continue to see negligible population growth, young people leaving home for opportunities elsewhere, and a declining workforce. Locally, these trends have caused a general sense of stagnation that often turns into hopelessness within our community.
We need to test the status quo, collaborate with key partners throughout the County, and look outside of our borders for best practices. Through this process, Ashtabula County’s strength, resilience, and determination will help us become a regional leader once again. There are 9 key areas that you can read about below: Entrepreneurship, Agriculture and Local Foods, Conservation, Internet Access and Literacy, Infrastructure, Transportation, Affordable Housing, Education, and Workforce Development.
The old method of economic development where a local government gives massive tax breaks to a large factory to employ hundreds of people for entire generations is no longer sustainable. As a whole, large businesses are automating their workforce and downsizing, not adding new employees. Ashtabula County is ripe for a new wave of entrepreneurship. We already see entrepreneurship’s positive effects throughout the county, including on Bridge Street, Downtown Ashtabula, Geneva-on-the-Lake, and our many Main Streets across the County. Instead of focusing on attracting employers that leave when their tax abatements run out, we should invest first in local people who have the ideas and the drive to create sustainable, quality jobs for our neighbors.
- Create an Entrepreneur Ecosystem Map for Ashtabula County.
- Promote Entrepreneurial Studies as standard curriculum in high school and adult education classes.
- Consult other communities to formulate holistic and effective policies that prioritize and support entrepreneurial activity.
- Explore the creation of co-working spaces.
- Connect local businesses to regional markets and organizations.
- Promote and/or create a new tax credit for new entrepreneurs within the first 5 years of business and rapidly expanding local businesses.
- Create a comprehensive zoning and business regulation manual.
Ashtabula County has a rich agricultural history. Some of Ashtabula County’s biggest success stories (wineries, maple syrup production, miscanthus grass, etc.) involve a marriage of agriculture and manufacturing. We have even more potential for creativity and collaboration within our community to create sustainable, high-quality jobs. Ashtabula County is one of few counties in Ohio that boasts agricultural production in every segment of the United States Department of Agriculture’s agriculture census. This foundation of diverse agriculture can serve as a launching point for agricultural businesses to create a more robust market for farmers to sell their products and create value-added products. Promoting this diversity and crop development for a local market will make our agricultural industry more resilient and set Ashtabula County apart as a leader of the agricultural community in Northeast Ohio.
- Create a long-term vision plan for agriculture and food sector businesses for Ashtabula County with contributions from local farmers, business owners, and regional organizations.
- Facilitate the opening of poultry and/or fish processing facilities for small and medium-sized farms.
- Encourage crop diversity on small and medium-sized farms,
- Encourage farmers and food business owners to grow the local food economy cooperatively in a way that intelligently utilizes our capacity for production.
- Promote cooperative marketing of local agricultural goods to regional and national markets.
- Partner with the County Auditor’s office and local farm organizations to create a land access program for young and beginning farmers.
- Foster a network of farmers committed to support farm transition efforts in a way that preserves agricultural knowledge and respects the family farm as many farmers’ main retirement strategy.
- Promote healthy food access and leverage grant funds to tackle food insecurity.
- Partner with Master Gardeners, libraries, and the Ashtabula County Land Bank to create and care for community gardens.
- Reintegrate agricultural components into local education through clubs and community supported agriculture projects.
Conservation is a noble goal in-and-of itself, but it is also economically beneficial. Creating a balance between conservation and productivity in our lands is critically important for our industries, tourism, public health, and our continued enjoyment of Lake Erie and our three scenic rivers. In addition, green spaces and parks increase property values, decrease pollution, and attract young people.
- Connect schools and service groups to key stakeholders to develop a green space plan.
- Use the Ashtabula County Land Bank to acquire key plots of land for redevelopment as green spaces.
- Seek funding to develop playgrounds, nature trips, and outside play opportunities for children across the county.
- Collaborate with local, regional, and national organizations to learn best practices, secure grants, and identify opportunities for growth when developing multipurpose green spaces.
