Like much of Ohio and the nation, an economic recovery has been ongoing in Clinton County and Wilmington in southwest Ohio. This is especially poignant locally, following the dramatic economic disaster of DHL’s departure from the Wilmington Air Park in 2008. While there have been many successes locally in job creation, corporate attraction and expansion of businesses at the Air Park, another key story has also been the re-appreciation of local businesses and revaluing of local assets following the disaster, and has led to new community and economic development policies and programs in Clinton County.
Last year, the Clinton County Regional Planning Commission and our non-profit arm Energize Clinton County won a National Planning Achievement Award from the American Planning Association for these policies and programs rooted in a five-part strategy focused on: local business, local food, energy, young professionals, and community visioning. Each of these areas were highlighted as observed local leakages in the economic system at the time of disaster, and by developing pragmatic programs focused on these issues, we were able to address both short-term and long-term development needs of the community.
Last month we presented on our award-winning strategy and programs at the Arizona Rural Development Council’s annual meeting—also a statewide organization—whose mission is to advocate for economic development and issues in rural areas in that state. The conference highlighted the importance of understanding and supporting broad localism within community and economic development strategies—whether in locally made products or locally-owned businesses or through locally engaged community plans and programs. The theme of the conference tied closely to our story, which has been one of resiliency and recovery, and also highlighted our cautionary tale of the need for economic diversity and for communities to better understand and identify trending economic vulnerability, and the need for a greater focus on the value of local assets.
In an article in the International Economic Development Council’s journal earlier this year, we highlighted that a strong localism strategy—proactively addressing key leaks within the economic system as we have attempted to do in Clinton County—could be a key component to economic disaster preparedness planning. In the field of natural disaster response, there are many steps toward understanding vulnerability and there are well-accepted best practices for delineating risk such as the 100 year flood line. But within economic development there is dangerously little consensus about what constitutes vulnerability to an economic disaster and what factors should be risk benchmarked.
Greater Ohio has led on this topic, especially in legacy cities, and it is perhaps especially true in rural areas where the economy may be more reliant on only a few key areas of industry. Resilient communities must be ones that plan for potential disasters, understand and define risk vulnerability, and those that develop diverse, multifaceted programs to address that vulnerability from both a top-down and bottom-up approach.
In addition to the existing programs, the pipeline of program and idea innovation is important if we believe that economic risk is an evolving and changing vulnerability that brings new threats and opportunities regularly, so it is critical that communities continually look for new innovative and collaborative ways to tackle the observed leaks or highlighted risks. Just recently, with the current programs established, we unveiled a series of new programs including a young professional homesteading we call Wilmington Succeeds. A unique partnership with the Wilmington City Schools, Southern State Community College, Wilmington College and the City of Wilmington, focused on offering incentives for young people to go to school and stay in the community after graduation. We also recently collaborated with Treehouse, a nationally-recognized code training platform company, on an initiative called Reach Clinton County, which focuses on coding training for local residents. These programs have opened yet another front to address the strategy and attack challenges like brain drain and workforce development in ways our community had yet to attempt.
But there is always more to be done. The lesson from the Arizona Rural Development Council and from organizations leading the way like Greater Ohio is that continued collaboration is needed. Whether it is small towns and rural areas, or legacy cities and metropolitan issues, resiliency is rightfully a hot topic of discussion. For economic development to be meaningful and effective there must be a better understanding of vulnerability to economic disaster and a greater appreciation of the value of localism and local strategies.
About The Clinton County Regional Planning Commission:
The Clinton County Regional Planning Commission was created in 1970 and represents Clinton County, City of Wilmington and the Villages of Blanchester, Clarksville, Port William, Midland, Martinsville, New Vienna and Sabina. More information is at www.clintoncountyrpc.org and our Energize Clinton County nonprofit at www.energizecc.com.