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Local economic development efforts—Focus is arts, tourism, commerce park

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On Monday, May 4, Village Council will continue a conversation it began in early April on how best to move forward with economic development.

One of Council’s six 2009 Village goals is to “establish a plan that improves the economic condition of the community.” Economic development efforts have moved slowly in recent years, partly because, as with many Village projects, last year’s resignation of the Village manager and the search for a new manager put the issue on the back burner for many months.

Consequently, the $50,000 annual appropriation for economic development included in the 2006 property tax levy, which began in 2007, has not yet been used, and has accumulated to $150,000 in the 2009 budget.

At the April 6 meeting, Council members expressed differing opinions about whether to move immediately to hire an economic development staff person. That discussion is likely to continue at the next meeting. Representatives from groups currently working on local economic development, including Community Resources and the Chamber of Commerce, will present reports on current activities.

Council should move quickly to hire a staff person, Council members Karen Wintrow, Kathryn Van der Heiden and John Booth said at the meeting. Wintrow, who is also executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said that while several economic development efforts are already in motion, those efforts are mainly staffed by volunteers, and the lack of a paid employee means that opportunities are being missed.

In an interview last week, Wintrow said that when citing missed opportunities, she was referring in part to the recently approved federal stimulus funds. While Village Manager Mark Cundiff has done a good job applying for the stimulus funds even as he runs the Village — recently the Village found it would receive $750,000 in stimulus funds for long-planned upgrades for the wastewater treatment plant — someone with more time could do even more to find local projects to match with available funds, Wintrow said.

However, economic development efforts should involve a broader base of the community than has been the case in recent years, according to Council President Judith Hempfling, who encouraged Council to wait to hire a staff person until a community-wide conversation takes place.

“Council and citizens need to determine how we want to focus economic development activity,” Hempfling said, stating that how an economic development staff person spends his or her time will in fact set priorities, so that “a conscious discussion” on priorities is needed before the staff person is hired.

“The sharing of information around economic development could be an energizing force,” Hempfling said, stating that Council should bring together the groups currently working on the issue as well as interested citizens.

Three of the most visible groups currently working on local economic development are the Chamber of Commerce, the Yellow Springs Center for the Arts Steering Committee, and Community Resources.

YS as destination

Marketing the village as a destination spot is the main economic development focus for the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce this year, Wintrow said in an interview last week.

This year, the Chamber is sponsoring 13 special weekends of events designed to bring visitors to town, including the upcoming Spring Fling weekend in May, Summer in the Springs, Street Fair weekends in June and October, Fall Fling Weekends, and three Holiday in the Springs weekends.

Many villagers are working together to make this project a success, Wintrow said.

“There are more people coming to town, more villagers engaged and more collaborations,” she said.

An example of that collaboration is Summer in the Springs, a series of arts-oriented weekend events jointly sponsored by the Chamber, the Arts Council, and YSKP that is in its second year.

While it’s not yet clear if the increased weekend events have already translated into more sales for downtown businesses, most shopkeepers support the effort, she said.

“The more people who know about Yellow Springs and come here, the more will find their way into the shops,” she said.

The Chamber also works to retain local businesses, according to Wintrow. These efforts include hosting business-related speakers at Chamber meetings, sponsoring an informal group of retired professionals to serve as mentors to start-ups and participating in Business First, a joint effort with the Village of Yellow Springs and Greene County that seeks to provide useful information on local, county and state resources to business leaders.

The board of the 2009 Chamber is President Dan Young, CEO of Young’s Jersey Dairy; Vice-President Jacki Mayer, WYSO; Elise Click, WesBanco; Co-secretary Benjamin Smith, Ertel Publishing; Co-secretary Ellen Hoover, Millworks; Tony Barry, SuperFly Comics; David Boyer, Boyer Consulting and Wright Patterson Air Force Base; Penny Eck, YSI; Lisa Goldberg, Lisa Goldberg Ceramics; Seth Gordon, Antioch University McGregor; Roger Reynolds, Glen Helen; and Lynda Sirk, Antioch University.

Arts group moves forward

Doing its work largely behind the scenes, the Yellow Springs Center for the Arts steering committee, or YSCA, has in the past three years played a significant role in strengthening already existing relationships in order to produce new arts endeavors, according to its leaders. And while the group doesn’t directly focus on economic development, its members believe there’s no doubt that a lively arts community will reap economic rewards for the village.

“The research says that the arts provide a strong foundation for economic growth,” said Chair Jerome Borchers in a recent interview.

While the YSCA is not an official sponsor of Summer in the Springs, it played a role in bringing together the three collaborators to make the venture happen, according to Borchers, who said that facilitating communication between existing groups is exactly what the YSCA wants to do.

“The seeds were there,” Borchers said. “We take what’s already bubbling and give it form.”

With the help of Minneapolis consultants Tom Borrup and George Sutton, staff person Laura Carlson and funding from the Morgan Family Foundation, the group has worked hard to involve the community in its effort. A three-day event in March 2007 drew more than 300 people for its visioning effort, and the results have guided the group ever since, Borchers said.

A significant outcome of the visioning event was the group’s initial decision to shore up the community as a whole to be the “center for art,” rather than jumping into constructing a new venue. That direction involved increasing the capacity of already-existing groups and improving already-existing facilities.

