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Steubenville Awaits Governor Kasich’s Address
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Ohio Governor John Kasich next week takes his State of the State address on the road to northeast Ohio. The Governor will travel to Steubenville to honor the state’s top performing elementary school, report on his first year in office, and give his blueprint for the remainder of his term. But the city is most interested in his jobs message.
When Governor Kasich arrives at Wells Academy, he’ll see a city struggling to keep its economic balance. Many of the downtown storefronts along Market Street are vacant, testimony to the shuttered factories that provided sidewalk bustle for most of last century.
Steubenville predates Ohio statehood. Fort Steuben was built in 1797. The city’s population peaked at around 40,000 several decades ago. New census figures count 19,000.
The large majority of voters are democrats. One school staffer joked that she knew all five republicans in Steubenville. But, lifelong resident Dan Geary says he’ll extend the welcome mat for Governor Kasich.
“We’re tired of the way stuff is going nowadays. We’ve got the steel mills all closing down and jobs ain’t around here no more. So hopefully he’ll be able to bring something here.”
Unemployment in Steubenville peaked at 13.6 percent in June of 2010. The city’s median household income is $37,000 or $9,000 lower than the statewide average. Pat Babel says she moved to Steubenville just a couple of years ago.
Borgerding: “So if you had a chance to talk to the governor what would you tell him Steubenville needs right now? “ Babel: “More places for homeless people with all these buildings that are vacant.” Says Babel.
Babel points to the second and third stories of many of the downtown buildings with empty storefronts at street level and vacant offices or apartments on the second and third floors. Near the middle of the business district, Jerry Barilla is among the few downtown business owners who have survived hard times.
“And we’ve had some difficult times in the last ten years or so.”
Barilla owns an appliance and furniture store on Market Street, three blocks from the Ohio River and the state’s eastern border. He’s also a local historian on all things Steubenville.
“Naturally the river was a great asset for industry and the rails were located along the riverbank as well, so with the great work ethic here in Steubenville and the access to water and rail and natural resources such as coal we became a formidable force for manufacturing.” Says Barilla.
But, with the loss of thousands of jobs during the last generation, Barilla says the city is ready for an economic rebound. And, he hopes Governor Kasich will bring some upbeat news in his state of the state address.
“As it is on the national level the word jobs, the job, the ability to create jobs is paramount and I hope that the governor coming to Steubenville may have some good news for us about the Utica and Marcellus shale as well as the academics that Steubenville holds.”
In conversations through-out Steubenville anticipation about potential job creation from the natural gas and oil fields known as the Utica and Marcellus Shale is palpable.
Even at Wells Academy, the site of Mr. Kasich’s address, principal Joe Nocera and third grade teacher Dawn Takach took note of the promise of new energy industry jobs and drew links between the job place and the classroom.
“There is a lot of depression in whole, in the whole United States, so here it might look worse than other places but I think things are looking up. I mean look at our test scores that our school has, we’re obviously doing something great. We’re being recognized by the Governor.” Says Takach.
“We’re hoping that the Marcellus shale and the gas drilling and so forth will bring people into the community and families into the community and they’re going to need schools and so forth and so we’re really optimistic.” Says Nocera.
Even so, principal Nocera expects some outside demonstrations or protests when the Governor speaks. After all, the republican Governor is entering a democratic stronghold. Voter registration in Steubenville shows a ratio of four registered democrats to every one republican. But, Nocera says its an honor to host the state’s top elected official.
“As with any state of the state address you’re going to have a protest element, I would assume, that’s the American way and I don’t see that this would be much different.”