Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Anyone who has been reading the Stark County Political Report knows that The Report has been pushing Commissioner Tom Harmon to make good on his promise to make economic development happen in Stark since he got a "political" appointment to be commissioner back in 2007.

The SCPR is highly skeptical of politicos, not just Harmon, and whether or not they want to do anything for anybody other than themselves.

With a "you have been wrong, Martin" demeanor, Commissioner Harmon handed yours truly a copy of  a  "Proposed Canton-Stark County Agricultural & Livestock Expo Arena" at last Wednesday's commissioners' meeting with the verbal:  "How this for a guy [Harmon - teased the SCPR] who doesn't know anything about economic development" (as the SCPR has written about the commissioner).

Because the SCPR has been waiting for Harmon to act for nearly two years, the proposal got devoured on-the-spot.  Only kidding.  The Report applauds Harmon for taking this idea and moving it forward.

Moreover, it could be that Harmon is on to something with his "proposed" project of what his written proposal names the "Canton-Stark County Agricultural & Livestock Expo Arena.

The SCPR gladly eats a little bit of crow after talking with Harmon about 45 minutes today about the proposal.

It is obvious to yours truly that Harmon has worked this project hard trying to get government grants (stimulus & earmarks [aka known as "pork"]  to the tune of $5  to $10 million to build the facility) and at some personal expense in terms of footing the bill for some travel, food and lodging in visiting similar facilities located in Wilmington and Springfield, Ohio.

What drives Harmon?

The prospect that the facility and its activities could bring as much as $12 to $15 million to Stark County businesses each and every year.

When it to comes economic development for Stark County, the SCPR relishes being wrong on saying that certain public officials are not getting the job done.

Please, please public officials, prove me wrong over and over and over again.

While Commissioner Harmon is clearly working arduously on this project, it is a long way from producing a tangible benefit in terms of jobs for Stark Countians.

This idea is not Harmon's.  It belongs to Attorney Elizabeth Burick of Lake Township who is a horse lover.  Burick is a former Lake Township trustee who is well connected with the high reaches of the Stark County Democratic Party. She has served on former Stark County Democratic Party chair Johnnie A. Maier, Jr's campaign committees (as treasurer) and has worked for him at the Massillon clerk of courts office.

At first blush, the SCPR - after talking with folks who understand the horse show circuit - believes the  proposal is misnamed.  To accurately reflect the purpose of the arena as conceived by Burick, it should be named "The Equine Expo Arena."

Harmon tells the SCPR that the envisioned Expo Center could be used for other purposes than horse shows and related activities, but he cautions that the horse show community plans to use Expo about 46 weeks a year.

A SCPR source is very skeptical of the "46 weeks a year" and says it will likely be more like 20 weeks a year.  A big difference, if the source is accurate.

Another point made is that horse lovers are highly territorial in terms of the facilities they use.  The thought is that any other projected use of the Expo Center would face difficulties if the activity was not to the liking of the horse show folks.

So right out-of-the box, it appears that the concept is way too narrow to justify the county to allow Stark County owned land to be used by a very narrow set of Stark Countians who have incorporated as the "non-profit" Canton-Stark County Agricultural & Livestock Expo Arena with Elizabeth Burick as its head.

A curiosity?

If this project is projected to be lucrative for Stark County businesses, why is a non-profit being formed and not a profit-making entity?  Hmm?

Another negative.  Fair parking (on the north side of the fair grounds where Expo is slated to be built) would be diminished by the construction of a facility that will have a very narrow use.

But the idea of the project could be the first spark of a vision that some Stark Countians have to renew the Stark County Fairgrounds so that it can be a huge economic/financial positive for Stark.

Harmon didn't say so, but the SCPR wonders if the commissioners will use the development of the fair grounds to kill off the Stark County Fair eventually.

A source (not Commissioner Harmon) tells the SCPR that most of the buildings (including the Grandstand) are in poor condition and in desperate need of repair.

One of the ideas behind the Expo Center is that it might help the Stark County Fair Board become self-sufficient and thereby in a position to generate funds to repair the degenerating buildings.

A much more stimulating idea would be to take Burick's idea and expand it considerably.

The SCPR likes the idea of an Stark Countian with huge connection with Stark County's and Ohio's agricultural community that a project be put together to build an arena complex which could accommodate Burick et al but also serve serve the larger Stark County agricultural interest as well as the general public.

But the complex would "replace" the dilapidated (the SCPR's opinion) buildings.

Such a complex would dwarf the $12 to $15 million that is currently enticing Harmon.

It could link up with Hall of Fame activities, perhaps, serve as an indoor soccer facility and be used to establish and run "youth character development center" for Stark County's younger generations who do not have access to farm-like facilities.

You name it,  Everything should be on the table.

Stark County sheriff Tim Swanson is said to have stated recently that he cannot remember the last time his officers arrested a person with 4-H experience in his/her life.

Commissioner Harmon pointed out to yours truly that "agriculture" is the biggest economic factor in Stark County.

A terrific point.

And Stark County government needs to play to this countywide strength and not limit the county to the micro-vision of Burick and her friends in the horse community.

One of the SCPR's quarrels with the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce is that the organization's leadership development program is not producing visionaries that can take Stark's strengths and parlay them into a sterling local economy some what disconnected from state and national trends.

The SCPR feels as if the Burick proposal is a done deal among the movers and shakers who lead Stark County. 

If such is the case, then Stark County will settle for the micro when what is called for is macro economic development.

Stark County needs a much grander plan than the "Canton-Stark County Agricultural & Livestock Arena."

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