The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Jan. 28, 2022

Become a member of the VWAEDC

After months of meetings and planning, the Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation, the entity designed to combine city and county economic development efforts, will take the next step on its path to formality on Monday when elections are held for the three at-large positions to its Board of Trustees.

Not a member of the VWAED yet? No problem. The election is being held Monday night, June 20, at the Niswonger PAC and you can show up that night between 6:30 and 7, pay the $1 membership fee, and become a part of the future of Van Wert. If you can’t make it that night, memberships are still being sold during the day at the Commissioners’ Office and Mayor’s Office and you can vote at those places as well. Memberships will continue being offered after the election.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum
By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

Several hundred memberships have already been sold. There’s been some interesting blocks of participation formed, but whatever makes someone want to be a part of the process is workable. If you want the windmills or don’t want the windmills and that’s the only thing you care about, being part of all of this will avail you to other things going on in the county that you might find relevant down the road.

I don’t believe we ended up where any of us thought it would be when we started, and ain’t nothing wrong with that. In the beginning, Mayor Jerry Mazur was meeting with me and the other two commissioners shortly after his election last fall, throwing ideas around on what each of us thought was important going forward.

At that time, Ohio State Extension had just inked a one-year contract for economic development with the city, courtesy of a shady maneuver by the former administration designed to keep us from moving forward after they left office. However, after the new city administration assumed duties, OSU Extension became helpful with what we wanted to do and its possible role in the process. Although it won’t be the lead in economic development anymore, there is still a great deal of utility OSU Extension can bring to the table down the road when things get moving, and I believe it will.

An initial concern was balancing public and private interests. The effort would not be effective should it be dominated by politicians, but, with hindsight provided by the past few decades, it also wouldn’t be effective if it became dominated by a small segment of economic interests either. It needed to be a broad-based, inclusive effort.

We came up with a scheme where an interim board would be formed to create a corporation, draft bylaws, design a structure, and basically get things rolling. There would be a commissioner (myself), Mayor Mazur, and two appointees each from the county and the city. We wanted a diverse representation of the community. The county appointed Stuart Wyatt of Ag Credit and Jim “Rabbit” Bonifas of The Kenn-Feld Group. Mayor Mazur appointed Van Wert High School Principal Bob Priest and Nicholas “Sticky” Rammel of KAM Manufacturing.

A seventh member, Sara Zura of Alexander & Bebout, was selected by the six initial board members. Mayor Mazur ran into some trouble early with City Council, which wondered on what authority the mayor was appointing members to an economic development board. It was explained that this was only an interim board, more of a committee. It was never meant to be exclusive anyway so Council was encouraged to begin attending the meetings and some did.

Much of what we did wasn’t recreating the wheel. We borrowed from corporate bylaws of similar organizations and rearranged them to fit our goals. City Law Director John Hatcher helped us incorporate and Rick Sealscott helped us obtain 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (since we didn’t have “Tea Party” or “Pro Life” in our name it went right through). With that, we are a non-profit organization that can receive tax-deductible donations — hopefully an additional funding source once we get up and running.

We settled on nine members for the final board to balance county, city, and private interests. Six candidates are running for the three at-large board positions on Monday to be chosen by the VWAED members. Their information can be viewed at www.vanwert.org and www.whyvanwert.org by clicking on the economic development and VWAED links. Three of the candidates will be on the “Commissioners’ Corner” radio show at 8:20 a.m. Sunday on WERT Radio — the show will also be available on the station’s website.

Once the three at-large positions are decided, the formal board will meet for the first time in early July. The county’s members on the board will be the same as the interim board and City Council will be presented the same nominees for its approval as well. We’ve had verbal exchanges that have bordered on heated on occasion — that happens when people care about a project. But it was understood from the beginning that our job was the combining of efforts on the way to completion and I believe we’ve accomplished the early parts of that mission.

As stated in a previous article, this board will not be the end-all, be-all of economic development, but it is the foundation. Early on, we envisioned the function of this board as approving the finances of the corporation and hiring a director and nothing else. It has grown into a bit more than that, but the real activity will be performed by committees under a director, where anyone can become a part of the activity going forward (more to come on that).

I’m not a joiner by nature and I’m guessing most people are like me. Don’t think of membership as creating obligations because it doesn’t. Think of it as becoming an independent power broker. You bring the ideas or energy and the purpose of VWAED is to enable your project. But that is in the future. The present is taking five minutes to become a member and vote on Monday.

POSTED: 06/18/16 at 7:25 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions