County ups economic development

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January 29, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Allen County commissioners, in a split vote, approved $20,000 from the 2014 budget to support the Economic Development Committee, an adjunct of Thrive Allen County.
Earlier, commissioners approved support of $10,000, the same as 2013. They had been asked to double their support. Meanwhile, Iola and Iola Industries increased their contributions from $15,000 to $20,000.
Several members of the committee, led by David Toland, Thrive executive director, encouraged the greater support, noting that 2013 was a trial year with the development group, and that “we found it took much more time and effort than we had anticipated.”
He pointed out that committee members met monthly — each funding agency has representatives — to respond to requests for information from prospects, forwarded by the state and also arising from local initiative. The group also has been proactive.
Few contacts made are open to public scrutiny, but Toland said that among businesses being courted for Iola was a supermarket, and “I think our efforts will pay off.”
In large measure committee members are doing “work that hasn’t been done in recent years,” Toland added. He allowed Iola Industries long had been a champion of not only Iola but all of Allen County, but with it efforts depending on volunteers the outcome often was just response to inquiries, without proactive recruitment.
“The Thrive team is focused, and not just on one community,” Toland observed.
Cases in point, he said, were issues to do with code enforcement and infrastructure.
Through code enforcement, the committee is encouraging communities to put their best faces forward.
“If a place doesn’t look good, they (newcomers) won’t want to come,” Toland said.
Attempts also are being made to provide a strong base of infrastructure, one that will cry out in a positive way to owners seeking to locate a business or industry.
“A problem we have is that there aren’t any sites available containing 25,000 square feet (of building space),” he said, and often more expansive areas are needed.
“We were 0-6 (in tips from the state) last year,” Toland continued. “But, we’re not apologizing, we’re in the game.”
He pointed out that success in attracting prospects also resulted from something as simple as being listed in directories circulated among those seeking new sites and communities. No rocks are being left unturned, he said.
Jim Gilpin, Iola banker, said he recently read an article on economic development, which pointed to goal setting and that recognizing and rewarding success were necessary elements.
“We have that (with Thrive’s leadership),” he said, and that the volunteer model of Iola Industries had been over-due for a tweaking.
“The groundwork being laid by Thrive” and committee members’ enthusiasm are “naturals for going forward,” he said. “I think we’re poised for success through teamwork and vision. I’m excited. I’m encouraged.”

COMMISSIONER Jim Talkington wondered aloud if the commission shouldn’t have been made more aware of what was occurring, with it providing substantial support.
“We want to share information with you,” Toland said, although he noted that much of what the committee did and had privy to was propriety and couldn’t be divulged in an open meeting, which the commission’s, by law, are.
Larry Maness, Moran, the county’s representative on the committee, said he would be eager to make monthly reports, and could bring, as Toland did Tuesday, commentaries with parts redacted to protect privacy.
That was good enough for Commissioner Tom Williams, who made the motion to meet the committee’s request of $20,000 support. Dick Works provided a second, saying he understand the committee members were working hard and had a good record from 2013.
Talkington abstained from voting, because of “conversations I’ve had with some” committee members. He also questioned the wisdom of committing all the county had set aside for economic development, although no other use was mentioned.

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