Portman’s visit a plus for area

A common complaint is that the concerns of residents of Southeastern Ohio often fall on deaf ears.

That’s why Sen. Rob Portman’s three-day swing through our part of the state last week was important. The Cincinnati Republican covered 750 miles and 12 counties during the trip, discussing work force development, energy production, tax reform, agriculture and how Ohio’s small businesses are helping to secure our borders.

Included among his stops was a Friday morning visit to Eastern Gateway Community College. Portman had the opportunity to see firsthand the work force training being done on the Steubenville campus. He also participated in a roundtable discussion that centered on the importance of extending eligibility for federal Pell Grants to students who are interested in short-term training opportunities.

The Pell Grant program helps undergraduates of low-income families who are attending universities or other post-secondary institutions. Unlike loans, they do not have to be repaid. Through the Jumpstart Our Business by Supporting Students Act, which was co-sponsored by Portman and Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, students would have easier access to training for the 7.3 million jobs that remain unfilled due in part to a shortage of qualified workers.

As Portman was reminded, the cost of obtaining a certificate in a field such as welding or phlebotomy or gaining a commercial drivers license can create financial hardships for some students, leading them to delay their enrollment into programs or scrap their plans altogether. A welding student, for example, told the senator he had to borrow money from his mother, who took the funds from her retirement account, in order to pay for his training.

By expanding eligibility for Pell Grants, more people would be able to obtain the skills they need to get jobs, said EGCC President Jimmie Bruce.

That will help our region’s economy and will offer an incentive for young people to stay in our area, instead of having to leave to pursue employment opportunities. That’s critical to our region’s growth, and that’s what those on hand for the discussion included Tricia Maple-Damewood, president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce; Jess Looman, human resource manager of JSW Steel; and Evan Scurti, executive director of the Jefferson County Port Authority.

Many of those opportunities are tied to the oil and gas industry in our region, a point driven home when Portman traveled to Harrison County and had the opportunity to visit a gas rig in Bowerston later Friday.

It’s good to know that Portman has a genuine concern for our region, and encouraging to see that he is willing to take steps needed to help area residents.