Gerken: County’s next 10 years look brightWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
My first year as Lucas County Commissioner in 2005 was the beginning of what would be one of the nation’s and our community’s toughest economic periods. We faced a widespread foreclosure crisis, endured devastating cuts to local government funds and saw many businesses close.
Lucas County, through the sheer grit and determination of its citizens, weathered the storm. We focused on fiscal stability, urban revitalization and quality-of-life issues. Now, 10 years later, we are poised to see a revitalization that promises to bring economic prosperity and good jobs back home.
Sound financial stewardship has helped keep Lucas County moving forward. The commissioners made tough decisions, including taking steps to reduce costs to ensure a balanced budget, in order to continue to deliver services that citizens expect.
Lucas County has a proven track record when it comes to urban revitalization, having invested nearly $200 million in Toledo’s Downtown core. As the owner of Fifth Third Field and Huntington Center, we remain committed to the success of Toledo. Fifth Third Field, in particular, has been the catalyst for the Toledo Warehouse District’s revitalization. Lucas County is proud to be a major partner of the Mud Hens’ planned Hensville development. We believe the $19 million project will help transform this rapidly growing neighborhood into a showcase for our region that will attract even more residents, employers and visitors.
The commissioners also acquired the old Hotel Seagate located on the same block as the SeaGate Convention Centre, directly across from the future ProMedica headquarters. We simply could not stand idly by while this abandoned structure blighted an otherwise vibrant corner. Now, with a strong private-public partnership blossoming, we are taking steps to tear down the building. We will engage our community and stakeholders about redevelopment and further investment.
In August, the algal bloom event shed light on the need to address the water quality of the Western Lake Erie basin. Just last week, the board led a statewide conference, bringing in 19 elected officials to focus on the protection of water quality this season. This conference led the effort to a collaborative plan, which is the first step toward a real discussion on water in the region.
We are fully engaged in the process of rebuilding the Lucas County Corrections Center, an outdated, over-capacity and functionally inefficient facility. Along with fixing the dilapidated facility comes the opportunity to restructure our criminal justice system in Lucas County. We are working with key stakeholders in the criminal justice system to understand root causes of issues and find solutions that will have a measurable impact.
This past year, the board streamlined its economic and workforce development efforts with the creation of the Department of Planning and Development. With this step, economic and workforce development in our county began anew, focused on driving economic growth through a data-driven, results-oriented process and with a special emphasis on matching employers’ needs with potential employees’ skills.
In 2014, unemployment in Lucas County dropped to levels not seen since well before the recession. The year’s annual average rate of 6.3 percent was a large improvement over the 2013 annual average of 8.5 percent and only slightly higher than the 6.2 percent annual average last seen in 2006. When combined with the increasing number of people returning to the workforce, Lucas County gained approximately 6,200 workers over the course of the year. If projections based on data during the past three years are correct, it is possible by the end of 2015 that unemployment in Lucas County may drop below 5 percent.
The board is optimistic about the future and looks forward to the next 10 years to see Toledo and Lucas County continue to revitalize neighborhoods, grow our economy and cultivate a talented, diverse and innovative urban community.
Pete Gerken has been a Lucas County Commissioner since 2005.