Building on the groundwork for a coordinated economic development program in Champaign County, the boards of three local organizations met recently in a joint training session led by economic development expert Chris Schmenk, former director of the Ohio Development Services Agency.
In the training, Schmenk, who now serves as counsel for Bricker & Eckler LLC, reviewed the economic development roles of each participating organization: the Champaign Economic Partnership, the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and the West Central Ohio Port Authority (WESTCO).
She highlighted how the organizations can work together to attract new business to the community and promote retention and growth of existing businesses.
“Each of our organizations has a distinctive role in building our local economy and creating jobs,” said Marcia Bailey, economic development director of the Champaign Economic Partnership. “By working together, we want to make the most of each of our strengths and maximize our effectiveness in helping existing businesses succeed and in recruiting new business to Champaign County.”
The partnering organizations
The Champaign Economic Partnership (CEP) was established in July 2015 as Champaign County’s designated economic development agency, through an agreement between Champaign County commissioners and the city of Urbana. The CEP, a nonprofit organization, is a public-private partnership of the Champaign County Community Improvement Corporation (CIC), local government subdivisions – county, City of Urbana, villages and township – and private businesses. The CEP’s 18-member board consists of about 40 percent local government representatives and about 60 percent business representatives.
The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce serves as “the front door of the county” and “the ultimate business concierge,” Schmenk said. She said the Chamber advances the business and community interests of Champaign County, promotes the amenities of the county, and plays an important role in connecting businesses and individuals and helping retain and grow current businesses.
WESTCO, created by the county commissioners of Champaign, Clark and Fayette counties and governed by state law, supports industry and agri-business in the region by preserving railroad assets and providing for the continued operation of rail freight services.
Planning economic development strategy
While covering the responsibilities of each of the local organizations and their board members, Schmenk also provided a refresher on how Champaign County can collaborate with Ohio’s economic development system – JobsOhio and the Ohio Development Services Agency – and the Dayton Development Coalition, which includes Champaign County.
Schmenk recommended that the local groups develop a project team and define the roles each group will play in economic development projects. She said in planning their strategy they need to keep in mind the factors that matter most to corporations and site selection companies that help businesses find locations.
She emphasized that tax incentives can play a role in a company’s decision to locate, but are not the leading factor. She said factors that play a larger role include, among others, availability of a skilled workforce, state and local tax structure, transportation and utility infrastructure, availability and price of land and buildings and ease of obtaining permits.