I recently shared “Five Rules of Staying at the Cutting Edge of Economic Development” at the annual Van Wert City Economic Development Partnership dinner. It was refreshing to get into the heart of Ohio to see firsthand the importance of Ohio’s smaller communities in the state’s growth. The Van Wert community has a strong manufacturing base, a connection with the area’s agricultural base, a great Vantage Career Center, strong elected leaders and involved business leaders.
My invitation to speak came from Cynthia Leis, a program director with OSU Extension who works in partnership with the City of Van Wert, area businesses, colleges and Chambers. OSU Extension plays an important role in Ohio in providing economic development services to many small communities. Their services are particularly valuable at a time when resources are limited.
Here are the five rules I shared with an audience of Van Wert area business and community leaders:
Think Regionally: A community is part of the area’s regional economy. Businesses make investment decisions based upon workforce availability, proximity to customers and suppliers. They don’t care about political boundaries.
Leadership and Collaboration: A community’s success is based upon elected and business leaders working together.
Be Prepared: Businesses can make investment decisions very quickly. They may look at your community for a new site even without talking with the community. So when the opportunity comes up, the community has to be ready.
The Best Attraction Strategy is a good Retention and Expansion Strategy: Communities looking to bring new businesses into their area should start by making sure that their existing businesses are successful. Location decisions are based upon partnerships.
The Kitchen Sink Rule: Incentives are only one part of the strategy. A community doesn’t need to give away the “kitchen sink” in incentives. Equally important is the quality of life in a community (education, affordable housing, parks and recreation).
As EVP of Strategic Initiatives at Finance Fund, I get the great job of meeting with businesses of all sizes and community champions to learn more about what’s needed in local communities to drive job and economic growth. These discussions inform Finance Fund’s program development process and ensure that we are creating loan and grant programs that are responsive to local needs. Our Small Business Loan Fund, Community Health Loan Fund and Healthy Food Financing Initiative are great examples of flexible financing tools we’ve developed in direct response to needs identified by rural and urban communities.
We’d welcome the opportunity to meet with you to learn more about your community and share details about the flexible loan and grant funds we have available for projects in low-income urban and rural communities – for projects that typically don’t qualify for a traditional bank loan. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.