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Portman meets with local business leaders

SOUTH POINT — U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, met with local business leaders and officials at the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

The visit by the senator was part of his three-day tour across southern Ohio to discuss how he said his bipartisan JOBS Act legislation will help more Ohioans get the skills and training they need to find in-demand jobs.

Portman said the legislation will make high-quality and rigorous short-term job training programs more affordable by expanding access to Pell Grants for low-income students.

In attendance were business leaders, such as Dr. Bill Dingus, the executive director of the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation, who introduced the senator, Danny Jeffries, of Prestera Trucking, and Dr. Mike Dyer, of the Proctorville Animal Clinic. Local officials such as Lawrence County Auditor Jason Stephens and Lawrence County Commissioner Colton Copley, also attended.

The group discussed workforce issues over lunch.

Portman said, while there are thousands of jobs listed as open in Ohio, in many cases, employers have trouble filling them, due to lack of skilled applicants.

“It makes no sense,” he said.

He said his aim is to make it easier for students in Lawrence County and Ohio to attend vocational school to better prepare them. He said it is not always necessary for them to go off to college to prepare for the job force.

And he said by expanding Pell Grants, it would make ease the burden of student debt.

Jeffries said he has been in the trucking business for nearly 30 years.

“I’ve almost got it figured out,” he joked.

He said there is always a need for more skilled applicants in fields like machinery and welding and that the region has been hampered by a lack of skilled applicants.

“There have been contracts that have gone to other parts of the country we could have had here,” he said.

Jeffries also touted schools like Collins Career Technical Center and the Tri-State STEM+M Early College High School, which have better prepared students while still in high school.

The group also discussed the importance of keeping people in the region once they enter the workforce.

Copley, who also works as an emergency room physician, said one thing that his industry look at is retention bonuses to get people to stay for five-years or more.

“I’d rather pay the money than to have to continuously retrain people,” Copley said. “That’s one model we’re looking at.”

Portman’s office said his tour took him over more than 750 miles this week. He also made stops in Hillsboro, Pomeroy and Logan on Wednesday.

Portman, who served as U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush, was elected to the Senate in 2010 and is now in his second term.