- Ensure proper funding and support of the Ashtabula County Metroparks, especially by advocating for the passage of a renewal levy in 2019.
Access to fast and reliable Internet connectivity is critical to our schools, first responders, and hospitals, but it is also a key component of economic development. Without widespread access, Ashtabula County lacks the basic infrastructure needed for entire industries. We must invest in the infrastructure that will power our future or we will fail to attract and retain high-tech businesses. We need community-based classes to teach our residents basic computer literacy, train our workers on more advance techniques, and introduce our children to valuable skills for emerging careers.
- Organize coding camps and classes with local schools, libraries, service groups, and organizations.
- Collaborate with existing Internet service providers to aid expansion of their networks.
- Create a “Technology Council” of employers, community members, and educators to assess and fill technology needs.
- Highlight opportunities for Internet service providers to use the expected credits from House Bill 281 to serve more households in Ashtabula County.
- Challenge the monopolization of Internet access by national companies to ensure consumers are charged reasonable prices.
Infrastructure is vital to attracting development and investment from local businesses and multinational companies. It is also necessary to maintain vibrant, enduring neighborhoods. In many respects, Ashtabula County’s ability to reach its competitive potential depends on our ability to make smart infrastructure choices that can respond to economic, demographic, fiscal, and environmental changes. We need to maintain our infrastructure and invest in its upkeep and expansion, starting with community hubs and radiating outward into neighborhoods.
- Provide adequate funding and resources to maintain and repair roads, bridges, water lines, treatment and filtration facilities, and airport.
- Advocate for expansion and deployment of gas infrastructure after the Risberg Pipeline is completed to ensure both residential and commercial services can be provided within multiple areas of the county.
- Improve utilization of the recreational and deep-water ports in the county.
- Expand Growth Partnership‘s site selection tool to show the how the county’s infrastructure is connected and can be leveraged.
- Create an Asset Management System for utilities to coordinate the development and maintenance of infrastructure throughout the county.
- Maximize use of the Northeast Ohio Regional Airport, one of only two airports in Ohio with a full commercial operating certificate from ODOT.
Reliable and affordable transportation is a fundamental component to every households’ financial stability and quality of life. Residents without access to transportation, including seniors and low-income families, are unable to sustain employment, access necessary services, or enjoy local parks, covered bridges and recreation centers. Transportation is the critical component that connects us all to opportunities, experiences, and services necessary for our community to thrive and succeed.
- Conduct a transportation needs assessment related to employment and a needs assessment related to senior citizens.
- Expand public transportation options, times, and stop locations with working people in mined.
- Develop a voucher program for those without transportation at the start of new employment.
- Explore a pilot program for transportation available for manufacturing shifts, with costs paid through employee’s paycheck.
- Develop an automobile down payment assistance program.
- Develop a senior levy program that will support additional transportation opportunities for seniors.
A substantial portion of our population, including senior citizens, cannot afford safe housing. Many people are unable to contribute to our local economy because the rent burden is too high. The inventory of affordable, safe rentals is limited. Subsidized housing is also limited. Meanwhile, abandoned homes and homes in need of repair are plentiful. We need to investigate and understand the housing needs of our community and help create more affordable housing options for our elderly and families.
- Conduct a housing needs assessment.
- Collaborate with local officials to discuss potential community development block grant programs for new low-income housing builds.
- Utilize the Ashtabula County Land Bank to create affordable housing.
- Research the potential of home repair/rehabilitation programs with abandoned homes rather than schedule for demolishing.
- Encourage homeownership and provide educational workshops on USDA and FHA loans.
A quality education will not only teach students the mandated curriculum, but will also include relationship skills, critical thinking, and life skills. State budget cuts and increased mandatory testing makes creating time to teach these skills more difficult. Students also face challenges outside of the classroom such as abuse, neglect, homelessness, poverty, and addiction. We need to come together to help schools meet all of their students’ needs and prepare them to be productive members of our community.
- Facilitate and fund in-school pop-up clinics so low-income students can receive free dental and medical care.
