On the heels of Project Manager Adam Phillips leaving the organization and the Scioto County Commissioners choosing to no longer work with the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA) on matters of economic development, Executive Director Jason Kester has submitted his resignation to the board.
Not counting 2017, Kester said he has worked over 8,400 hours for SOPA alone and he has nothing left to offer.
“I’m 20 pounds heavier and my blood pressure is 20 points higher. I feel like I’ve given all I can give to southern Ohio,” Kester said. “I’ve ranged every where from sadness to depression almost, to anger, to happiness, to smiling at the sunset. I’ve definitely had a range of emotions.”
Kester said it’s up to the board whether his resignation will be effective immediately or if he will stay with the organization through the end of the year.
As far as his next move is concerned, Kester is in a wait and see mode — although he did admit, he’s not in any rush to make up his mind.
“I have nothing lined up. I have no jobs lined up. I haven’t even started considering what I am going to do,” Kester said. “The only thing I know right now is that I am going to take some time over Columbus Day Weekend and spend some time with my wife on a little mini vacation. Then I am going to take a nap, decompress for a minute and then start looking at some of the different options I have out there.
“I guess I’ve been lucky enough, I’ve got some folks who have expressed some interest in me doing a number of things from government work, to private work, to legal work. But I don’t have anything lined up and I don’t feel right now would be a good time to make any decisions. It’s just been a whirlwind couple of weeks here.”
Kester said he’s aware of some rumors circulating about his political aspirations. However, Kester admitted he has no political goals and his resignation was not politically motivated.
During his tenure as the executive director, Kester has two major regrets. His first stems from the recent announcement that the Scioto County Commissioners are no longer going to work with SOPA on economic projects.
“We were never able to build a consensus or accurately meet the goals that were established by the commissioners,” Kester said. “I’m sad about that. I thought we were doing a good job. I think a lot of our partners, and most of our board members thought we were doing a good job. It just doesn’t appear we were ever able to build a consensus. I’m sorry that happened.
“It all goes back to leadership. It falls on the leader, so that’s on me. That’s the burden of command I guess they say.”
His second regret was simply not leaving sooner — six months sooner in fact, when Kester decided in April that he wanted to step away from SOPA to spend more time with his family.
“I told them I was going to step down because I missed my kids and my wife. I wish I would have done that,” Kester said. “I stayed on because I was asked to, to help work on some projects we had going on over the summer. I probably should have stepped away in April. Maybe that was just six months to late.”
It wasn’t all negative for Kester. There are three projects he’s extremely proud to have over seen. The first is the Altivia Chemicals plant, which Kester said now employs 100 people with a median salary of $70,000.
“That was completely shutdown and getting that reopened, and helping them get incentives and helping them get their plant built back, which also helped Ashland Oil, I’m really proud of that one,” Kester said.
Kester was also proud of the Purecycle project in Lawrence and Scioto County.
“It’s not everyday that Proctor and Gamble decides to commercialize a new technology in rural Appalachia. It’s a $120 million project,” Kester said.
However, the project that Kester spent the most time and energy on was the Rural King Distribution Center in Pike County.
“I did a lot of work to make that happen. There’s a few 100 people up there working, in a multi-million dollar investment. I’m really proud of that one,” Kester said.
Kester was the executive director at SOPA just shy of four years. While he might have mixed emotions, his objective never wavered.
“The reason I took this SOPA job and I think this has been so greatly misunderstood, if you look at my background, everything I’ve done is to serve others,” Kester said. “I’ve tried to make the place that I live — my home — better.
“I don’t feel like that was ever really understood. My motivations at SOPA were altruistic. I wanted to make my community a better place. I’m disappointed in how it ended up.”