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State legislators highlight help for Stark County businesses, workers

Published By Canton Repository on October 31, 2023
Scott Oelslager In The News

The state lawmakers who represent Stark County residents believe the state's recent investments in workforce initiatives, housing incentives and drug addiction and mental health treatments will help Stark County businesses compete and attract workers.

Five state legislators presented highlights of their efforts to spur economic development Friday during the Stark County Legislative Breakfast, which was hosted by the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Massillon WestStark Chamber of Commerce at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The event featured Rep. Scott Oelslager, a Republican who serves as second-in-command in the Ohio House and who represents the 48th district that includes most communities northeast of Canton; Rep. Jim Thomas, a Republican representing the 49th district that includes Canton and Jackson Township; Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus, a Republican representing the 50th district that stretches like a belt across the county and includes Canal Fulton, Massillon, East Canton and south of Alliance; Rep. Brett Hillyer, a Republican representing the 51st district that represents the southeastern corner of Stark County; and Sen. Al Landis, a Republican representing the 31st district that also represents the southeastern corner of Stark.

Absent from the panel was state Sen. Kirk Schuring, a Republican who represents all of Stark County except the southeastern corner and serves as second-in-command in the Ohio Senate. Schuring has been hospitalized with complications from an undisclosed chronic health issue.

Friday was the first time the delegation has been together in Stark County since the redrawing of congressional districts. The roughly 100 people in the audience included business owners, community leaders, education representatives and elected officials. The questions, which were posed by moderators Gus Callas of Black McCuskey Souers & Arbaugh and Fred Horner of Advanced Industrial Roofing, largely focused on the legislators’ efforts to spur economic development and help businesses.

Here are some highlights from Friday’s discussion:

How have Ohio lawmakers spurred economic growth in 2023?

The lawmakers pointed to the state’s nearly 6,200-page, two-year operating budget that they passed in July as a major factor in making Ohio more attractive to business investment.

Oelslager, who has served in the state House or Senate for roughly 38 years, highlighted the tax cuts contained in the budget. Lawmakers continued their decade-long efforts to reduce the number of income tax brackets by consolidating the four tax brackets down to two. The budget also will eliminate the state’s Commercial Activities Tax for 90% of companies who currently pay it.

Landis, who served eight years in the Ohio House and four years as a Tuscarawas County commissioner before being elected to his first term as a state senator in November, said the operating budget put an “exclamation point” on workforce development to help short-staffed businesses. He said the $50 million for adolescent behavior health will help address the root causes of addiction and mental health that keep so many residents from working.

Stoltzfus, a former Paris Township trustee who now runs a family farm and is serving his third term, also noted that the budget funds nonprofit organizations, such as Stark County-based Men’s Challenge, that help residents become employable. Men’s Challenge, which will receive $300,000 in state funding over two years, is a faith-based organization that provides classes, workshops and mentoring to help men in Alliance, Canton and Massillon recover from a variety of life challenges that can keep them from finding employment.

Thomas, a former Jackson Township trustee and president of the residential rental property company JT Linwood Co, emphasized the state budget’s increased funding for education and the variety of incentives that were funded to help make housing more affordable for workers.

The budget created a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, income tax deductions to help with the purchase of a home, and a tax credit for the construction of single-family housing. The Welcome Home Ohio program also provides grants and tax credit incentives for land banks and developers to purchase and rehabilitate residential properties.

Beyond the budget, Hillyer, an attorney who is serving his third term, highlighted how the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to lead efforts to provide a cleaner energy source with no or little carbon emissions. The Stark Regional Transit Authority has been among the agencies advocating for the regional hub that could create more than 18,000 construction jobs and more than 3,000 permanent jobs in the region.

What’s coming up?

Lawmakers say they are discussing with constituents possible projects for the upcoming biennial capital budget, which traditionally includes funds for state agencies, colleges, universities, school districts, and some community projects. They also are seeking to learn more about what projects could qualify for the All Ohio Future Fund, which will provide $750 million for projects that would prepare locations so they are ready for businesses.

Stoltzfus elicited applause from Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula and others when he said he wanted some of the money to be put toward the long-stalled four-lane extension of U.S. Route 30.

“My trucks drive Route 30 over to Pennsylvania every day and it’s a drag,” he said. “It’s a two-lane road with stop lights. We need to finish Route 30.”

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