Economic development partnership celebrates 20th year
The City of Oregon was in disarray 20 years ago. The police chief sued city council alleging a member made false and defamatory comments against him. The councilman accused the Democrats of directing the former law director to conduct a witch hunt. Council voted to take the mayor to court to force an investigation of the police chief. The Democratic Party split in thirds, some stayed loyal, some become independents and some formed the Maumee Bay Democrats. Amidst this turmoil, something happened that no one could predict, because it had never happened before in a municipal election in the state of Ohio, Independent James Haley, a former Democrat, won a write-in election for mayor. He beat the endorsed Democrat.
All this political in-fighting played out in the front pages of this newspaper and in the Toledo media. Dump in the city’s contentious relationship with its hazardous waste landfill and the city’s image was less than desirable.
While the power struggle played out, frustrated business and civic leaders, as well as some government officials, wanted to know who was leading the effort to bring jobs here and grow the community’s tax base. A consortium of 30 to 40 of them joined together to form a private-public partnership to promote economic development. Next week, that partnership, the Oregon Economic Development Foundation, celebrates its 20th anniversary (See below).
The effort overcame the skepticism that Oregon would never reach its potential because of a fractious government. In that first year 63 businesses signed on donating $43,800. That was matched with $40,000 of public money. The big players joined: BP Oil, Sun Refining & Marketing, Rudolph-Libbe, St. Charles, etc, as well as banks, realtors and retail business.
Today, the foundation has 102 members.
So what has it done in 20 years?
Well, that’s not easy to answer. Economic development is a nebulous field in which numerous entities can take credit for jobs and investment. Mike Beazley, Oregon city administrator and a career government employee, said tongue in cheek, “If you look at the job announcements or the scores economic development agencies give themselves, it seems we’ve created millions of jobs and never lost one. By the math, everyone in Ohio should be employed with two jobs.”
While credit is hard to apportion, Beazley said the public-private partnership is better than a system in which a city department or a city employee is responsible for economic development. He cited four reasons. First, costs are shared between businesses and the taxpayers; second, because community leaders interact they generate more ideas to overcome obstacles to development; third there is more flexibility and discretion; and fourth, most city administrators who are part-time economic development directors have more pressing issues to deal with like fire and police protection.
Lindsay Myers, current executive director, adds another advantage. “I have worked in both (private and public). In working as a city employee there is a certain level of bureaucracy…There are certain steps you have to take to put things before council…The great thing about a public private partnership is that we are able to get things done at the speed of business.”
Both Myers and Beazley said the relationship between city officials and the foundation is excellent. While you would expect them to say that, this much is clear—business is good. The $800 million Clean Energy natural gas plant is on track to break ground this spring; the BP husky project to refine crude from the Alberta tar sands is on track and Spartan Logistics last year completed its eighth warehouse project since 1999. Tenants represent approximately 10 firms employing more than 600 employees in 716,000 square-feet of space. Companies include Fresenius Medical Care, Autoneum and Caraustar Industrial Products.
In addition, Independent Mike Seferian, a former Democrat, and Democratic challenger Tom Susor ran a clean, issue-oriented mayoral race.
The foundation can’t take credit for all of this. In fact, city council and in particular councilwoman Sandy Bihn, deserve credit for pushing to get the long-awaited Millard Avenue overpass done. The overpass allows trucks to bypass trains that used to block the city’s industrial section. Without the overpass, Ed Harmon has stated Spartan Logistics would never have commissioned warehouse one.
Oregon has assets that are the envy of other communities: low-cost abundant water, more than 700 acres of industrially-zoned land, industrial usage electricity, a Foreign Trade Zone, rail access from three railroads, a deep water port, roads that qualify for Michigan loads and a skilled labor force.
The quality of life assets are just as impressive: two excellent school systems, one of the lowest income tax rates of a city in Northwest Ohio, Pearson Park, the Lake Erie shoreline and nearby Maumee Bay State Park, marinas for charter boat fishing and wetlands that attracted some 60,000 bird watchers last spring.
These assets demand the attention of a full-time economic development organization. Congratulations to the foundation on its 20th anniversary.
Editor’s Note: John Szozda served as a board member and the first chairman of the membership committee for the foundation. The Press is a member organization. Comment at
20th anniversary dinner
Thomas Nimbley, CEO of PBF Energy, parent company of Toledo Refining Company, will deliver the keynote address at the foundation’s anniversary dinner Thursday Dec. 5 at Maumee Bay State Park.
Nimbley previously was a senior executive with ConocoPhillips, Phillips Petroleum, and Tosco Corporation. He began his career in the oil industry in 1973 when he joined Exxon Company, USA after earning a Bachelor's Degree in Chemical Engineering from Newark College of Engineering / New Jersey Institute of Technology.
For more information, call Lindsay Myers at 419-693-9999.