Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers was on defense, but not from opposing linemen. Not only was he answering questions from the press about the outcome of the game after Tampa Bay beat the Packers for a trip to the Super Bowl, but also questions about his future, and speculation he might be looking to go to another team. That line of questioning led him to proffer the following sentiment for the sports writers to chew on: “(Folks) change is the only constant in this business.”
My father, Al Sims, had a similar line when I asked him once about a magazine he subscribed to called Change. While it was focused mostly on higher education (he was executive vice president of College Boards at the time), he was insistent that change was the never-ending variable in life. Father-to-son message: Learn to adapt, stay ahead of the curve, or get sidelined in the eddies of life. So, what does this constant called change have to do with Hillsboro?
Hillsboro appealed to my wife and me for a variety of reasons. After the rat races of Washington, D.C. and New York City the appeal of country living was compelling, the beautiful rolling hills, the quiet, and a piece of property that we couldn’t resist. But Hillsboro also seemed to us a town headed in a positive direction. We saw a beautiful historic district, a beautiful new hospital, solid industrial anchors, prominent and growing retail, a school system with high marks, a wonderful community college, and generally a city that seemed less interested in standing pat and more interested in upping its game.
Given that context, I took note of the Hecate Energy proposal for the New Market I-II solar farms slated to produce 300 megawatts of clean electricity and potentially millions of tax dollars for Highland County. As is the case with most propositions, there are usually two sides. South Columbus happens to be dealing with a similar “Janus-faced” proposition, a large data center proposed on a 500-acre piece of the venerated Hartman Farm. The huge data center bodes well for the future, but many folks don’t want it because they don’t want the business to take over a piece of the bucolic but fallow farm.
Janus, the ancient Roman god of passages and transitions, was usually depicted as having one face looking forward and the other backwards. These opportunities, like the growing Wilmington Air Park, are examples of leaning forward into the future while avoiding the inertia of standing pat in what’s past.
This past Monday’s announcement by Governor Mike DeWine of a new Cleveland Innovation District, to match the established Cincinnati Innovation District, are major efforts to position Ohio for the future, but these efforts shouldn’t be limited to Ohio’s urban centers. Cleveland can leverage institutions like the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve, University Hospitals and Cleveland State University, but Highland County has its A-Team of institutional leaders to leverage as well.
My sense is that a plurality of Hillsboro citizens are not interested in Hillsboro being a lagging indicator as we move into the highly mutable tech-driven 21st century. These renewable energy projects and data center developments are solid bets on the future, and Highland County needs to find and ride these arcs into the future.
We have learned things from this pandemic that can inform our intentions as we move forward. Broadband accessibility to the Internet is a must for our community to keep our citizens as well informed as those in big-city centers, and such accessibility applies to our businesses, our schools, and our public health care systems. Distance learning and work-from-home practices will have post-pandemic legs and these trends augur well for places like Hillsboro, assuming the requisite digital infrastructure is there.
Highland County is a sure bet for the development of mid-west logistics and distribution but needs the right physical and digital infrastructure. And it goes without saying we need to plan for the strengthening of support for our public health institutions. We need to make sure there are no systemic inequalities in health care access and delivery responses during pandemics or otherwise.
Governor DeWine signed a $2.1 billion capital budget at the end of last year. From those dollars, $280 million has been earmarked for local infrastructure projects. Matt Szollosi, executive director of ACTOhio (Affiliated Construction Trades) noted how important infrastructure work will be to Ohio’s economic recovery: “Given the difficult economic circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the time to invest in Ohio’s infrastructure is now. The quickest route back to economic prosperity for all Ohioans is to build.”
Highland County needs to be prepared when that $280 million opens up for business.
If you were listening carefully to Aaron Rogers, you might have heard a familiar refrain in football speak, a refrain that has much broader implications. Yes, the Packers were good this year, but the franchise needs to focus on continual improvement to remain one of the best and become even better… Super Bowl better.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.