Monday, January 17, 2011


Is the Stark Development Board, Inc. (SDB) enough of an economic development effort for Stark County?

Without a doubt, No!

As part of their inquiry into the fine details of the operation of Stark County government, the Stark commissioners have taken the refreshing step of exercising "due diligence" in terms of the effort and expenditures (taxpayer) made by Stark.  The implicit question that commissioners are asking:  is the county getting "the best bang for the Stark County taxpayer buck?"

While the SCPR believes that SDB's economic development effort is not a complete enough initiative, its CEO (Stephen Paquette) makes a persuasive case that "for what it does," the SDB is an asset for Stark County.

The SDB was created in 1985 by local business and community leaders as a non-profit corporation.  Its mission:
  • to keep businesses in Stark County
  • to help local companies expand, and
  • to attract new companies and capital investment to Stark County
Paquette says that the "core programs" of the SDB include:
  • business retention and expansion
  • loan financing
  • new business attraction
  • real estate and site selection, and
  • infrastructure development
Notice that neither the mission nor the core programs suggest that the SDB is involved in the development of competent and visionary Stark County leadership.

The absence of a leadership development component from the SDB agenda is a key reason why its mission and programs are inadequate to provide what Stark County needs for effective and productive economic development.

The SCPR has long advocated that Stark County has a critical need of what author Richard Florida (Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and Professor of Business and Creativity at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto) of developing a "creative class."

The Report believes that Stark County leadership has sat on its collective duff and has done nothing to develop an innovative cadre of leadership types which can work hand-in-hand with the likes of the SDB to make Stark one of America's new examples what can be done when all types of infrastructure (facilities, roads, transportation, culture and the arts, education, workforce development, and of course, "dynamic leadership") are brought together under an umbrella structure of getting things done.

Right now Stark County only has fragments of economic development (some of it very good; much of it worthless) floating around the county.

The job of the commissioners is to recognize the haphazard way that Stark's economic development engine is put together and to push for the creation of an umbrella organization which has the sole function of bringing what parts exist in to confluence with one another and to add those elements which remain missing.  Moreover, once a full-blown economic development gestalt is in place, commissioners should provide monthly accountings to the Stark County public via the commissioners' work sessions by having the key players appear and report.

The SCPR has long been critical of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce's  (Chamber) "Leadership Stark County."  From what The Report sees, its Government Leadership Academy and Signature Group are primarily credential building efforts which are not in any way, shape or form akin to creative leadership as formulated by Professor Florida.  The Chamber needs to take a new look at the format of its leadership programs and to build in an aspect that will generate "creative professionals" and and a "super-creative core" of 21st Century leaders.

A building block for what the SCPR envisions as the development of a meaningful and hopeful leadership model (i.e. to develop something along the lines of Florida's two-tiered creative class) is the work that has been done and which continues to make Stark County a new center of technological development.

In his presentation to commissioners (January 11, 2011 work session), CEO Paquette outlines (see the video at the end of this blog) progress made in giving Stark a technological footprint in describing the Rolls Royce (fuel cells), Kohler Coatings (high tech paper) and Timken (wind energy) project.  He does not specifically identify, but he tantalizes by saying that two more such projects are in the works.

Rolls Royce, Kohler Coatings and Timken are examples of future-looking companies that will attract young professionals to comes to Stark County.  But what will they find when the get here?

Will they find a Canton city government that fights over rehabbing a city that has wasted away over many decades and presents a largely unattractive physical plant look to visitors?

Will they find the small-minded thinking as evidenced by the effort to build a horse show arena at a dilapitated fairgrounds complex which also has been largely unattended to by successive fair boards?

Will they see a county in which there is fratricidal community infighting over existing business, manufacturing, and commerce in the context of annexation fights?

The SCPR can present many other such questions which should make it abundantly clear that if Stark does not get its act together to create a wholesome environment attractive to those who come to Stark to work for the likes of Rolls Royce, Kohler Coatings and Timken; the efforts of the Stark Development Board will have been in vain over the long haul.

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