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  • Last modified 181 days ago (May 17, 2018)

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Will it survive?

A friend who knows something about the matter popped into my office last week and asked me, given recent events, if Marion County Community Economic Corporation would survive, or go the way of past failed attempts at countywide cooperation.

A 15-minute conversation ensued that solved nothing, and did little to quell the uncertainty we both felt. We’d like to see it succeed, but neither of us are encouraged.

If history is any guide, folks should just stick a fork in it, call it done, and move on. Prior collaborative efforts dissolved in dissension over rules, priorities, and egos, and there wasn’t any money changing hands in those endeavors. With skepticism running high among at least two of the four government partners with major financial commitments, nothing much has happened to quell their doubts, either.

New board members jumped in without a safety net, thanks to bylaws that in retrospect virtually ensured a bumpy road by getting rid of anyone involved in creating the organization and excluding direct participation by anyone employed by its members. It’s like someone coming up with a whole new computer design, then handing the parts to me and disappearing forever. I’d be willing to try, but I can guarantee the thing would never get built. Computers definitely are not my area of expertise.

As has been the case since the outset, the economic development corporation’s future hangs on an ever-thinning thread of finding the “right” person to be its director. That person has been harder to find than civil discourse at a county commission meeting.

The right person will be an economic development professional with solid experience and a track record of relevant success, and the drive to make his or her mark by scoring big gains for the county, so folks have said.

And therein lies the problem. Those qualifications are in demand by cities and counties large and small. Many of those places have advantages over Marion County, not the least of which is unified support and direction. Many of those places have sufficient numbers of workers qualified for the businesses those places are trying to attract, while many of our businesses seem to constantly be scrambling to find and retain good help.

If the economic development group is to survive, it’s probably going to have to be through an unexpected “American Idol-type” find. The guy in his mid-30s who was washing cars for a living but dreamed of bringing the hits of Sinatra, Martin, Davis Jr., and others back to prominence comes to mind. He didn’t at all look the part, but when he opened his mouth, Frank, Dean, and Sammy flowed out. He won, and he’s had a singing career ever since.

Finding “Marion County’s Economic Idol” is going to take redoubled effort and luck. As the old saying goes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. However, it’s probably not a case of simply casting the opening out there for people to find and respond. The “right” person may well be one whose resume wouldn’t pass an application checklist.

A “boots on the ground” approach may have the best chance of succeeding, whether that’s hiring a bona fide headhunter to go out and scour the country, or board members to start doing the same.

Of course, even then, the right person may not be able to pull economic rabbits out of a hat. They’ll face the same landscape that’s stymied local and county efforts for years. One person may not be capable of generating returns on the county’s tenuous collective investment that will change anything. Think American Idol; think Ruben Studdard. Who? Exactly.

High performers are essential to success, but in business, they rarely accomplish things solo. They provide vision, they build teams, they work hard, and they pull together the resources to succeed. Can anyone build a team-like atmosphere throughout the county? Do we have the resources to pull together to succeed?

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” Emily Dickinson wrote, a positive piece about a bird thriving through hardship by hanging on to hope.

However, a thing with feathers also is well equipped to fly away at a moment’s notice, never to return.

Should we keep hanging our hats on a bird that’s struggled to get off the ground, or as county commission chairman Dianne Novak recently suggested, is it time to look for a different bird altogether?

For now, it appears we’ll stay the course, in hopes of finding that economic idol somewhere, somehow. However, if it doesn’t happen in short order, it may be that our collective goose is cooked.

— david colburn

Last modified May 17, 2018

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