Partnerships, efficiency key to successes

Published 11:33 am Friday, April 5, 2013

During a recent work session with Mike Caldwell of The Tribune, our discussion drifted to both the need and the challenges faced in providing information to our citizens so they can make good and informed decisions that ultimately determine the future of our community.

I guess given my 35-year vantage point of working within community development programs through multiple federal, state, and local administrations, I often find reporters calling upon me when doing stories asking my perspective relating back to historical references.

We all have heard that we learn valuable lessons from history. Unfortunately, there are not too many history books written around our local community.

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At that work session, Mike had asked me if I would be willing to write a regular column to share some of that historical perspective and information with the community. My usual first response was that there is never enough time given that there is always that next project that is in critical need of attention.

However, that discussion has remained on my mind ever since that day and the question arises: Is it not a better to invest some time to provide information back to the community to use in, hopefully, making good and effective decisions?

Therefore, as I drink my Saturday morning coffee, I have agreed to follow through and begin sharing some of my insight on a regular basis.

This morning, I read in the papers and have shared in discussions regarding the potential of once again partnering in the economic development efforts by possibly merging the county and city port authorities.

This reminded me of some of the same tough decisions that were made by our former community leaders in 1983 and 1984. Annual unemployment in Lawrence County in 1984 was 16.4 percent, compared to the state’s 9.4 percent and the U.S. rate of 7.5 percent. Fiscal emergency was declared in the city, much like it is in Detroit today, with the county near that same breaking point.

The community, beaten down and on its knees, realized “status quo” was not good enough and, although unpopular at the time, all came together and invested in the community’s long-term future.

As a result, there was the merger of two part-time chambers of commerce in the county into a joint economic development effort. With the combined resources of those two chambers of commerce, along with investments of CDBG grant funds by the county of $15,000 and $10,000 by the city, that partnership created the current Chamber of Commerce office and Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, both of which are going strong 30 years later.

Today, as of February 2013, Lawrence County has a 7.6 percent unemployment rate compared to the state’s 7.6 percent and U.S. rate of 8.1 percent.

This is far from perfect, but the question remains: Was moving from one of the worst local economies in the state to one of the better ones the result of some sort of fluke or some other factors that may have occurred in southern Ohio?

Our neighboring Scioto and Jackson Counties had 14.3 percent and 11.2 percent unemployment respectively in 1984. They remain nearly unchanged now at 11.9 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively.

Therefore, it appears that the continued growth in our community must have resulted from some sort of actions taken by the Lawrence County community.

We all know that there were many bumps and bruises along the way over these past 30 years.

Probably most everyone also felt at one point in time that they might have been short changed along the way. We all have been faced many times with the opportunity to give into the temptation of just saying, “The heck with it” and following the easier self-interest path for a short-term benefit instead of toughing it out as a continued investment in our future.

Does such a joint partnership as is now being discussed between the two port authorities give us any guarantees of some future grand economy in our community? No.

But if history repeats itself, if we don’t partner together and continue to wisely invest the limited resources that we have, we can easily rejoin among the ranks of those communities now in bankruptcy with the primary goal of just survival.


Ralph Kline is the assistant executive director of development and planning for the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization.