Trish Bennett, Editor
CIRCLEVILLE – Circleville’s participation in the America’s Best Communities competition may have ended Wednesday with the announcement of the 15 semi-finalists in the contest, but the experience has laid groundwork for the city’s future, according to Ryan Scribner, director of Pickaway Progress Partnership (P3).
“It has always been exciting to daydream about what we might do if we made it into the top three and had millions of dollars to work with, but I see a great value in a couple of things,” Scribner said.
As one of the 50 communities selected last year as a quarter-finalist in the competition, Scribner said a spotlight was placed on Pickaway County, which helped gain exposure throughout the region, state and nation, and even on a global scale.
Also, he said, the $50,000 in grant money that came along with the quarter-finalist designation helped develop a revitalization plan for the city that can be used moving forward.
“It was a process that engaged and involved a lot of people here locally,” Scribner said. “It gave us some things we can start working on to keep up momentum and, in the spirit of the competition, truly make Circleville one of America’s Best Communities. We were due for a planning effort, so we feel like we’ve won anyway, whether we made the cut or not, and we have a nice plan to work with going forward.”
More than 350 communities nationwide entered the competition after its launch in 2014, and 50 were selected as quarter-finalists in April 2015. Each of the 50 was awarded $50,000 in seed money to develop a Community Revitalization Plan and were paired with a major Corporation that served as a strategic advisor as part of the competition’s Adopt-a-Community Program. From this class of 50 quarter-finalist communities, the 15 with the best plans — those with the most innovative ideas being effectively executed — were named semi-finalists on Wednesday.
Portsmouth was the only city in Ohio to make the cut to 15 semi-finalists in the competition. The other communities are Lake Havasu City, Arizona; Charleston, West Virginia; Statesboro, Georgia; Valley County/Meadows Valley, Idaho; Chisago Lakes Area, Minnesota; Huntington, West Virginia; DeKalb, Illinois; Fort Dodge, Iowa; Darrington/Arlington, Washington; Valparaiso, Indiana; Tualatin, Oregon; Wenatchee/East Wenatchee, Washington; Madison, Indiana; and Angola/Fremont, Indiana.
Mayor Don McIlroy said Wednesday’s announcement was a disappointment, but he believes the contest proved this community is strong and desirable.
“Out of about 400 communities that applied, we got down to 50,” McIlroy said. “Those folks thought enough of this community to invest money into us and help us develop this revitalization plan, so we should be very, very pleased we got to that first cut. What we have now is a comprehensive plan that we really didn’t have before.”
McIlroy said the process allowed local officials to take a good, hard look at the community from the inside and talk about the assets of Circleville and Pickaway County.
“This wonderful revitalization action plan will carry us to the next level when we go out and start looking for investors and key players who want to do business in Circleville,” he said. “It will help me greatly when I go out and talk economic development.”
The revitalization plan devised a 10-step action plan, three of which would have required winning the $3 million top prize in the ABC competition. The other seven, though, did not require winning the competition, and local officials are prepared to move forward to bring some of those plans to fruition.
“Obviously the land use, which was the number one strategy that came out of this, that is huge,” McIlroy said. “The plans we had for the west entrance of the city is still high on our list and something city council is still desirous to do if we can find some funding.”
Workforce development also is a priority for the city, McIlroy said, and the technology portion is already on its way through the development of the Southern Gateway business incubator project at Ohio Christian University.
“This plan helped us identify our problems that we could use the money for,” McIlroy said. “Now we just have to find the money and make it happen. We didn’t get it here, but we’ll find it someplace.”
McIlroy said another very important benefit of participation in the contest is the development of a stronger relationship with Frontier Communications, one of the sponsors of the America’s Best Communities competition.
“We’ve got a great partner in Frontier,” he said. “We’ve been very, very close, and that relationship has only gotten better through this process. I believe we have found a new partner who can truly help us.”
Additional sponsors of the competition are DISH Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel.
Scribner said he also appreciates the sponsors and their investment in the communities that participated in the contest.
“We do appreciate the sponsors, especially Frontier who had personnel boots on the ground and spent a lot of time here with us in this community,” Scribner said. “I think they did a lot of good for the communities in this contest. The discussions we had and the progress we made played out in communities across the country. I think it’s a good thing they did.”
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal