Building Hope in Appalachia Ohio

Yale Insights takes a look at economic development in Southeast Ohio

by Maria Walliser-Wejebe, GOPC Project Associate

Published earlier this summer, “Building Hope in Appalachian Ohio” is a multi-part interview series largely conducted by Ted O’Callahan of Yale Insights. The six piece portrayal of the Appalachian Region, which includes 32 counties in eastern and southeastern Ohio, describes the challenges of conducting economic development in an area which has seen generational disinvestment, while also highlighting the immense payoffs to a community when development is done right.

The Appalachian Region contains 40 percent of land mass in the State of Ohio, but only 17 percent of the state-wide population (i). The region has long been the site of extractive economic activity due to its wealth of natural resources, but while creating opportunities for mass employment, this regional characteristic leaves communities vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles. Between 1900 and 1930, the region experienced a 40 percent decline in population. This exodus has continued to the present day: population in Appalachia shrank 1.9% while the statewide population grew 1.2% (ii).

Perspective interviews in the series make note of the disparities in a variety of investment affecting the Appalachian Region, comparing development investments to be five times greater in urban areas in the country over rural ones (iii). Despite the multi-faceted challenges presented to this region, communities in the area have shown resilience, vibrancy, and diversified efforts to spark economic development.

Communities like the City of Somerset have been utilizing placemaking strategies, like repainting historic buildings and organizing citywide festivals, to reinvest in their downtowns and build momentum for larger, less visual projects, like a $10 million hospital or increasing county bond capacity (iv). Morgan County aims to cap its leak in human capital by encouraging small business investment and adaptive reuse in their downtowns (v). A former Superfund site in South Point has been tenaciously redeveloped into an industrial site currently employing over 700 individuals.

The Greater Ohio policy center envisions the State of Ohio leading the nation in building state-wide economic prosperity and establishing sustainable growth, with a focus on revitalizing communities. The work that is underway in Appalachia is a prime example of the possibilities and potential that redevelopment holds for Ohio’s legacy communities. Partnerships between the state and local communities in creating vibrant, sustainable communities will continue to be a critical component to local successes.


i. Ted O’Callahan “Can Appalachian Ohio Build a New Economy?”

ii. Ted O’Callahan “Can Appalachian Ohio Build a New Economy?”

iii. Ted O’Callahan; Ray Daffner “Perspective on Appalachia Ohio: The Federal Agency”

iv. Ted O’Callahan; Tom Johnson “Perspective on Appalachia Ohio: The Small-Town Mayor”

v. Ted O’Callahan “Can Appalachian Ohio Build a New Economy?”