CHILLICOTHE – Community leaders gathered Friday to discuss key elements of Chillicothe and Ross County as part of the Chillicothe-Ross Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 State of the Community Address.
During the keynote at The Postmark, the speakers talked about accomplishments in their respective fields as well as what the community might expect in the future.
First to speak was Chamber of Commerce CEO Mike Throne, who said the Chamber has seen incredible growth since the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, the chamber signed more than 30 new members while striving to retain old members. They were also able to offer new services and training to chamber members like the “5 questions with” series they launched to highlight and provide insight into the different businesses in the area.
Many other speakers mentioned the pandemic in their updates saying no one could have foreseen and prepared for what happened. While the community still faces issues related to the pandemic, everyone involved thought the city would bounce back.
The Superintendent of Schools for the Town of Chillicothe, Debbie Swinehart, gave a presentation on the schools highlighting each location noting what they are doing well and what needs improvement. She mentioned how the school focuses on helping students excel in STEM.
The biggest issues facing the school are the graduation rate and the expulsion rate. Currently, the school has an 86% graduation rate with an eventual graduation goal of 100% of its students. To help with this, the school plans to help increase literacy throughout the grades, ensuring that no child is left behind.
“The district’s priorities continue to be literacy, literacy, literacy,” Swinehart said. “Ensure that all of our students can read at grade level at the end of each year.”
The district is also looking to reduce expulsion rates by increasing extracurricular activities that students can get involved in and parental involvement. This year, the school had 63 expulsion hearings. Swinehart says vaping and fighting are huge reasons many students get into trouble.
Dr. John Gabis, Medical Director of Community Partnerships with Adena Health System, provided an update on the state of health care. His presentation focused on community involvement and how partnerships with community members can bring a better quality of life to the area.
“It’s not about us,” Gabis said. “It’s about the community.”
Adena hopes to expand its services and provide more opportunities for people to improve the health and general well-being of the community. They explain that one of the best ways to do this is to make sure our children are emotionally and physically healthy.
The city continues to struggle with substance abuse disorders. Something the pandemic helped to make worse as people were isolated. Groups at the hospital are working to help those battling these disorders to hopefully reduce overdoses in the area.
County Commissioner Dwight Garret offered good news regarding things to come in the county. He highlighted the nomination of Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks for the World Heritage List. This appointment will help bring tourism to the region. He also mentioned the new Chillicothe app and how it will help tourists find local hotspots and businesses. Three local solar farms were discussed. Garret made sure to highlight how these farms will help the communities around them. His latest big news was that the Ross County Jail Project, launched in 2016, finally has an end date in sight and should be complete soon.
Closing out the event, giving what Throne called the most anticipated presentation, Mayor Luke Feeney presented his state of the city. Feeney highlighted the city’s growth and resilience.
“Despite the obstacles, Chillicothe has made great strides in 2021,” Feeney said.
He highlighted the new transit initiative the city is working on, including the new light rail that will soon hit city streets. The increase in public transportation has helped community members move around the city better. He also highlighted the master plan being created and how it will help the city develop in a positive direction.
Feeney says the biggest threat facing the city is the VA shutdown. He believes that those who have served their country should have access to quality care close to home.
“Our veterans deserve the high quality of care they receive at our Chillicothe VA and they deserve to have them close to home,” Feeney said. “It would be a real tragedy if the establishment closed.”
In an effort to improve the city, Feeney announced open houses to be held in the coming months for citizens to voice their concerns about the issues currently occurring. These meetings will generate ideas about immediate problems that require immediate solutions.
“We’ve accomplished a lot,” Feeney said. “But we can do a lot more together.”
The entire event was streamed online by the Chamber of Commerce and can be viewed on its Facebook page.
Shelby Reeves is a reporter for the Chillicothe Gazette. You can email him at [email protected]