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YS Development Company, Village Council talk economic development

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The following are excerpts from a discussion by members of Village Council and the YS Development Corporation, or YSDC, at a June 29 joint meeting in which participants grappled with the complexities of economic growth and development and its implications for both village residents and businesses. This is the first part of a two-part series.

What is the vision for economic growth and development in the village? What are the current opportunities and challenges facing the community? What is a proper balance between seeking new business opportunities and supporting current businesses, and what are some strategies for intentional population growth to cover the fiscal and social needs of the village?

Economic development and growth for the village were the foci of a joint Village Council and YSDC meeting held in Council chambers on Thursday, June 29, during which members discussed their hopes, concerns and strategy ideas — some of it related to the construction of an Intel facility just outside of Columbus, Ohio, and a Honda battery factory just over 30 minutes away in Fayette County. The joint meeting was the result of a request made by YSDC at an April 17 Council meeting.

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Present at the meeting and representing Council were Brian Housh, YSDC liaison Kevin Stokes, Marianne MacQueen, YSDC liaison Carmen Brown , and Gavin DeVore Leonard. Recently hired Village Planning and Zoning Administrator Meg Leatherman was also in attendance. Representing YSDC were voting members Dino Pallota, Ryan Carpe, Amy Magnus, Corrie Van Ausdal, Kevin McGruder and Michael Slaughter, Ex-officio member Josué Salmerón and Encore Miller Fellow and Interim Executive Director Lisa Abel. YSDC liaison and Miami Township Trustee Don Hollister was also present. Jeannamarie Cox, Jane Fernandes and Terri Holden were absent.

The round-table discussion occurred prior to a July 11 monthly YSDC meeting that listed as agenda items the acceptance of Brown’s appointment to the board as a Council liaison alongside Stokes, and the approval of Slaughter’s nomination to the board as a community at-large member.

Council President Housh facilitated the meeting, and asked participants for their input regarding a vision for village growth and economic development.

Kevin McGruder: “I’m thinking of the conversations I’ve heard particularly around housing development over the last few years. I don’t know how representative they are against outsiders, but I also feel there’s an anti-business element too. And so, if we’re successful at recruiting these companies and as they’re doing their due diligence — I’m not saying they’re going to necessarily decide not to come here because of that, but if you’re comparing negativity here with positive feedback from other places and it’s an equal decision, then we are going to end up losing out. And I think we’ve got to figure out a public education campaign, both on the residential side and on the business side. I’ve lived here [Yellow Springs] 11 years this month and  just on a micro level, I had a fair amount of negative experiences when I arrived here on a retail basis. I sensed that until people recognized me, there was a way that they were treating me that if I didn’t live here, I wouldn’t come back. And so, we need to address that.”

Corrie Van Ausdal: “I think as we have these conversations with these bigger companies and with the community, putting our values first — ‘Hey, we are what we are, we are who we are, and we’re proud of that. This is how we want it to be. If that’s for you, that’s great.’ And I don’t mean being unwelcoming, that sucks, that’s not a village value. But I think it’s going to be really important for us to kind of hang our “free” flag and make that be the first thing that people see in a way.”

Ryan Carpe: “I think this meeting is very important because we all are representatives to some extent of the community, and I think it’s fantastic. Before we start driving these initiatives, we need to ensure that we are a majority of opinion and a healthy majority of the people that we’re representing. I think this meeting is so important to ensure that — obviously we’re not all going to agree on everything, but I think it’s very important for the groups that are represented to all have a unified vision to some extent, so that all parties feel represented, new residents as well.”

Don Hollister: “We need to do some background work on attitudes towards business. We’ve had very strong initiatives. Millworks is totally private, but they’re over 25 years old now. New ownership. One of their big complaints was the [Greene] County building inspectors. We’ve tried to address that. We’ve fixed it. I don’t know what their current experience is, in terms of do they have space? Is it being filled? But step back, another generation maybe, there was an active business incubator in the Fels building. It was owned for a period by the Village. It was signed over to [Antioch College], and the college squeezed out the incubator. There are two businesses that started there. At one point they had 25 tenants. Two, that in choosing to expand, moved to Cedarville and Fairborn because there wasn’t immediate space, and they weren’t in a position to invest in their own building, at least building a new building.

“I think those factors, attitude from the community, but also convenience of space. If there’s a new business developing or moving here because of the Honda plant, where are they going to go? And are we really in a position to build something on speculation? Historically, we’ve had the spirit of ‘grow our own.’ Morris Bean started here, YSI [Yellow Springs Instrument] started here, Vernay started and moved on, Antioch publishing sold out, moved on. We have an amazing number of self-employed folks. And if 5% chose to expand to a few employees, that would make a big difference.”

Carmen Brown: “I’d like to chime in on this kind of anti-industry sentiment that we hear. [Hollister] just started mentioning the historical context. I think that’s what we’re missing. You know, there’s so much innovation that’s been here. We talked about Vernay, Antioch Publishing, YSI, and more recently, Enviroflight. We don’t have anywhere to go, so we should probably start concentrating on this.

