Grant leads Gibson to position with the port authority office

Grant leads Gibson to position with the port authority office

Sherri Gibson recently started a new adventure with the Coshocton Port Authority team, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.

Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs was awarded a $2.2 million investment from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration to accelerate the region’s transition from a coal economy through a new initiative called Resilience Initiative for Southeastern and Eastern Ohio.

RISE Ohio is a $2.7 million, two-year program led by Ohio University’s Voinovich School, in partnership with the Buckeye Hills Regional Council and Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association, focused on helping communities in an 18-county region make an economic transition to new industries and ensuring continued job creation, as well as economic growth and diversification. The new funding will enable these communities to engage in Opportunity Zone planning, along with assisting them with the impacts of coal-fired power plant closures.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for the RISE Ohio grant,” said Tiffany Swigert, executive director of the Coshocton Port Authority. “We started conversations on this about a year and a half ago with Jason Jolly from Ohio University and OMEGA, who we typically work hand and hand with on federal and state funding. They recognized that we had a need here and have been increasingly busy trying to work hard on getting over decades of past closures, with most recently being the AEP plant.”

Instead of relying on job creation and tax base generated from historic dependence on coal mining, coal-fired power plants and coal supply chain industries in their communities, RISE Ohio will enable local communities in Appalachian Ohio to examine market opportunities available to build community resilience. Gibson will specifically help Coshocton County with this for the next two years, along with a consultant from OMEGA.

“In the grant we had to specify activities that would help the community recover,” Swigert said. “Sherri will truly be an extension of me in the office. It’s only two years and temporary, but we hope it will catch value here and be something we can continue.”

Gibson was perfect for the position because she could hit the ground running.

“I didn’t have four months to get someone on board and understanding the ins and outs of Coshocton,” Swigert said. “With Sherri’s recent retirement from Ohio Means Jobs (Coshocton County), she was a perfect fit. We’ve worked together for the last three and a half years. It was a beautiful way to bring her in.”

In her new position, Gibson will be involved with a number of projects including assisting with the redevelopment of the power plant site, identifying sources of infrastructure funding with the development of the Coshocton Collaborative to help create a culture of entrepreneurship and business collaboration, and city rezoning efforts and more.

“This job combines my favorite parts of my previous careers into a single position,” Gibson said. “I’ve done engineering, teaching and employment work with Job and Family Services. I feel I’ve been training my whole working career for this position. It’s the best of everything I’ve done. I’m pretty excited about that.”

Gibson also will help tackle the problem of Rural Brain Drain.

“When kids graduate from high school and college, they often don’t want to come back here because they don’t think there are opportunities,” Swigert said. “We really want to focus on making sure those opportunities are captured with local companies and not just the industries. We want to have a separate webpage so they know where to look for those opportunities when they come home for the holidays, graduate or are on summer break. We want to communicate these opportunities really well.”

Swigert is very excited to now have a team of three in her office working hard to help Coshocton.

“People don’t understand the volume of things we are handling in this office,” she said. “We’ve just been scratching the surface, and now we have someone that can dive deep into things for us. We are just so grateful for these next two years with Sherri. I’ll never take credit for job creation. Our job is to connect opportunities with jobs and expansion. Our activity doing that in the last three and a half years has been pretty good, but now we are going to be able to line up bigger and better things for our community. We are going to kill it in the next two years.”