Southern Ohio's Pike County is poised for major economic growth. The growth is spurred by an unlikely alliance of fish, furniture and freeways.
Like much of Appalachian Ohio, Pike County's unemployment rate is high (13 percent).
At the Piketon Research Extension Center, an OSU research station, studies are under way to give southern Ohio an important new industry: fish farming.
"We concentrate on things that work best in the Appalachian counties," says Dr. Robert Rades, program director. "There is a need for adjunct enterprises, such as pond culture, in this part of Ohio. Our focus is to build a new crop for southern Ohio."
Fish mature in floating nylon netting cages, which make it easy to feed and treat them and to "harvest" the crop.
While Ohio fish farming is still an infant industry, it has the potential to be a major economic generator. Dr. Rades reports the typical request for information is from someone who wants to grow out a million pounds a year -- a pretty good-sized operation. (In perspective, the entire Lake Erie fish catch is only about a third of a million pounds a year.)
|Prompting interest in fish farming is the fact that two years ago fish became legal as a farm product in Ohio. Until then, sport fishing laws mandated that fish under a certain size belonged to the state. Interest in the new industry is so high that the permitting system took just two years to be approved by the state legislature -- in other states it has taken 10.|
|The fish farm at OSU's Piketon Research Extension Center is focusing on a new crop for Appalachian Ohio.|
Dr. Rades sees good opportunity for processing facilities to follow the fish farms. "The market for fresh fish is already large in Ohio, so a grower would not need to define or develop the market," he says.
Wood products are another Pike County growth industry. Sherwood Forest Products ships containers of dimensional lumber, sawn to foreign specs, to European cabinet makers. The much-prized Pike County white oak is used by Canton Wood Products. The oak goes into barrels for award-winning Spanish and Australian wines.
A British investor operates a large furniture factory -- Mills Pride -- at Waverly. The fast-growing company started about five years ago and now employs 2,000 in three shifts on a 117-acre site. Mills Pride, along with two or three other Ohio companies, occupies a niche in the ready-to-assemble furniture market, selling to Home Depot, Wal-Mart and others, plus overseas.
There are opportunities to serve Mill's Pride as well as other wood products firms in the area with handles and hinges, corrugated and other supplies.
Dr. Rades sees strong potential for floriculture and small fruit and vegetable production in Appalachian Ohio. "The message we hear from major retailers is that they can sell all the Ohio fruits and vegetables growers can produce," he says. In last year's "Battle of the Berries" contest put on by Kroger, Ohio came out a winner over California in a taste test.
Infrastructure is a Pike County plus point. "The major problem of any rural area is usually infrastructure," says Blaine Beekman of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce "We've got infrastructure."
One project puts Pike County at the intersection of two new interstate highways. U.S. 23, which passes through Waverly, is the designated route for I-73, a north-south corridor running from Detroit through Ohio to Charleston, S.C. I-74 is scheduled to run east from Cincinnati along current State Route 32. The two four-lane highways intersect at Piketon.
Sites in Pike County include a level 75 acres next to the OSU Research Station. Another site, Zahn's Corner, is a level 1,400-acre tract at the intersection of U.S. 23/32. It is on the main gas and electric transmission lines, has dual rail and sits on an underground aquifer.
Downsizing of a major Pike County employer may soon release a vast tract for development. The U.S. Dept. of Energy's Uranium Diffusion Plant, operated by 2,600 employees of Lockheed Martin, is now running at half throttle. The property has huge infrastructure and utility capacity. (The electric bill is close to $1 million a day, enough to run the city of Los Angeles.) There is a 75-bed hospital, rail service, and a 500,000-sq. ft. facility at a highway interchange.
|Meigs County||Pike County|
|Mid-Ohio / Obetz and Gahanna||Mercer and Auglaize Counties|
|Hardin County||Marion County|
|Village of Leipsic||West Central Ohio|