“We wanted to build on what was already successful,” Borchers said.

That effort has resulted in, along with Summer in the Springs, an expanded Arts Council with a new downtown meeting space, a strengthened YS Kids Playhouse and a new support system for the Little Art Theatre, according to a recent YSCA update. Other efforts include a new focus on public art, including an upcoming sculpture contest.

Beginning its fourth year, the YSCA is again focused on finding or creating a performance space. The group is working closely with the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, or ACCC, to create a venue that serves both the college, should it return, and the community, according to Borrup.

Current members of the YSCA are Borchers, Vice-Chair Jane Baker, Secretary John Fleming of YS Kids Playhouse, Treasurer Rob Lytle of the AACW, Hardy Ballantine of Ballantine Bookcrafts, Anita Brown of YSI Incorporated, Mary Campball-Zopf of the Ohio Arts Council, Luke Dennis of MUSE Machine, Paul Graham, attorney Ellis Jacobs, Rick Kristensen of Re/Max, Amy Lee of US Bank and Gayle Rominger of YSI.

CBE moving, slowly

The longtime focus of Community Resources has been the development of the Center for Business and Education, or CBE, according to an April 16 press release by Community Resources President Lisa Abel. Envisioned since 1999, the 46-acre site on the western edge of the village has been home to the new Antioch University McGregor since 2007. However, progress on the rest of the industrial park has been slow and no visible work has taken place.

“It may appear that “nothing” has been done in the CBE since McGregor was built, but …there has been a lot of activity happening in the background — much of it related to securing federal grants,” Abel wrote.

The CBE efforts are moving forward. At Village Council’s April 20 meeting, Council unanimously approved a resolution that allows the Village manager to enter into a contract with Jacobs Engineering of Cincinnati to complete the design for the center’s infrastructure.

The CBE should be ready for occupants by 2011, Village Manager Mark Cundiff said in an interview last week. Most of the funding for the infrastructure will be provided by two grants, one from the Ohio Department of Transportation, or ODOT, and the other the Army Corps of Engineers.

The delay in CBE construction can be linked to several factors, according to Abel, Cundiff and Assistant Village Planner Ed Amrhein, including last year’s resignation by Village Manager Eric Swansen and requirements from the granting agencies — the Village received about $1 million from ODOT and the Army for construction of roads and infrastructure.

“Any time there is a decision point in the development process, the granting agencies must review our decision and approve it. This adds months to each milestone,” Abel wrote.

Begun in the late 1990s to promote economic development, Community Resources proposed that Yellow Springs should have a commerce park as early as 1999, and intensified its efforts following the 2003 decision of Vernay Laboratories to shut down its Yellow Springs manufacturing plants.

Village Council took an activist role in promoting the CBE by approving an interest-free loan of $300,000 to Community Resources in 2004, which was used, along with $100,000 from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, to purchase the plot from Vernay. The Village money came from the Village Revolving Loan Fund, which had previously been used to provide loans for local small businesses and start-ups. Largely depleted for several years after the loan to Community Resources, the revolving loan fund currently has a balance of about $68,000, according to Village Clerk of Council Deborah Benning this week.

Community Resources will pay back the $300,000 loan to the Village as it sells space in the CBE, according to a May, 2003 News article.

Current Community Resources board and officers are Chairperson Abel; Secretary Megan Quinn-Bachman of Community Solutions; David Boyer of Wright Patterson Air Force Base; Mark Crockett of Rita Caz; Yellow Springs School Superintendent Norm Glismann; Village Council member Kathryn Van der Heiden (ex officio); Tim Rogers of Town Drug; retired WPAFB civilian employee Jerry Sutton and Karl Zalar, executive director of Friends Care Community.

Some overlap on boards

There is considerable overlap in the leadership of the two village groups most directly focused on economic development efforts, the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce and Community Resources. The new president of the Chamber of Commerce, Dan Young, recently due to term limits left the presidency of Community Resources, which he had headed for several years. The recent past president of the Chamber of Commerce, Ellen Hoover, who is the current co-secretary of that group, was formerly vice-president of Community Resources. Hoover has worked as the economic director for the City of Springfield.

Young and former Community Resources member Carol Gasho chose the new Community Resources board, according to Abel.

There are no Community Resources members beyond those on the board, Abel said. Meetings, which are held monthly, are not open to the public.

The overlap between the boards makes sense because, “It’s a small town,” Young said last week. “There’s only so many people willing to give up hundreds of hours of their time.”

It’s also helpful to have overlap because then each group can take advantage of their members’ experience and contacts, he said.

Currently only one person, David Boyer, is a member of both the chamber and the Community Resources boards. A civilian employee at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Boyer works with the base general who is directly involved with BRAC, or Base Realignment and Consolidation, which will bring about 1,200 new base employees from other parts of the country to Wright Patt over the next several years. In the summer of 2007 Boyer gave a presentation to the chamber on BRAC-related opportunities to bring new businesses and residents to Yellow Springs. Later that year, he was named to that group’s board and in recent months he was also invited to join the Community Resources board.

In an interview last week, Young said that Boyer’s connections to BRAC were a factor in his being invited to sit on both boards.

“There may be an opportunity here,” Young said, stating that BRAC-related businesses will include some that do medical and engineering research that could be a good fit for Yellow Springs.

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