Appalachia Forward Conference

Appalachia Forward Conference Convenes to Collaborate and Prepare for Historic $500M Opportunity


Waverly, Ohio There are many people working hard for Appalachian Ohio who believe the future is bright for our region. This week, local elected officials and economic development professionals from across the 32 Appalachian Ohio counties met at Shawnee Lodge and Conference Center in Scioto County for the second annual Appalachia Forward Conference on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

The Appalachia Forward Conference, organized by the Ohio University Voinovich School of Public Leadership, provided the opportunity to bring people together to discuss transformative change and collaborate on multi-jurisdictional project ideas that transcend the boundaries of counties, cities and villages in preparation for the OhioBuilds Appalachian Community Grant Program, a historic $500 million dollar investment by the DeWine administration in the Appalachian Ohio region. The program is expected to begin accepting applications mid-fall.

With a keynote opening address from Ohio Director of Development Lydia Mihalik, and remarks from John Carey, Director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia, the day started off on a high note. For the 160+ attendees both in person and virtually, the presentations, panels and Q&A set the tone for a successful conference.

L to R: OMEGA Region Executive Director Jeanette Wierzbiki, OVRDC Executive Director John Hemmings, Ohio Department of Development Director Lydia Mihalik, Ohio Governor’s Office of Appalachia Director John Carey, Buckeye Hills Regional Council Director Chasity Schmelzenbach, and Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership Director External Relations Amista Lipot. Photo credit Kennedy Blakely


“The conference presentations were excellent, providing great ideas for the audience members to consider for their communities. The Appalachia Community Grant Program guidelines and application are not yet available, but we heard a good summation of what is going to be expected in an application by Julia Hinten of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia,” said John Hemmings, OVRDC Executive Director.

This is the second year for the conference, organized by Amista Lipot, Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership Director of External Relations and the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Partnership for Progress, which serves mayors and city managers in 18 counties, representing nearly 120 communities and a population of almost 800,000.

“Serving the region and our communities is our number one priority. Supporting and providing local governments the necessary resources, tools, ideas, and connections is vital to taking full advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity Appalachia Ohio has in front of us.  I am honored to be able to play a small role in these efforts and am looking forward to the exciting times ahead with our many partners including the regions award winning Local Development Districts,” said Amista Lipot, Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership.

“The Appalachia Forward conference highlighted the historic and unprecedented opportunity we have to undertake transformative placemaking efforts in Appalachian Ohio. Many passionate professionals have been working on developing our world-class assets and the Appalachian Community Grant Program presents a chance to collaborate and exponentially propel that momentum into a new era of prosperity and possibility for our region,” said Jessica Keeton, OVRDC Economic Development Coordinator.

”Listening to what economic development professionals from other areas are doing inspires new innovative ideas to use when planning for the future of our region,” said Stephanie Gilbert, OVRDC Transportation Coordinator.

The Appalachia Forward Conference is also an opportunity for the Local Development Districts (LDDs) to share program highlights, project updates and innovative projects and collaborations that are happening in their regions. The four LDDs work closely together and include the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission (OVRDC), serving 12 counties in the southern and south-central part of the state; Buckeye Hill Regional Commission in the southeastern region; OMEGA – Ohio Mideastern Governments Association for counties along the Ohio/Pennsylvania border; and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments in the most northern counties of Appalachian Ohio.