MORROW COUNTY- On August 23 four groups made up of 35 county business leaders, educators, key stakeholders and community residents met with Columbus-based economic development firm Montrose Group to consider elements of a strategic plan for Morrow County.

Montrose Group Director of Economic Development Planning, Jamie Beier Grant gave a summary of the research done to evaluate the current economic landscape of Morrow County.

Members of the Montrose Group listened and took extensive notes on residents’ comments and discussion.

A theme running through discussion was making sure the county has appeal for business and development, while maintaining quality of life as a rural community.

In the afternoon session Miles Hardesty praised the work on infrastructure and development by Andy Ware as well as previous economic development directors. Hardesty credited Zoning/Planning Director Brent Russell with progress in planning. He also was pleased Ware and the County Commissioners are bringing in an outside professional group for a strategic plan.

Ware said funding for the strategic development plans in the amount of $50,000 is covered by Commissioners with $30,000 and contributions of $10,000 each from Consolidated Electric and Delco Water. The Advisory Group supporting this effort includes Consolidated Electric, DelCo­ Water, and Park National Bank.

Comments from county residents

Hardesty pointed to the empty store fronts in villages and asked how owners can be motivated to rent, sell or make improvements. He said there needs to be consistency in building regulations so business and construction can know what to expect.

“The county needs to be cleaned up,” said Hardesty. He would also like to see attention to abandoned and dilapidated properties. This would be important in attracting business.

Erin Bender whose family owns a farm in Morrow County is Director of The Point at Otterbein University. She recommends finding ways to form partnerships among business, schools and agencies for a shared vision.

Bender said she has seen partnerships be successful in Westerville with business, schools, government and others working together. She pointed out that partnerships are a win for everyone.

Eddie Lou Meimer comes from a farm family and emphasized the value of agriculture to Morrow County can’t be forgotten.

“Agriculture is the biggest driver of the county’s economy,” Meimer said.

OSU Extension Educator, Becky Barker said support of small business is needed. She said many in the county tell her affordable space for business is a big need.

Carrie Jagger, Erin Kelty and Angela Powell said creative marketing is much needed for small businesses and for the county.

Several pointed to the success of Groovy Plants in Fargo for their excellent marketing that brings in visitors and customers from all around the state. The Cardinal Center was also named as a place where many come into the county.

Kelty and Powell noted the value of networking as well as learning and marketing that comes with Chamber of Commerce membership.

Deanna Brandt said some events and cultural attractions could be developed so out-of-town visitors dollars can be spent here. That way the entire burden for purchasing isn’t on local people.

This is also true of getting more advantage and buy-in from visitors, who come to Mid-Ohio races, Cardinal trap shoots and our camping areas.

Job and Family Services staff said there are funds for job programs in the county, but the “money is under-utilized” at the present time. JFS is working to build relationships and have a jobs program with Pioneer Vocational School which is tailored for business in the county.

Developing strategies for the future

Beier named several economic conclusions about the county, beginning with the slight growth of population in Morrow County. It is on par with state and national growth, and also better than many rural counties in the state which are experiencing a decline in population.

A competitive advantage is having Interstate 71 crossing the county with two interchanges where development opportunities exist. Morrow County is situated with access to several major higher education and research institutions such as The Ohio State University, Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Ohio Wesleyan University, Marion Technical College and Central Ohio Technical College.

Montrose Group research shows, “The County’s location along Interstate 71, its participation in the central Ohio economic development initiatives and its location within the Intel supply chain footprint position Morrow County well for the attraction of high-wage jobs in Advanced Manufacturing and logistics and fulfillment sectors.”

After gathering data to get an overall picture of Morrow County and listening to members of the community, a final step will be to make recommendations to the Commissioners and County Economic Development team.

Beier said Poggemeyer Design Group will assist in investigating possible sites for development. Poggemeyer has worked with the county on developing SoMoCo waste water and other projects.

Recommendations for a strategic plan will be made for short-, mid- and long-term based on research, looking at other similar communities and the response from community representatives.

County location is positioned well for development

By Alberta Stojkovic

For the Sentinel