Wood County wins as NW Ohio winsWritten by Tom Blaha | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Wood County Economic Development Commission (WCEDC), a public-private partnership was incorporated as a 501(c)(6) “business league” in 1993, growing out of what for the previous eight years had been the Wood County economic development initiative of the W.S.O.S. Community Action Commission.
It has been my honor to serve as its director since those “pre-conception” days. Starting out in 1985 as a “one-man shop” funded by a grant from the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), I was tasked with “building a network of banks, realtors, contractors, utilities, labor and public officials” who could help me identify private sector employers who could benefit from state/local incentives to expand and create jobs for low-to-moderate income residents. I would help companies apply for said incentives, and then refer them to the JTPA “job developer” who would close the loop by providing them with people to fill those jobs. It was convoluted economic development at best, but the “network” so built was the progenitor of what became the WCEDC in 1993 when the JTPA funding ran out.
Some of the members of that network were private sector businesspeople like Bob Mack of (then) Zyndorf/Serchuk; Dick Lee of Lathrop; Joe Boyle of Mosser; Bill Brockmeyer of Toledo Edison; and Ted Greene, Ed Reiter and the late Paul Windisch from the banking sector. They had seen the benefits to the community (and to their business) accruing from this fledgling economic development effort and wanted to “keep the ball rolling.” This meant identifying sustainable funding for an ongoing economic development effort.
These business leaders and others approached the Wood County Commissioners, seeking a funding/governance structure that would be a true public-private partnership. What they came up with was the “WCEDC model” which has served as a benchmark for other economic development organizations throughout the state. The commissioners added one-tenth of 1 percent to the “real property transfer fee” as the public sector contribution, in essence making economic development “pay for itself.” Additionally, the business leaders created a membership organization with “dues,” thus creating a dependable private sector revenue stream to be used for marketing activities and business travel that no public official would ever have to rationalize.
In the subsequent 18 years, the Wood County Economic Development Commission has been a regional leader. We have attracted more than $3 billion of private sector investment and 7,000 jobs (both conservative counts) to a county with a population of 125,000 — clearly many of those jobs have been filled by residents of neighboring counties. Likewise, many of the dues-paying members of the WCEDC have addresses outside of Wood County.
All of this proves the point of our mantra — “business does business sans frontiers.” We recognize that economic development is a business transaction, not a political or governmental exercise. We don’t create jobs — companies do; what we do is to facilitate or expedite that process.
Notice I said we “attracted,” not created 7,000 jobs. “Attracted” is the operative word. Given our private sector leadership, and our entrepreneurial approach to economic development, we cultivate an environment we hope is attractive to business investment, both internal and from outside sources — we “build it” and they come.
The consensus was to identify in what sectors we could offer strengths based on what was already here, and to target those sectors for future growth. As Wayne Gretzky used to say, we skated to where the puck was gonna be.
The strategic planning continues to pay dividends. We have helped alternative energy manufacturers grow, and have capitalized on our transportation connections to the point where we are recognized as both “the Silicon Valley of alternative energy,” and the North American hub of the global economy, and we helped retain a major corporate headquarters for our region. We do not see these as parochial accomplishments. The strengths we have leveraged into jobs and investment are the strengths of the region, and we feel the benefits have accrued to the region — Wood County wins are Northwest Ohio wins.
We look forward to the challenges of the coming years, working with our regional partners, public and private.
Tom Blaha is executive director of the WCEDC.