“We have that spirit of innovation and although there is anti-industry or industrial sentiment, we’ve always done it. The other thing that I’m thinking about that is critically important — if we miss out on this, there’s not going to be any other opportunity to grow this tiny little town. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be growth for the sake of growth. We have to have input from every stakeholder. From the community, YSDC, Council, and we have to have buy-in, and it has to be deliberate. It has to be thoughtful. So, when you say people are just like, ‘Oh, we don’t want any industry, we don’t want any development,’ — that’s not it. I don’t think that’s it. [They are saying] we want it to be in the spirit of this community, which is doing things together and moving forward more cohesively.”

Gavin DeVore Leonard: “I’ll just say the things that jump out for me based on what’s been said — I do wonder about the focus on individuals and businesses that are already here that could be grown. I guess I get a little bit worried about putting too many eggs in the basket of big multinational corporations that when their tax incentives run out, I think they’ll be gone.

“I actually do think we’re going to see more growth in Ohio. If you look at a number of reasons in terms of shifts in climate change, this is a safer place to be than many other parts of the country. We’re still a massive hub in terms of accessibility to just the number of Americans that are within a short distance from Ohio. And then frankly, there’s been so much growth in the South in the last decades that increasingly, you’re starting to see Ohio pop up as an affordable place to live that has a solid infrastructure. And I think that’s going to continue. I maybe don’t see it quite so much as this is our last chance. I feel like there’s going to be a shift that’s happening, coming back around as a more affordable place.

“The community engagement piece seems crucial to me. I think it’s tied into this question of what are we growing for? What do we want businesses here for? What do we want people to come here for? I think if we can make the case to people that this is the kind of community we want to live in, and that industry is a part of that and helps us get there, then I think people can get brought into it. … I think we have some work to do collectively to figure out how we do a better job of communicating with the community.

“I think we want to try to figure out — how do we get younger as a community? We want to figure out what to do about racial diversity and the fact that things are shifting. You know, what do we do about — how do we say out loud that this is a LGBTQIA+ friendly community? Just naming these things very explicitly feels like it would be relevant in telling a story of who we are.”

Marianne MacQueen: “I don’t think we have to do one or the other. But everything I’ve read says you get more bang for the buck by drawing from what you have. A friend, a colleague of mine who has some expertise has said that he thinks Yellow Springs would be better off trying to have 200 companies that can employ five people rather than five companies that can pull up, employ 200 people. In other words, whoever was talking about all the people that are now working from home, the ability for those little businesses to grow a bit could create a good base.”

Michael Slaughter: “Those big companies have a lot of young engineers and it’s diverse. So don’t let the big company thing scare you. They have those young folks that we need. The point I’m trying to make is that the subcontractors are the little companies that supply Intel with a lot of things. And those are the five or 10 person type operations that support that group, which could also be diverse.

“But those big companies are looking for professional, young, diverse engineers. They have them, they continue to look for them. So, we may get some of those. We’re looking at the suppliers. You’re not going to get an Amazon to roll here,  but we’re going to get the small suppliers. That’s where you want to chase. Those are the things we want to look for.

“The bigger thing I want to talk about too is, you know, for buy-in whether it’s business or whether it’s residential. This group right here is the hub. Each one of us represents a different category, right? So, we come up with the ideas we have to sell. So, Kevin [McGruder] takes his message, I take the message, Carmen takes the message, we’re all taking our messages back to our groups, and then those people talk to people. That’s why if we’re focused with something that comes out of this hub then we can touch more people. We want to get the buy-in from the public, from the residents. If you don’t have that it’s just friction and we don’t want that. This is our opportune time to do both.”

Kevin Stokes: “It certainly sounds like we are pro-business and by definition pro-growth. There is the social aspect of convincing residents not to ‘poo-poo’ our intentions when potential business owners or folks want to grow their business. … We do want to make sure residents are for the most part leaning towards the positive aspects. I wonder if we do need to start with ‘Hey, what does the public feel?’ Certainly, I think from a village perspective, from an infrastructure perspective, we can talk about where we are today, and where we could be with increased tax revenues, with increased business revenues.

“I wasn’t here in town back when the CBE issue was happening and when Glass Farm started to happen and didn’t. So yes, I presume that there was an anti-housing development, an anti-business development. I know personally that I regret that the village on the whole was against those things. Now we want those things, and we can’t just snap our fingers and get them. It’s harder now and more expensive.

“We talk about being intentional in terms of developing business here. Here’s a question —who do we say no to? You know when somebody comes in and says ‘I build purple widgets. I will build my own factory. I will build my own infrastructure. I know you guys don’t like purple widgets, but I will come here, I will employ 150 people, I’ll pay top wages. I’ll do everything you want me to do.’ Do we dislike purple widgets enough to say no?”

Carmen Brown: “So I just want to interject really quickly. What is your record on the environment? What’s your record with equity and diversity? How diverse is your workforce? Where do you source your products? All this stuff is available, and if it doesn’t align, then it doesn’t align. And there are plenty of businesses, especially now, that do align with how we feel. We have to ask these questions, and then that’s the intentional piece.”

Part two of the discussion will be published in an upcoming issue of the News.


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