Blaming our county’s problems on in-migration from Appalachia may be a convenient, if not urban-legend explanation, but it’s also one sure to stir strong emotions among those who migrated here in the 1950s, not for a handout but the opportunity to work.
Sixty years later, however, this Ashtabula County/ Appalachia-connection mentality has resurfaced in the efforts of Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Bainbridge Township. In 2003, LaTourette introduced a bill that would add Ashtabula, Mahoning and Trumbull counties to the Appalachian Regional Commission. H.B. 799 is before the U.S. Senate, and LaTourette hopes action will be taken this session.
Debbie Setliff, spokesperson for LaTourette’s Painesville office, says the designation is based upon contiguous counties being part of the ARC and the economic situation in the county.
“Ashtabula County would qualify because of the economic distress in the county,” Setliff says.
She says inclusion would give the county priority when dipping into pots of federal money for rural development, water/sewer projects and transportation.
It is interesting to note that among the three contiguous Ohio counties being considered for ARC inclusion, Ashtabula County has the lowest per capita income; the median family income here lags both counties by $5,000 or more, suggesting their poor neighbor to the north is ironically the most “Appalachian” of the trio. And both Trumbull and Mahoning counties had lower unemployment rates in January.
And yet Ashtabula County is rich with resources these other counties lack – land mass, Lake Erie ports, wineries, covered bridges and new state lodge. Many residents of Mahoning and Trumbull counties head north to enjoy these amenities, ironically in a county that lags behind theirs in basic indicators of economic health.
Why are we not doing better? And why does it matter if we don’t?
As for the latter question, the answer is quality of life. It’s not rocket science – if the residents of a county don’t make enough money to cover the basics, service industries and retailers whose businesses depend upon discretionary income aren’t going to locate in that community because there’s not enough extra money exchanging hands to support them. Property owners will be less likely to pass levies and school districts and municipal and county governments will constantly face budget struggles. Without discretionary income, individuals don’t have the money to support charities and the arts, invest in new businesses, send their kids to college, go back to school for their degree or additional training, buy that $25-bottle of wine, spend a night in the state-park lodge, shop in the upscale department store, eat at restaurants that don’t have a drive-through window or buffet line, own a boat and make improvements to their homes.