The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Sep. 29, 2023

Let’s build it well…

Let’s build one united economic development effort, and do it well. The new endeavor is beginning to take shape. To date six members of a steering committee have been named, and according to a recent news article, the six members will agree on a seventh member. The steering committee will also define a job description for the new economic development director position. The steering board or committee will also conduct the search for the new ED director. It’s a huge undertaking, and I commend the effort of all involved to create a united effort.

By Staci Kaufman
By Staci Kaufman

Depth of experience in industry and business at the management level will be helpful for steering committee members, as well as representation from education, preferably at the district leadership level and with workforce development experience.

Van Wert County’s former economic development program enjoyed the support of both the county and city for many years, until the county commissioners withdrew from the contractual agreement in late 2013. The former program received financial support from Ohio State University, the third partner in the contractual agreement, with all the benefits and a portion of salary for the economic development director being covered by OSU. The largest portion of funding came from the city of Van Wert itself, and approximately $36,000 annually came from the county, in quarterly payments.

Much more of the county’s resources were spent to fund a separate economic development program during 2014 through 2015.

It doesn’t make sense to create change, simply for the sake of changing something, under the assumption that staleness is present. The most cost effective and prudent solution would have been to remedy any perceived weak component (fixing the spoke, not replacing the whole wheel). As an example, the former economic development program has been criticized for a perception of focusing only on developing within the city limits and paying little or no attention to the outlying villages. Claims were made that the issue wasn’t addressed by former economic development directors, nor the executive committee that included representation by the county commissioners before they withdrew from the agreement with the city and OSU.

I served on the executive committee for three years, and the issue wasn’t raised at the meetings I attended. Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to raise the concern and try to steer change from within without re-creating an entire system? Good leadership is about asking the difficult questions and working for improvement in the most efficient manner. Good leadership isn’t usually result of a thirst for power and control.

It’s hard to argue that no damage was done by destroying a functioning and funded system with all stakeholders represented. Despite the negative perception created for Van Wert County, prompted by the county’s withdrawal from the agreement, we now have the opportunity to create a new economic development effort. An effective program must be built and will require the commitment of the entire cross-section of county residents, who hopefully will be involved.

Some components of the former system deserve inclusion, particularly these: 1) establishing a cross-representation of interested people, largely employers, to set the vision for our county’s economic development priorities, 2) providing the latitude for the economic development director to do the job, and 3) fostering adequate resources, competitive salary, professional development and networking.

While some feel that elected officials should control or be the dominant component of a county’s economic development plan, many disagree.

Elected officials need to be involved (they have a lot at stake as they represent our taxpayers and electorate), but no one person or entity should micromanage, especially in areas where they have little or no experience. This is where giving the latitude to do the job comes in, and requiring regular reporting to a cross-section of stakeholders, including elected officials, to keep everyone informed.

Who should actually employ the economic development director? Does employment of this individual circumvent the steering committee, or complement it? Care should be taken to design a system that is realistic to work in and provides the ingredients for success. If the revolving door turns out the next ED director, the number seeking to enter as the next director will dwindle quickly.

Let’s build it well.

POSTED: 02/15/16 at 8:48 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions