The Van Wert County Courthouse

Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022

Economic development progress

2016 may have been a year of restructuring economic development in Van Wert, but it was anything but a lost year. On multiple fronts, efforts that have been brewing in the background over the last several months have either paid off or are beginning to blossom.

The Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation Board recently took action on a couple of fronts. First, we hired Comstor, a company based in Huntsville, to design a website similar to the one it developed for Mercer County. To get a glimpse of what will be coming in the form of a revamped Van Wert Works, go to www.hometownopportunities.com. Mercer County’s economic development director attributes much of his county’s success to this website and what it has done to connect businesses and potential employees, as well as link to community events and educational activities.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum
By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

A local team will help Comstor create the website. The normal build time is three months, so by early next year, a young person living in Columbus will be able to keep track of job postings here and, as the website develops, should even be able to watch a video about the company and its open position. It will be quite a tool for the new economic development director.

Speaking of whom, we are currently conducting interviews to hire a director and that process should be completed by the end of next month. By December 1, it is hoped that that person will be ready to take charge of the brand new economic development office at 145 E. Main St. in downtown Van Wert. This week, the Board entered into a lease for that recently remodeled location, which sits across a garden lot from the future site of the wine and craft brew shop being created by Jim Collins. This site should serve to impress a visiting outsider and is big enough to house multiple offices.

Although a director taking charge will be significant, things have been happening without that lead. The county has maintained a community development director throughout and that person, Sue Gerker, recently won a $500,000 grant to fund our newly created land bank in an effort to tear down abandoned homes. County Prosecutor Charlie Kennedy has filed the first two foreclosures on tax delinquent properties through a special process that will expedite them into the land bank for demolition. Other properties are being identified and the half-million of grant money should provide for at least 30 to 40 total demolitions throughout the county.

The Business Development Corporation (BDC) continues its own efforts to build a spec building. Working with a grant through the state, the project would demolish the old Chrysler Amplex building on Kear Road and allow the construction of a 100,000 square foot facility for a subsequent manufacturer. This might sound somewhat pie-in-the-sky until you sit down, as I did this week, with Jerry Robinson, the site’s developer. Robinson presents as one of the more impressive business people I’ve talked with since taking office and has his own connections for finding an end user. He also has a string of past successes in doing just what is being attempted here. Kudos to the BDC for its vision on this front.

And not to be lost in the shuffle are the jobs on the horizon in the mental health arena. Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital will be expanding its facilities outside Middle Point substantially in the coming year and is expecting to need a few hundred more employees. Meanwhile, on the other side of Ridge Township, the trustees recently resolved a zoning question that will allow the contemplated sale of the Starr Commonwealth to proceed. The prospective buyer provides a drug recovery program that doesn’t use withdrawal drugs, more of a cold turkey approach. What this would mean for Van Wert is still more jobs. I haven’t even mentioned yet that Cooper’s is expanding (it is).

If all of this is happening without a director, the question becomes what will be the new director’s main objectives? A recurrent question of the Board in the interview process has been: “How would you, the prospective director, propose to bring together our disparate groups who are already making economic development efforts?” To provide a short and incomplete list, these groups include all of the county’s villages, Main Street Van Wert, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the BDC, the Community Investment Corporation (CIC), the Port Authority, the Chamber of Commerce, the Van Wert County Foundation and our schools. All of these groups work together when it suits them. It will take a talented person to convince them that the general effort is what suits them all.

Perhaps the director’s ultimate challenge will be finding people to fill not only these new jobs but make sure our existing businesses have all they need. All the progress is erased in an instant if one of our big employers decides to move on. In attracting people, especially young families, we will need a plan and a theme. Science County, USA has not been forgotten, just put on hold until the preliminary efforts are completed. Or perhaps someone has a better idea. We are nearing a point where we have that discussion.

POSTED: 10/31/16 at 6:25 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions