With a goal in mind… Committee aims to get county on its feet once again



September 17, 2013 - 12:00 AM

Some of the area’s most involved citizens have drafted goals to  help bring economic development to Allen County’s communities, and they believe there must be a collective effort to make these goals a reality.
The Allen County Economic Development Committee is a group of appointed members that has been meeting once a month since February. The goal is to look at general trends, as well as specifics in the county, to generate a game plan to bring citizens, businesses and industries to the area.
Corey Schinstock, John Masterson, Glenn Buchholz, Bill Maness, David Lee, David Toland, Shelia Lampe and Larry Tucker sat around the conference room table at Thrive Allen County’s offices during the monthly meeting Monday night (Larry Manes, also a member, could not attend the meeting).
While not set in stone, Toland said the committee has drafted three goals they believe are essential for Allen County to remain a viable community:
1. Increase Allen County’s population to 14,000 by 2020 (the current population is approximately 13,319)
2. Improve business climate, with a goal of 400 net new jobs by 2020
3. Increase overall attractiveness of Allen County/local cities as a place to live/work
“These are the fundamentals of economic development,” Toland said of the three goals.
While lofty,  the committee agreed the goals are not only achievable, but necessary for Allen County to keep its “head above water.”

“ONE OF our goals is to not become a prairie national forest park,” Tucker said as the rest of the committee laughed at the concept.
Tucker is the city administrator for Humboldt, just one of the communities represented by the group; there are representatives from Iola, Humboldt, Moran, LaHarpe and Gas.
Masterson said the group has begun to function well, and original meetings helped everyone become more acquainted with each other’s mannerisms.
Toland said there can be the misconception that communities will default towards competition before cooperation, and the committee has worked to build trust so they can work together — it is essential to  reach goals.
“It can be overwhelming sometimes,” Masterson said.
Lampe, director of the Iola Area Chamber of Commerce, said members are working together for the betterment of the region, which will ultimately benefit each and every community individually in Allen County.
“Working as a region, we have a louder voice,” she said.
One of the group’s main goals is to bring educated youth back into the community. One of the ways they can understand why people come and go, is by researching trends and generating reports. The committee’s staff, which Toland admitted is made up entirely of himself, researches demographics and information to bring to the committee each month. This is how the committee generates their ideas.
“They have to be generated from somewhere, so why not here,” Toland said. “We have representatives from across the county.”
The funneling of ideas has been critical to the process, and the committee members said meeting together has helped them bounce ideas off of each other.

THE ULTIMATE goal is to understand why the population has been in decline steadily for over 100 years in Allen County, and take action to reverse the trend.
“Some communities succeed and some flounder,” Tucker said.
“We want to be the county that survives,” Schinstock replied.
The committee is banking on the people in the communities to take action and realize that Tucker’s notion of national park where Allen County used to be may not be far off if goals such as these are not taken seriously.
“We need every community to commit to these goals,” Toland said.
Different communities in the county are at different levels of progress and development, Lee said, but the committee believes these goals can do nothing but improve the economy in Allen County.
The members are taking any action they can to get an idea of what needs to be done to help the county. During Monday’s meeting, Lee was responsible for making a presentation on broadband connections and what they mean for high-speed Internet in rural communities. Education is the first step in the process.
Committee members are willing to listen to any feedback Allen Countians have on their goals. Toland said any of the committee members may be contacted individually, or Thrive Allen County’s offices at 365-8128.
The committee hopes to have these goals “written in stone” by the end of the year, then tits members can work on implementation — a step toward progress.

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