Grow up, Erie County

The economic health and well being of Erie County is at a crossroads. So says a group of local businessmen and elected officials who
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010


The economic health and well being of Erie County is at a crossroads. So says a group of local businessmen and elected officials who are calling upon economic development organizations in Erie County to join forces and work together as one voice for growth.

Through a program called Grow Erie County, the group has recommended that currently fragmented economic development efforts be brought under one roof.

Each official charged with economic development would retain his position with the government agency or organization he works for, but on a rotating basis the Sandusky City Manager and the Erie County Administrator would supervise the work each is doing.

Additionally, through legislation offered to each political subdivision for adoption, regular meetings to provide updated information on development efforts would be reported to the group.

It's really a pretty good idea.

Grow Erie County lets the general public know that there is someone minding the store; that some cohesiveness is being provided for both tax dollars and private funds, and that political subdivisions and groups such as the Erie County Chamber of Commerce are working together in an all out effort to improve the community.

In years past the county was rich in manufacturing jobs and tourism was a strong anchor.

Today, the tourism anchor continues to hold strong and commercial development has grown rapidly, but unfortunately that is where it ends.

E.D. in some communities stands for economic development. In Erie County it stands for economic dysfunction.

Tender egos, turf battles over the property taxes economic development will generate, and a shrinking population that looks back instead of looking forward are all factors that have hurt Erie County's growth.

There are positive signs that things could change for Erie County. Sandusky's Paper District - now a reality - and the proposed Marina District, along with the county's effort toward examining the need for a better airport and even the prospect of a real live bookstore are all encouraging signs.

They are signals that there really is light in the tunnel. But each one is an individual light bulb requiring separate circuit breakers. It's just a question of how to tie them all together.

Grow Erie County provides the mechanism for accomplishing that unified effort.

A recent analysis of the economic development efforts in Erie County funded by Greater Erie County Marketing, stated it is "unclear who has ED leadership," and that "residents and leaders are divided on the issue of growth."

It also states that the county is threatened by fragmented efforts by different entities trying to make growth happen; that there is a lack of openness to new and innovative ideas, and that there is an inertia and resistance to change in the county.

All this is true. And, while the study was funded by GEM, GEM is not without some blame. The report says GEM only has 1.5 employees and that a limited staff makes an all out economic development effort difficult to accomplish.

So why hasn't GEM gone to other agencies and said, "Hey fellas, we need some help here." Instead of asking government for money, why hasn't GEM asked for assistance from the experts the local governments have on their payroll?

There is more than enough brain power in government and there are several people in the private sector with the knowledge and the expertise to make economic development viable.

Right now no one is in charge. There needs to be supervision. Grow Erie County can accomplish that.

Of course throwing the Sandusky City Manager into the role of supervisor (even if only on a rotating basis) will generate lots of conspiracy theories from those who only know how to get elected to office by throwing out threats of annexation.

And there is at least one county elected official who thinks the only good idea is one he generates, so it's more than likely that he'll waste time trying to play around with the concept enough to brand it as his own.

Add to all of this the differences in salaries between those on the payroll (which has generated some discord), and the idea of Grow Erie County seems like an uphill battle.

It's all pretty petty, but government is that way sometimes.

And, if the pettiness derails the idea, the next suggestion should be a treatise from the public entitled "Grow Up Erie County."