Economic development at Rocky Fork Lake will be the focus of a Cincinnati-based strategy firm chosen to be part of the Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Project (RFL-ASAP).
The project, funded by an $800,000 grant, is focused on economic development, housing and property, human services and law enforcement in the Rocky Fork region.
The Highland County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday approved the project’s joint steering team and economic development subcommittee to retain Development Strategies Group to aid in the strategic planning process.
“They have extensive experience,” said LuAnn Winkle, site coordinator for the project. “We did reference checks on them, of course, and they are definitely qualified… For the next 18 months, they will be helping to facilitate an economic development strategy with a primary focus on job creation, recreation and tourism development.”
Winkle said one of DSG’s top priorities will be sitting down with the economic development subcommittee, its main point of contact, identifying additional stakeholders and encouraging them to be involved in the conversation.
“The stakeholders will drive the process,” Winkle said. “An example might be a representative from the arts community… like the Appalachian Art Guild here in Highland County… There are a lot of other stakeholders who need to be brought to the table, and [DSG’s] job is to identify them and encourage their participation.”
Winkle said DSG will conduct listening sessions and focus groups with stakeholders to get input on what might be an appropriate vision for the lake.
“They’re going to be looking at a lot of things,” she said. “Outdoor recreation, fishing, hiking, biking, all the activities you would find at a lake park.”
According to its website, DSG has experience in economic development, transportation, housing, real estate, zoning, land use, environmental, permitting, taxation and electric deregulation.
Winkle said Wednesday the company is on an 18-month retainer for $3,500 per month, plus $5,000 for expenses, for a total of $68,000.
In another matter, Winkle told The Times-Gazette the RFL project is hoping to send a contingent to the Appalachian Gateway Communities Regional Workshop.
According to conservationfund.org, the workshop is a three-day event in Ringgold, Ga., that provides teams of four to seven people with skills to capitalize on opportunities for local economic development, cultural heritage, natural resource tourism, public arts promotion and preservation and stewardship of community character.
The workshop is sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, according to the website, and will be held May 9-11 this year.
Winkle said the workshop will provide valuable resources for the project, including possible opportunities to find more seed money.
“We’ve applied for admission, and we hope to send a team,” she said. “The art culture is so rich in Appalachia, so it’s kind of partnering with artists and public lands, and learning how to use those things as a tool for economic development… I just think the economic development piece has got incredible potential,” she said.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.