The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 21, 2013

Panel helps steer economy

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON —  The county’s economic steering committee is entering a new phase of existence, a rebirth, a metamorphosis and a celebration of goals accomplished, members say.

In 2009, county commissioners contracted with Governing Dynamic to develop a unified economic development plan for Ashtabula County. In March 2010, a strategic planning meeting was held, bringing together more than 200 community leaders to identify the most pressing issues facing Ashtabula County following the country’s recession, and develop a roadmap of goals designed to set the county’s economic development efforts on the right path.

“The goal of the strategic meeting, and the efforts that have come out of that meeting since, is to get everyone’s arrows pointed in the same direction,” said Robert Taylor, one of the founding members of the committee. “Once we are all working together, toward the same goals, we can truly be successful.”

In August 2010, following the presentation of results to commissioners from the strategic meeting, the commissioners formed the Ashtabula County Economic Steering Committee.

“Building upon our considerable natural resources, strong agricultural heritage and tireless work ethic, Ashtabula County will build a thriving and diverse economy that generates the jobs and resources our citizens require to provide for their families and enjoy a quality of life that is the envy of our region,” the report from Governing Dynamics stated. “We will achieve this through collaboration, innovative thinking and energetic leadership that unites our citizens, businesses, organizations and governments, in a common efforts to make our county a preferred destination and a model of economic strength and vitality.”

The committee was formed by the commissioners and assigned a list of goals to address, which would ultimately help to fan the flame of economic growth in Ashtabula County. The committee was asked to help:

• Organize an overall economic development team that encourages participation by all sectors of the county economy

• Develop a communication infrastructure that disseminates / provides a to share information about economic opportunities

• Establish a central image (branding) for the county. Develop an aggressive marketing plan for competitive advantage businesses

• Create (or expand) an industry-business-education council

• Maintain regulations, taxes, mandates and policies that promote the jobs and businesses of the new economy and promote growth

• Streamline the process to reduce fragmentation to improve customer service

• Having a centralized source for information on funding sources.

• One unified web page for the county

In the weeks, months and years since its creation, the Ashtabula County Economic Steering committee has met diligently, sometimes several times a month, to help address the issues deemed most pressing by community leaders, Taylor said.

The committee focused on the positive aspects of Ashtabula County: the collaboration, lower property and income tax rates when compared to neighboring counties, the high quality of life, a quality educational system, access to quality of healthcare, and an Ashtabula County workforce that is eager and willing to work, he said.

“The Economic Steering Committee was a unique opportunity to join with a varied cross-section of business and community leaders to review current economic development efforts and augment those efforts with additional energy and focus,” said committee member Ken Johnson.

The steering committee worked in conjunction with the commissioners to help facilitate a county permitting process that is now streamlined with reduced fragmentation to improve customer service, Johnson said. The committee also worked with the commissioners as county officials established a business service representative position that was deployed in an effort to communicate with businesses and to help grow existing businesses within the county. And in the past six months the committee met to begin a countywide brand that would embrace the future growth of all facets within Ashtabula County’s economy.

“This committee and its goals were formed with the input of many diverse organizations throughout the county, which represented a significant shift toward county wide collaboration and is key to our future economic success,” said steering committee chairman Brian Diehl. “We have worked to highlight the strengths of the county, collaborated with county leadership to identify opportunities and initiate improvements, and started the effort to brand and market these strengths to demonstrate that this County is a preferred location to reside and do business.”