- Provide school personnel with trauma-informed care training tailored to Ashtabula County.
- Work with A-Tech to identify and create new adult and traditional student programs tailored to meeting the needs of local employers and emerging industries.
- Encourage “Home Economics For the 21st Century” curriculum focused on technology, personal finance, home gardening, and job skills.
- Unite schools and community stakeholders to create a variety of low-cost and free after-school programs and tutoring.
- Support schools and community members help students meet the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.
- Encourage entrepreneurship training within adult and child education curriculums.
- Create a network of volunteers willing to help transport children to and from school-sponsored events, such as sports and music practices.
- Promote summer programs that are focused on eliminating the Achievement Gap to provide equal footing for all Ashtabula County students.
- Support efforts to make schools safer.
Our school systems, local leaders, businesses, and community partners need to work collaboratively to address the workforce and training needs of our local employers. We should also facilitate networking for young leaders and advertise Ashtabula County’s low cost of living to compete for the best and the brightest in the region.
- Encourage “earn and learn” experiences to create a pipeline of local candidates to fill skilled labor positions.
- Survey and network with local employers to understand their needs and hiring incentives.
- Work with A-Tech, businesses, and industry leaders to provide effective and efficient job training aligned to high-demand occupations that result in workplace-valued credentials.
- Encourage local businesses to highlight potential career opportunities at local schools.
- Promote a “Job Signing Day” where local students announce that they have taken a job with a local business.
- Advocate for local schools to incorporate entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and basic accounting classes.
The opioid crisis has touched everyone in our County in one form or another, with too many of us seeing the terrible impact of addiction firsthand. We need compassionate solutions that help people suffering from addiction to move toward recovery, obtain necessary treatment, and work through the underlying causes of addiction in their lives. We also need to find ways to educate parents, teachers, children, and community members about how to prevent drug use. We can turn back the tide of addiction in our county by working with stakeholders to create community-based solutions focused on prevention, treatment, and enforcement.
- Support efforts to create and disseminate a shared county-wide philosophy and strategies related to the opioid crisis that advance the mission of evidence-based prevention.
- Engage the law enforcement community in a search for common-sense drug enforcement efforts that emphasize treatment and rehabilitation over incarceration of more individuals.
- Assist in carrying out plans for the construction of a new County Jail that is efficient, modern, and has dedicated space for treatment and reentry efforts.
- Provide institutional and financial support for the county’s specialized dockets, and assist in expanding their capacity.
- Work with leaders within the first responder community to develop solutions that decrease burnout.
- Allocate additional funds to organizations devoted to finding innovative and fiscally sound treatment approaches, including increasing local residential treatment capacity.
- Secure state and federal funding to bring additional recovery housing options to the county.
- Assist agencies and individuals invested in providing additional supports to families and individuals impacted by addiction and its effects on our community.
- Promote stories of recovery and resiliency.
For the last several decades, the State of Ohio has cut local government funds while creating more unfunded mandates. This requires our local governments to fill budget holes by reducing services, letting go of employees, and looking for new sources of revenue such as levies. Despite this trend, Ashtabula County does not employ its own full-time grant writer, instead relying on the departments themselves to apply for their own grants. This is highly ineffective and puts Ashtabula County behind our peers. The county is losing opportunities to obtain federal, state, nonprofit, or foundation dollars to provide services and build projects. We deserve more responsible and effective government that responds to our needs.
- Employ a full-time grant writer.
- Engage a strategic planning consultant to perform SWOT analysis for the county.
- Update the 2003 Comprehensive Land Use Plan within three years with five, ten, and twenty-year projections.
- Empower Planning Commission members to invite advocates and community partners to Planning Commission meetings to make presentations on their areas of expertise.
- Build an “Ecosystem Map” that highlights the many stakeholders and assets within the county.
- Meet constituents in regular Commissioners’ Office Hours held throughout the county.
- Leverage status as an Appalachian Region County and our membership in Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to create a “Transportation Improvement Program” within Ashtabula County.
- Seek best practices for responsible governing.