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Rural broadband initiative approved

Port Authority gets updates on economic projects

SOUTH POINT — The Lawrence County Port Authority voted on Tuesday to approve the establishment of the Southern Ohio Broadband Initiative.

Port Authority executive director Bill Dingus asked the board to formally approve the project, which he said could take advantage of available funding from the state to bring rural Internet to the county.

“Now is the perfect time,” he said. “There is unbelievable state and federal money available.”

He said the initiative could benefit not only Lawrence County, but surrounding counties as well.

Lawrence County Commissioner DeAnna Holliday, who serves on the board, said rural broadband has never been more relevant than with the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for students to do at-home learning and employees needing to work from home.

She said the county commission has formed a broadband commission as well, knowing that funds would be available and she hoped this would lead to “shovel-ready projects.”

“I really believe this will be a game changer,” she said of upgrades in broadband service to rural parts of the county.

The Port Authority also received an update on projects in the county, such as the Gateway Center in Ironton, where the new Marriott Town Suites on South Ninth Street expected to be complete by Jan. 1, 2021 and ready for occupancy thereafter.

Dingus said several businesses at The Point are hiring and they are seeking applicants.

“The biggest issue is getting employees to come on board,” he said. “We have jobs in Lawrence County and we’re looking for people.”

He said the new Vertiv facility in Ironton is hiring and that those interested can go to the website of the company, which produces equipment and services for data centers and communications networks.

He said people can also contact any Vertiv employee, who get a commission for new hires.

Tuesday’s meeting was a teleconference, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dingus said the county’s economy has not been impacted greatly by the pandemic, with most effects limited to restaurants and personal care facilities.

However, he did say hospitals in the region have taken a hit, with elective surgeries limited during the shutdowns.

“That, and the closing of Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital is the reason for the unemployment we’ve seen,” he said.

The next meeting of the Port Authority is set for 10:30 a.m. on Friday, July 31. It will be followed by a meeting of the Lawrence County Economic Development and then a dedication ceremony, open to the public, for the new Spec 11 building at The Point Industrial park.