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Playing the Long Game

Every once in a while you will hear a country, a politician or a company described as “playing the long game.”  Urban Dictionary defines the phrase as “active participation in achieving goals which may take some time.”  Other sources add that those playing the long-game may pass over short- or medium-term gains in order to reach larger and more beneficial long-term goals.

Economic development is a field where winners learn playing the long game produces more benefits.  Economies rise and fall over decades so strategies work best when they address long-term opportunities and challenges and answer questions like:

  • What are our unique competitive advantages and how can we capitalize on them?
  • What new industries are emerging that are right for our region? How do we attract them?
  • How do we preserve viable segments of declining industries?
  • What infrastructure, sites and buildings need to be in place 5, 10, 20 years from now so we are positioned to grow?
  • How do we prepare our children to be the workers we need in the future?

Most economic development players are too focused on short-term results to ever answer these questions.  That’s not an indictment of them.  There are lots of factors that focus them on near-term results including funding sources.

Election and appropriations cycles drive the short-term focus of many elected leaders.  Balanced budget requirements force reductions when times are tough and tax revenues are down – just when economic development is needed the most.  All that pushes organizations to prioritize immediate opportunities and avoid making long-term plans and commitments since resources might not be there to support them.

With the creation of JobsOhio, we have an opportunity to do better.  One of JobsOhio’s strongest features is its long-term funding.  In forming JobsOhio, visionary leaders provided the financial stability and organizational structure that allows JobsOhio and its regional partners to play the long game.

The proposed ethane cracker petrochemical complex in Belmont County is a great example of how much a long game can pay off.  JobsOhio’s strategy of attracting companies to process our shale gas resources goes back to its founding in 2011. It took several years of exhaustive work to position Ohio for this opportunity and to find a company with the interest and ability to pull it off.  For the last three years, JobsOhio, APEG, local officials and the site owners have been working to prove to the company that Ohio and the site have all the right characteristics for project success.

Over the next few months, the company will evaluate designs, review cost projections, determine the project’s feasibility and approach capital markets for financing.

If the final decision is to proceed, it will come nearly six years after JobsOhio set its strategy in motion. The payoff would be the single biggest private sector investment ever made in Ohio. Moreover, by providing a local source of polyethylene, the cracker will likely lead to major growth in plastics manufacturing in Ohio. These are the kinds of differences playing the long game can make in economic development.

I came back to Ohio in 2012 to start-up APEG because I believed that the JobsOhio model was the best idea I had seen in 30+ years in the field, and because of JobsOhio’s commitment that Appalachian Ohio would not be left behind again.

Like JobsOhio, APEG is playing the long game.  While we certainly jump on immediate opportunities, our shale energy, wood products and Ohio River strategies are just three areas where we are playing the long game to position the region for greater prosperity for decades to come.