The Erie County Economic Development Corp. served coffee when it unveiled its plan to spur the local economy, but a development expert wasn't relying on caffeine to rouse his audience.
Angelos Angelou walloped those gathered with Erie County's realities, mixing an outline of his company's plan with tough talk aimed at shaking local residents out of their complacency.
"Your community is on a long path to decline," he said.
Hired by ECEDC to prepare the Strategic Action Plan announced Tuesday, Angelou of AngelouEconomics said economic development in Erie County is badly underfunded and it appears motivation to make positive changes is sorely lacking.
"I want to look at each one in the room," Angelou said to the crowd of 50 or 60 seated before him at BGSU Firelands. "If it's not now, when are you going to take action?"
He said he's worried that times haven't gotten bad enough in Erie County to force action.
"Maybe you are too comfortable, still," he suggested.
Angelou said Erie County should build on a previous report from his firm recommending the area target four key industries that would be a good fit for the region: advanced manufacturing, logistics and distribution, health care services and business services. He recommended that a task force be formed to work on each sector.
Two key growth areas Erie County should tackle to ensure a prosperous future, he said, are wind energy production and building an airport at NASA Plum Brook Station. Erie County should support efforts to make electricity from wind power and manufacture wind turbine components in addition to helping NASA reach its full potential with access to an airport that can handle the large cargo needed by the local space organization.
"No effort should be spared in making sure that effort comes to fruition," he said.
He said Erie County citizens should visit successful communities and look for ideas to borrow.
"Not every idea has to be invented here," he said.
One of Erie County's most important tasks is to retain and expand existing industries, he said.
Milan Mayor Robert Bickley asked how to handle companies in Erie County that announce they are shutting down.
If a company has a substantial presence in Erie County, community leaders should visit the company headquarters every year to tell company officials how much our area appreciates having the company. That makes it a lot harder for company executives to close shop, Angelou advised.
Angelou said ECEDC's Web site needs work because the Web site is the first thing companies look at.
"Your Web site does not impress anybody," he said. "You may be eliminated from many competitions without knowing it."
Angelou said it was critical for local leaders to work together on a regional approach to development. He said he does a lot of work on site selection for new industrial plants, and "when I fly over the city, I don't see any boundary lines."
Asked why he didn't discuss tourism, Angelou said that while every effort should be made to support tourism in Erie County, "tourist jobs do not pay manufacturing wages."
Angelou's call to action appeared to find a receptive audience.
Dennis Murray Jr., president of the Sandusky City Commission, stood up and challenged every elected government body in Erie County to adopt the new plan before the end of August.
Linda Armstrong, a local real estate agent, immediately volunteered to serve on a task force that would travel to other communities to collect development ideas.
Mark Litten, executive director ECEDC, said the plan will go before his organization's board Tuesday.
Litten said that not considering a one-time grant, his organization's annual budget has been about $250,000 since the group's last major fundraising campaign in 2004. To carry out Angelou's suggestions, it needs to raise money to have a budget of $350,000 to $400,000, he estimated.
Key recommendations from the Strategic Action Plan:
1. Educate the community on the benefits of regional economic development.
2. Sign an agreement not to let local communities steal jobs from each other.
3. Conduct an economic impact study to help the community celebrate its successes.
4. Hire a full-time director of business development and expansion.
5. Do everything possible to support construction of a new airport for NASA Plum Brook Station.
6. Develop a strong support system to aid innovation in manufacturing.
7. Support efforts to make Ohio a wind energy hub.
8. Enhance and support the North Coast Young Professionals Network to get young people involved.
The plan's vision statement for Erie County:
"Erie County will be an engine of economic growth through a collaborative regional approach focused on growing its business presence in specific target industry clusters, while ensuring a high quality of life that preserves and respects the region's history and natural resources and provides exceptional opportunities for residents of all backgrounds to live and work in the community."