The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023

A new direction for development

Thursday, the Van Wert County commissioners voted unanimously to withdraw from the economic development contract with Ohio State Extension effective immediately. We feel that this is an extremely positive step for our county, and here’s why.

There is no better indicator of a county’s vitality than its population trend – a county is its people. In the 1990s, the population of Van Wert County declined by 900 people. In the first decade of this century, the population decreased by another 900. All of our small towns have deteriorated in varying degrees during this period.

Neighboring counties have not seen a similar population decline nor the same small town deterioration. In the 16 counties that make up Northwest Ohio geographically, only four had population declines from 1990 to 2010 according to census figures: Van Wert (-2.6 percent), Lucas (-1.6 percent), Allen (-1.2 percent), and Paulding (-1.0 percent).

By TODD WOLFRUM Van Wert County Commissioner
Van Wert County Commissioner

Over the past 11 months, we have heard repeatedly how any public disagreements among the different agencies working on economic development are bad for the county. It’s said that a company looking to locate here will regard any disharmony as an indication of trouble and turn away. But business people aren’t dumb. They’re going to look at population trends and drive around the county. Smatterings of disharmony would be the least of our image problems.

We are not placing blame for what has happened here squarely on the OSU Extension system. What we can say is that the system didn’t prevent it and doesn’t appear to be preventing its continuation. According to OSU Extension’s website, when Van Wert adopted the model in the 1990s, there were eleven other counties using that model. Ten of those have discontinued doing so.  One other county began using OSU Extension in 2006. We are one of only three counties in the state using this model.

Our efforts at thinking outside the box for solutions to the county’s problems have met with almost constant resistance. The resistance never claimed that our ideas were necessarily bad, only that we needed committee approval first. And because we didn’t want to create a disturbance, we worked within the system as best we could. But if the reason to continue a system is not because it is successful but rather because you don’t want public disagreement, then any system would become permanent the moment it’s implemented.

There are good and respected people on the board currently controlling the Van Wert economic development office and we hope some of these will want to come with us in what we see as an exciting opportunity. But it literally draws laughs from some on the board that it or its processes should be accountable in any way to the people of Van Wert County through its representatives. For the last decade, the value of any economic development efforts has been determined exclusively by the handful of people in charge of the efforts. Procedure trumps results, if results are ever even an issue.

We have a megasite north of town, and there’s nothing quite like it in Ohio. That’s the good news. The bad news is the thousands of other sites in the country located in states with better business environments. It’s not impossible that someone takes our site, but it’s not certain either. The county has other resources to develop and it would help our megasite efforts to do so.

We as commissioners do not consider ourselves experts in economic development. What we want to make available is a system where ideas are valued more than process. There is no better resource than an individual with a good idea. We need to find, enable, and invest in those people. We need the people who have had success in business involved and invested. We need to get involvement from the top business activity in the county – agriculture. We need investment from and in the rural communities. We need involvement from our small towns.

We want the people who are passionate about a topic. For me, it’s been getting college courses here. I’ve had that interest for years, but I can pursue it now because I’m a county commissioner – that shouldn’t be a requirement. If a person has an interest like that, we want to allow them the freedom and the assistance to create their own teams to pursue it, not have to get some higher approval just to discuss it. We want economic development efforts that aid the individual, not glorify a committee.

We will be reaching out to the officials of the City of Van Wert in the coming weeks to see if they would like to join our new venture or go their own way. We have a general plan to roll out either way. If the city does choose to go its own way, that’s a situation that exists in several surrounding communities and we’ll support them in it.

This move does not affect other OSU Extension efforts in the community, such as 4-H or their agricultural outreach programs.

Most of all, we are excited about the opportunities. This change needed to happen. If there be a storm, let’s have it and get it over with, but the decision is made. We could go into the details that led to this move, but that doesn’t lead anywhere productive. What is important is how we operate going forward, and we believe the possibilities are limitless.

POSTED: 12/06/13 at 2:34 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions