When county commissioners met with members of their economic development advisory committee Friday, the overall tone was reminiscent of a line from a commercial for long-defunct Falstaff beer: “We’re all in this together, it’s time we made it clear.”
Roger Hefley, Craig Dodd, and Tammy Ensey were present to elaborate on a two-page letter in which the committee proposed commissioners give the group a formal charter to guide their activities.
However, Hefley opened his remarks by proposing commissioners embrace inclusive language when talking about economic development.
“The key words we’d like to have everybody start using is ‘the Marion County community,’” Hefley said. “We need to think of ourselves as a county community. Either we’re all going to win together or we’re all going to go down together.
“We are a community – what’s good for Durham is going to be good for Goessel, it’s going to be good for Peabody, it’s going to be good for Lehigh, it’s going to be good for all of us.”
Commissioner Randy Dallke appeared positively intrigued.
“It’s something simple, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard it discussed that way, a county community,” he said. “Marion County community, that’s a new term, it’s a new start, and that’s a good way to put it. That’s what we are. We always have been.”
Commissioner Dan Holub endorsed the concept, but noted challenges in achieving it.
“One of the biggest problems Marion County is faced with is a lack of a sense of community,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities on several occasions to work together on different things and we have failed miserably on every single one of them. If we don’t pool our assets and resources, we’re going to go nowhere.”
Ensey likened the challenge to that of a dysfunctional family.
“If you have a mom and a dad that are competing against each other with the children, there’s going to be tension and chaos, and that’s what we’ve seen in our communities,” she said. “If we learn to partner together rather than competing with one another, I think we’re going to have a much better success rate in attracting new businesses, being able to keep our current businesses, being able to help our current businesses grow in the way they need to.”
Echoing public meetings earlier in the year, the committee’s letter listed 10 economic challenges facing the county. It also proposed principles for a charter to guide the committee as it develops detailed recommendations for future consideration by commissioners.
“This is going to be a long term process, and we’re going to be in a marathon, not a sprint,” Hefley said. “This is what we have to do, spelled out in a nutshell, and the result will hopefully be jobs.”
Holub said equal emphasis should be placed on retaining jobs once they’re created, and that the committee should pay attention to supporting the county’s existing small businesses.
“One of the things we’ve already discussed is doing interviews with each and every one of the businesses as we go along,” Dodd said. “That’s the foundation of our county.”
One way small businesses could be supported, Ensey said, was by providing a source for common assistance with human resources issues.
Commissioners deferred action on a specific charter to a future meeting.