PIKETON, Ohio -- In Appalachia Ohio where low income, high unemployment, and lack of opportunities stifle economic growth, an Ohio State University program exists that works to boost rural development by pooling the resources, training and services of new and existing businesses.
For nearly a decade the Ohio Cooperative Development Center (OCDC), located at OSU South Centers at Piketon, has been supporting rural economic development throughout southern Ohio by assisting businesses in developing cooperatives.
The goal, said OCDC program manager Tom Snyder, is to encourage businesses that serve a common purpose to work together rather than individually, especially in communities where cooperatives would have a significant impact on economic development and where they would be more cost-efficient.
"I love the notion of cooperativeness -- using the power of big numbers to get something done," said Snyder. "Working together can be such a great tool and can have quite a powerful positive impact on an otherwise negatively viewed situation."
OCDC has assisted in the formation of six new cooperatives, some of which target farmers' markets, manufacturing businesses and health care services. The program operates solely through grants and funding from Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. OCDC recently received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development to continue its efforts.
"We've worked closely with the Ohio Cooperative Development Center to carry out the common mission of rural economic developing using the cooperative business model," said Randy Hunt, USDA Rural Development Agency state director. "Successful competition for this grant ensures an available funding source for many of Ohio's rural community development initiatives."
Snyder said that some of the objectives of OCDC are to increase incomes and production, create employment opportunities and decrease out-migration from rural Ohio communities -- in short, to ensure the region as an asset to Ohio's overall economic sustainability.
"In Appalachia Ohio, as opposed to more metro areas, unemployment is higher, the average household income is lower and community structure is not always conducive to business growth. Additionally, businesses tend to be smaller so they have fewer opportunities to access resources individually," said Snyder. "We recognized these issues and realized that the keys to economic growth may lie in the ability to market as a group and increase business visibility for those seeking employment opportunities."
To help businesses achieve those goals, OCDC staff provides technical assistance and advisory services, conducts training programs, assists with information access, conducts feasibility studies, develops business plans, produces budget and cash flow documents, and participates in bylaw development.
"We strive to lobby for the services that Appalachia Ohio needs," said Snyder. "Sometimes the area is just not first on the list to get money, support or attention it deserves."