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Village Council and Yellow Springs Development Corporation talk local economy

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This is the second article of two, the first of which appeared in the July 7 issue of the News and featured edited excerpts of a discussion by members of Village Council and the YS Development Corporation, or YSDC, at a June 29 joint meeting held in Council chambers. During the meeting, YSDC and Council discussed ways in which YSDC could increase its role as an economic development partner with the Village. Participants also grappled with the complexities of balancing the need for economic development with shared community values that prioritize environmental concerns, maintaining a smaller population and affordability.

Attracting small business suppliers and residents moving into the area after the construction of an Intel facility just outside of Columbus, Ohio, and a Honda battery factory just over 30 minutes away in Fayette County, while addressing the needs of already established local businesses, were discussion points during the meeting.

Part two of the discussion touched on the practicalities of attracting new businesses to the community; gaining a “seat at the table” when economic development meetings occur on a county and regional level, or via connecting with corporations; and the development of a rubric created to measure how a potential business coming into the community stacks up against local values.

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Present at the meeting were all five members of Village Council: President Brian Housh, Vice President and one of Council’s two YSDC liaisons Kevin Stokes, Marianne MacQueen, Gavin DeVore Leonard and Carmen Brown, Council’s second representative on YSDC. Recently-hired Planning and Zoning Administrator Meg Leatherman was also in attendance. Representing YSDC were voting members Dino Pallotta, Ryan Carpe, Amy Magnus, Corrie Van Ausdal, Kevin McGruder, Miami Township trustee Don Hollister, and Michael Slaughter; ex-officio member Josué Salmerón, Yellow Springs village manager, who has since announced his resignation as manager; and Encore Miller Fellow and Interim Executive Director Lisa Abel.

Brian Housh: “There’s the social side of us preparing emotionally. We inform and educate our constituents. But then there’s the infrastructure side. Do we build — I think Don [Hollister] said — by speculation? Just wondering, will somebody live here, come in and put their business here?

Lisa Abel: “One of the things that we’ve been doing at YSDC these past couple years, as we’ve been a hammer looking for a nail, is to ask these questions, like “What happens if somebody wants to make drones to kill people and wants to settle here?” So, Kevin [Stokes] and Lisa Kreeger [former Council person and YSDC liaison] developed a rubric for that, a little decision-making tool. And that seems like something that is pretty close to ready and represents the values of YSDC as a coalition organization representing the community through different organizations.

“So, introducing that to the community for community feedback is a way to show our cards, that we’re being intentional about this, but also invite community feedback on something, when there’s not a pressing [need]. This thing is something that’s being worked on now.”

Kevin McGruder: “‘When do we say no?’ to me implies that there’s some incentives that are being provided that allow us to say no, like a zoning variance. Is that the trigger? … It sounds like part of that is incentives. And what we’re saying is everybody doesn’t get that. There are certain groups that meet the criteria. I’m a relatively new member of the YSDC, so I wasn’t part of that conversation, but I do think that that would maybe alleviate some of the fears that people who may be perceived as anti-business have because they think we’re just going to have anybody coming in. And a rubric could really be a good way to say, ‘We want to grow a certain way, not just any kind of way.’”

Housh: “I hope that we appreciate what we’ve done to control as much as we can about our infrastructure and make it easier for people to do business in the village. We’ve done some elimination of red tape, and I love saying that in the county with a bunch of Republicans, that Yellow Springs is eliminating red tape. And what’s transpired is that having our own building department — the issue about inspection and how long building permits used to take — is no longer an issue. We’ve made significant improvements for infrastructure, ability to distribute water, and electricity. Those are things that are important to get us to where we need to be to attract more businesses, more development. So, we’re taking care of what’s underneath the ground and all the infrastructure.”

Josué Salmerón: “For YSDC, there’s been sourcing the businesses, engaging the business relationships, and looking at what our current business needs are, and how do we grow them, because there’s greater value in growing our own. Because we don’t have to sell the village to businesses that are already here with the potential of growing, meaning doing more of what they’re doing, but also growing in adjacent business products. Lisa [Abel] has started doing some of that work. We don’t have a very methodical way of assessing every business in our community, looking, exploring what the opportunities are there. And we need to be methodical. There’s a lot of home-based businesses that we need to tap into and see what growth opportunities are there.

“But what are our local opportunities for us to take those inputs and build out accomplishment? That’s probably where we need a lot of help. We need a lot of help understanding that business sentiment, that business strategy alignment in a sense of what’s happening in the regional ecosystem, and how we are preparing our business, or growing businesses, to compete for those economic opportunities, capitalizing on those opportunities.”

Abel: “It’s going to be a wave of businesses moving to Ohio and employees moving to Ohio. So, while I appreciate growing from the home-based businesses, and I don’t discount that, I think we also can position ourselves to catch what we can that’s coming, that fits with the values of this community. To do that, we need a seat at that table to date. We have not had that.

“There’s a meeting … with various village managers and various representatives from around the region. That’s what I’m talking about. I can go bust down the door, go to the coalition and say, ‘I’d like to sit here and listen in on your meetings.’ And they might say, ‘Well that’s fine, take a back seat, you’re fine.” But what we don’t have is Karen Wintrow [former Village Council member and executive director of the YS Chamber of Commerce]. Whatever anybody thinks about the work she did or did not do, we don’t have that person here, and we’re not putting anybody there.

“We’re missing those discussions regionally. We’re missing those discussions locally. I think that’s the big piece.

“Part of the reason that we’re often left out is because in this county, it’s always about Beavercreek, Fairborn and Xenia. I regularly check in on meetings, I learn that we weren’t invited to the table. And it’s not just county level for sure. I think we could definitely get a seat at the table if we had a clear intention of why we need to be there.”

Housh: “I just want to ask for some clarification. What does a seat at the table look like to you?”

Abel: “With Honda and with Intel, being at those meetings where local governments are meeting with them, being the development corporation, being part of those meetings so that we can find out who we present to, who do we talk to? How do we get in touch with their supplier networks? … We’re one of 88 counties trying to attract their attention. And we’re not going to possibly show proposals for chemical plants next door, or the railroad track.

Dino Pallotta: “We’re not going to depend on the county to take care of us. They’re looking at Beavercreek, they’re looking at Xenia. We have to look at ourselves, we have to do the work ourselves. If that means we go door-knocking, then we go door-knocking. I mean that’s Sales 101. I would much rather represent us than have Greene County represent us. I think we represent ourselves better than someone else can sell us. Because they’re not going to sell us or they’re going to sell us short. That’s where we have to take the initiative.”

Abel: “I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been involved in the startup and the work development community here in Ohio for a while now. It sometimes seems disheartening, but my feeling is that whenever I talk with people who are in this [business] community, it’s so much easier getting them to Yellow Springs.

“People feel like they’ve been someplace different when they come to Yellow Springs, and for these high-powered types, they really like to come someplace different. We’re a little oasis for them where they can breathe, relax and think. And that’s actually a real benefit. We can provide services. Think about those re-energizing activities that people want to engage in.”

Housh: “I think what you’re saying is when the Village, represented by the village manager, Village Council, etc. is invited to places, that it would be great to have an invitation for you as well to be part of that team. Did I hear you correctly?”

Abel: “Yes.”

Housh: “That sounds reasonable to me. … It feels like that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for from this meeting — how do we collaborate more, communicate more. Seems like there’s a lot of alignment … but the idea of having more people who can follow up, that sounds healthy.”

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