To make a play on the title of Andy’s final blog post as Executive Director, this is a question I’ve asked myself several times over the last month; my first on the job. With the COVID-19 crisis gaining momentum during the hiring process, I undoubtedly picked a historical time to change lanes with my career and by the end of my first week on the job, Governor DeWine issued his stay-at-home order. In my first month on the job, the economy has stalled and our communities, county, and country will deal with the impacts of the coronavirus for years to come. What a time to take a job as an economic development professional, right?!?
It would be cliché (and probably inappropriate) to say there’s never been a better time to begin a career in economic development than right now. But… there is a part of me that truly believes this. At the moment, I am cautiously optimistic about the future of America’s economy, but remain bullish on the future of Washington County and SE Ohio. How could that be? Although new to this position, I am no stranger to this county and region, and it’s my familiarity with our communities and the people therein, that gives me hope. The people of this region are nothing if not resilient and resourceful. We take pride in being able to provide for ourselves while going the extra mile to support our friends, family, and neighbors. There is no place I would rather call home than Washington County, Ohio and it’s my love for home that gives me hope for the future of this county and the great communities (and people) that make us who we are.
To capture the words of one of my mentors: “There clearest path to success is paved with clear expectations.” As a project manager by trade, the way I establish clear expectations is by answering some very familiar questions – Who? What? Why? When? Where? How? and How much? – although not always in that order. So with my inaugural Director’s Blog post, I think it would be prudent to set forth some expectations by answering a few of these questions in a way that allows you to understand who I am and what it is I intend to do as Executive Director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority.
If you are familiar with Simon Sinek, you’ll recognize Start with Why as one of his most popular books. More than a book title, this is a commonsense approach to life and business. Organizations adopt a mission statement in order to succinctly convey their why and ours reads as follows: To enhance the economic environment in the Washington County, Ohio region through leadership and collaborative, innovative partnerships to retain existing jobs, recruit new companies and redevelop sites in order to provide a growing, vibrant economy.
Within our mission statement are two “whys” that resonate with me and that’s “collaborative, innovative partnerships” and “retain existing jobs”. Doing things independently and as you’ve always done them may work, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best way or even the most sustainable way of doing things. I embrace innovation and believe a collaborative effort is often the best way to ensure your results serve the greater good, not just the individual(s). When it comes to retaining jobs, the statement I often make is that “we aspire to attract, but our reality is retention”. Think of this like the old adage “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. It is worse to lose a job or business that you already have than it is to miss an opportunity for a new one. When it comes to balancing attraction vs. retention, I will always prioritize retention.
Open, transparent relationships and good old-fashioned hard work. More than anything, these two attributes are the driving forces behind how I work and they’ll remain at the core of Port operations as long as I remain in this position.
I like to break large, complex problems into manageable segments that I refer to as “buckets”. Broadly speaking, economic development organizations focus on a wide array of “buckets” such as administering grants and other financing programs, developing infrastructure, advocating for policy adoption or change, redevelopment of existing sites, speculative site development, and more. Our organization will carry two buckets: Business retention and expansion, or BRE in economic development speak, and infrastructure/real estate development. In future posts, I’ll talk more about how we execute these two objectives.
Right now, the Port is a one-person operation. However, we are very fortunate to have a long list of contributing organizations that support our mission, county commissioners that are invested in our work, and a Board of Directors that is comprised of distinguished, accomplished business leaders from several of the pillar businesses and organizations within the county. The leadership and collective wisdom of my board is key to the success of not only the Port Authority, but Washington County as a whole. Rest assured if I don’t have an immediate answer or solution to an issue, it can be quickly sourced from within the combined networks of myself and the Board.
As for me, I am a lifelong resident of this county. I’m an alum of Warren High School and Ohio University who now lives on the family farm. Out of college, I spent a decade in the oilfield (land and operations) before being laid off in November 2015. I started my economic development journey a couple of months later when I joined the team at APEG (now OhioSE). Two years later, I went to work for Washington State Community College as the Executive Director of Workforce Development. Despite the success (and fun) I had while working for WSCC, when this job became available, it was too good an opportunity to not pursue. I am a generalist by nature and it is the collective assembly of my past experience and varied skillset that has prepared me for this role. What better way to leverage your existing network and collective abilities than to do so in a service-oriented role that positively impacts your community!?!
In closing, my goal is for this organization to be known as a trusted, reliable partner for business and economic development not only in this county, but throughout the region. I will work hard to deliver value-added solutions that serve the greater good and I’ll do so while being a good steward of the resources provided to this organization by our stakeholders.
So… you are gonna be an economic developer? Yes. I am. And there’s never been a better time to be one.
Be safe and stay healthy Washington County!