The Van Wert County Courthouse

Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

Van Wert ED: Putting it all together

It had been our goal a few years ago in the commissioners’ office to combine the various economic development entities in one location. Even before we left the contract with Ohio State that had been in the works. One of Sarah Moser’s first successes as our county’s economic development director was to win a grant to finance such unification.

The recent city elections confirmed that the community wants these efforts unified as well. Both Jerry Mazur and Pete Weir won convincing elections for mayor and council president, respectively, running on this issue. Also winning big were Fred Fisher and Warren Straley in the at-large council positions, both of whom had endorsed unification.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum
By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

With like-thinking minds about to assume office in the city, talks have started on the nuts and bolts of combining not just the city and county, but all efforts in one building. It is a refreshing change to finally have actual discussions on this issue and receive counter-proposals and friendly debate.

Van Wert City and Van Wert County might have competing interests in forming this alliance, but to put it bluntly, so does everybody else. For the city, the interest has always had a natural boundary at the city limits. The county has the villages, townships, and Delphos to consider as well. All involved currently recognize that a healthy county and city are complimentary and not competitive — for whatever reason, that hasn’t always been the case.

In our talks with mayor-elect Mazur, we’re all starting with the presumption that unification is going to happen and whatever ancient obstacles pop up, they will be dealt with as just that — obstacles and not disabilities. Full development of any plan will have to wait until the new city council takes its seats in January and can become involved. In the meantime, we are sorting through the various agencies that will have a part in shaping this brave new world. Beyond the city and the county, these are the other players and what they need out of a combined central building and office for all economic development activities.

Main Street Van Wert — Adam Ries has done an outstanding job in his role as director of this organization, which tries to fill the downtown shops, rebuild its buildings, and create events that draw people to the city center. Ries and the Wassenberg’s Hope Wallace put on a wildly successful first-year event last year on Central Avenue for food and the arts (and rubber ducks). For both the county and the city, downtown Van Wert is the heart and a heart needs to be vibrant. Main Street needs to be located on Main Street or close by and needs some level of autonomy.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) — Successful in generating community interest in recent years, the CVB puts on the Van Wert Ribfest and promotes other county activities and festivals. Larry Lee is the director of that organization, which is housed downtown in the same building as Main Street. The CVB needs to be visible, not merely easy to find, but almost impossible to miss for visitors to the community. CVB also needs some level of autonomy.

The Business Development Corporation (BDC) — An organization of business owners who have developed Vision Park and raised a reserve of money for economic development pursuits. They have managed to retain options on a few hundred acres of farmland surrounding the city for possible future development (in addition to the megasite) and have expressed a desire to be involved in any beneficial way. Being autonomous is not an issue for this group because they most definitely will be.

The Van Wert County Foundation is a charitable organization financed largely by past gifts and bequests. Of all of the organizations, this one has the biggest ongoing pile of cash. Wassenberg Art Center, perhaps the greatest addition to the downtown in memory, was a Foundation project. The Foundation’s director, Seth Baker, has expressed an interest in becoming involved in the economic development efforts and possibly the rebuilding of a downtown structure to house the efforts.

The Community Investment Corporation (CIC) holds the leases on the megasite. It is a quasi-governmental organization that can hold title to land and invest without the usual public requirements for hearings and notice.

The Chamber of Commerce in any county is an important player and might look at moving to the building with the other offices. Representation at the central location may also come in some form from the villages, townships, and Delphos.

On the periphery are even more players. Ohio State Extension is still involved, and with the new management in Columbus and the continued cooperation of its regional director, we hope to have their support in community development. The airport has its own plans for expansion and any expansion there helps the grand scheme. The Port Authority can provide conduits for financing development projects.

Most importantly, our schools’ superintendents have all shown interest in being involved. The grooming of the next generation of Van Wertians will loom largest in any future economic development plan that hopes to turn the tide on our population decline.

All that before we get to Van Wert’s version of Bruce Wayne, which has taken the form of Scott Niswonger. Niswonger is always looking to help his hometown and thank God for that.

That’s the scope of what we are working on. Currently Jerry and the three of us are developing a proposed structure of the governing board and looking at buildings to house all offices. Thanks to efforts of the past and the organizations above, we’ll be at a running start when we get there. Thanks to the restructuring of the past few years, we will also be on the cutting edge in our programs and be utilizing the entire county’s resources and mind power.

POSTED: 12/05/15 at 7:26 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions