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MOUNT HOPE -- Economic development and infrastructure go hand-in-hand, especially in Holmes County, where development is limited by infrastructure.
That's according to Holmes County Economic Development Council Executive Director Mark Leininger, who recently welcomed a group of local leaders and business representatives to the annual meeting of the council.
To those, he said, the ability to be successful hinges on the ability to improve the infrastructure. It's a theory that recently became a reality when local, state and federal funding totaling nearly $450,000 was combined to improve roadways in Walnut Creek Township.
The project was prompted by the construction of a new 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility along County Road 140, between Walnut Creek and Sugarcreek, by ProVia.
The $10 million project supports relocation of Heritage Stone, purchased by ProVia in 2011, to Holmes County from Muskingum County, according to a prior agreement with the Holmes County commissioners.
The purpose of the road project is to improve local transportation infrastructure to safely accommodate increased heavy truck traffic and other local traffic, according to Leininger, who said ProVia has made a significant contribution to the infrastructure by footing the $600,000 bill to extend more than a mile the public sewer lines to the new building.
Expansion of the facility means increased heavy truck traffic on County Road 140 and Township Road 420, which previously were traveled by automobiles, farm equipment, bicycles and horse-drawn buggies.
Keynote speaker at the annual breakfast meeting was Congressman Bob Gibbs, a Lakeville Republican, who currently is seeking his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"The entrepreneurial spirit is great in Holmes County," Gibbs said, noting that it is bolstered locally by a healthy banking structure, which goes hand-in-hand with business success.
He spoke largely about the federal budgeting process -- distinguishing between what is mandatory and what is discretionary spending.
"Because revenues are not increasing at the same rate (as spending), it makes less money available for discretionary spending," said Gibbs, noting with discretionary spending is funding for defense and infrastructure.
With mandatory spending projected to flatline, with the exception of health care, which is on the rise, he said, available funds for discretionary spending will be less. Consequently, Gibbs said, "Mandatory spending must be addressed. That's really what drives the problem."
Tax reform is necessary if companies in the United States are to compete in a global market, he said, noting the regulatory side "gets in the way of job growth." Gibbs said he supports "common sense: reforms at the federal level.
With more available funding, he said, the federal government can continue to build on the infrastructure initiatives already in place.
Efforts have been made to improve ground, rail and water transportation, all critical in the effort to move products and be competitive in the world market, he said, noting the United States has started to fall behind other countries in the area of infrastructure.
To move forward, he said, the country needs to address a growing debt, which will lead to a debt crisis and "will make the 1930s look like child's play," said Gibbs, adding the United States can get on the right track by instituting the right policies.
Questioned by Holmes County Engineer Chris Young about a long-term funding solution to make infrastructure sustainable for the future, Gibbs said he doesn't think anyone in the legislature is looking at it, although he admits the gas tax is no longer a sustainable option, thanks to the advent of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
One solution, he said, could be hinged on miles driven, but "I don't think society is ready to go there because of the fear of Big Brother," said Gibbs, adding, "It has to be a national discussion."
It's a discussion that can only happen if the nation is able to carve its way out of a deep economic hole, freeing up funding for infrastructure and national defense, both the responsibility of government.
"We need to create an environment where American people can chase their dreams. When the economy is doing well, the environment is enhanced. When it is not doing well, the environment suffers," he said. "We have to put more money into the military and national defense. We also have to address the infrastructure.
Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.