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Sometimes landing a new business requires a lot of work and other times they come to you.

Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, said the latter is the case as of today.

He reported to City Council on Monday night that a man found an available building on U.S. 68 South while searching the Alliance’s website on Friday.

While Cross said he’s not in a position to announce the man’s name or his business plans, he said the man flew to Kenton and surveyed the town on Saturday and Sunday. He visited the Alliance on Monday to wrap up the deal.

Cross said he expects the business to employ 10 people.

There also was discussion of the city needing to do a better job of making water available to businesses on 68 South.

Prosecutor Brad Bailey said he recently learned that Graphic Packaging had to get a huge tank and fill it with water for its own water suppression system.

That’s because the city’s water does not support a high-flow head.

Water Plant Supervisor Dale Albert said the water dead-ends on U.S. 68.

Cross recalled that site consultants who visited the county four years ago said 68 South was “fatally flawed” because of its lack of access to high pressure water.

Chris Richards of Golden Giant said Kenton is in “an excellent spot logistically” for future business growth and he praised the good job being done by Kenton City Schools.

But he said, “In economic development, winners are the folks with access to services.”

Also at the meeting, council:

– Had first reading of legislation to vacate an alley that runs in front of Skinny’s Tavern on Steiner Avenue.

– Received a request to vacate an alley near 330 Grove Street. It was referred to the safety committee.

– Learned firefighters are checking and flushing hydrants on the city’s southwest side.

Residents many want to run the water before using it in case there is some rust in it, said Chief Tim Clark.

– Heard Cody Barker from the street department report city workers used the new road patching machine, the Duropatcher, to patch holes on both North and South Wayne Street. They are now moving on to other streets.

Times editor


Wes Goldsmith at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance
Wes Goldsmith at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance
Times photo/Ty Thaxton

Wes Goldsmith believes he is doing just what he was created to do: graphic design.

Since 2014, Wes has served part-time at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance and is currently the graphic designer and social media marketing coordinator.

His first graphic design project after graduating from Ohio Northern University was designing the logo for the Hardin County motto.

When Wes first went to ONU, he started in marketing but eventually moved on, feeling it wasn’t hands-on enough for him and didn’t offer him the creative freedom he desired, “and I guess I’m a creative guy.”

“I pictured myself doing something with my hands, and I feel like I can do that on my computer – I’m using a computer, but I’m also using my mind and I’m creating stuff, which is something I felt like I needed to do,” he said.

“And I wanted to stay close to Hardin County, because this is where my friends, family and church are; this is where I want to be.”

It’s difficult to find a graphic design job in Hardin County, Wes added, “and I was glad that Jon (Cross, HCCBA president and CEO) picked me up here.”

Wes designs and creates many of the graphics for the chamber’s social media and its emails.

He then sends them to Jesse Purcell, director of chamber and tourism, and Jacqualine Fitzgerald, director of community development, then the three will work together, “because they’re the ones who know their event and they know what they want to say.”

“We’re pretty busy doing other stuff, so I don’t have as much time to get on the social media as I’d like to, so everybody kind of does their own social media, but they work with me on it,” Wes said.

“If they need me to make something, I’ll do it.”

Wes loves working and living in Hardin County, he said, and through his work with the HCCBA, he believes he and his c-oworkers are able to help the community.

“I love the people here,” he said.

“I love that we get a chance to help this community get back on its feet. We’re not starting at the top by all means, but I think it’s cool we get an opportunity to help revitalize it. That’s what I love about working here and living here.”

But his job with the HCCBA is not the only place Wes gets to express his creativity through designing.

He and his brother Zac started their own small business a year ago called Log and Jotter (stylized as Log+Jotter), a pocket notebook subscription business.

“We design a different cover every month and we send it out,” Wes said.

“At this point in our business, we print 1,200 books. We started a year ago, and we’re selling to people all over the world.”

Each month’s notebook, Wes added, is only available to those who are subscribed, meaning certain designs can come to be high in demand.

“There’s people scouring the Internet for them – our first one was a plain one and they want to find that plain one,” Wes said.

Whether it’s through creating designs for the HCCBA, designing new notebooks for Log and Jotter or doing freelance design work – he is currently working on the Hardin County Fair logo with Kolt Buchenroth – Wes said he loves the satisfaction of building something on his computer and then printing it off and actually seeing it.

“There’s a satisfaction of working with your hands,” he said.

“I feel like God created everybody to work, and I feel like that’s what I’m doing when I’m doing graphic design – I’m doing what I was created to do.”

Wes attends church at Abundant Life Assembly of God in Kenton where his father James serves as pastor.

There, he sings and plays guitar on Sunday mornings for the congregation. On Sunday nights, he leads worship and sings and plays for the youth group.

On Wednesday nights, Wes can be found at the church with the youth group Royal Rangers, a class for boys from first to eighth grade.

There, he helps teach anything from how to tie knots, how to fish, how to camp, how to start fires and how to hike.

Thursday nights are spent getting together with the guys from church to play a sport, watch a sports game or go out to eat.

Every two years, that same group goes out west to go hiking.

Their first trip was to Deacon Lake in Wyoming. This year’s eight-day camping and hiking trip will be to Glacier National Park in Montana.

Wes added that during the warm months, he helps mow yards three days a week with Paul Miller.

He is also recently married to his wife, Emily.

Times staff writer

Check out these videos from our Student Job fair!







Program unveiled
Jim Wyse (right), of the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, stands with Hardin Memorial Hospital Manager of Business Development Kim Reisinger (left) and Director of Chamber and Tourism Jesse Purcell at a banner announcing the new wellness program, Better You, Better Ohio. It is being offered to workers at small businesses throughout the state by the BWC.
Times photo/Dan Robinson

A new wellness program geared to employees of small businesses was unveiled for Hardin County on Friday morning at Hardin Memorial Hospital in Kenton.

The Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation created Better You, Better Ohio to assist workers throughout the state in dealing with health issues and living healthy.

It goes online on Feb. 1, said BWC Regional Business Development Manager Jim Wyse.

The staff at the state agency decided to use some of the BWC’s surplus funding and establish a program which would provide an incentive for safety and healthy decisions in the workplace, he said.

Studies have shown that people with heart disease are 23 percent more likely to file a BWC claim than those not suffering from the condition, Wyse said.

Workers suffering from depression are 25 percent more likely to submit a claim, while those with diabetes are 17 percent more likely.

Healthy You, Healthy Ohio also would assist with anti-smoking programs for workers, which is a significant concern at the agency, said Wyse.

The wellness program is geared to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees and is operated through the ActiveHealth company, which has 32 million subscribers nationally.

The company, said Wyse, works only with large businesses with 5,000 workers or more, but the Ohio BWC has worked out an agreement with ActiveHealth.

Ohio workers can join the program at no charge, he continued.

The BWC is targeting jobs in agriculture, automotive repair and service, construction, firefighting, health care, manufacturing, police and safety, public employees, restaurants and food service, transportation and trucking, trash collection, wholesale and retail.

The program is being funded for two years, after which it will be assessed for continuance, Wyse said.

After Feb. 1, when the sign-up information is posted online, workers can register to participate.

The first step is completing a health risk assessment and having a biometrics screening.

The screenings are expected to be made available through ActiveHealth at centralized locations, said Wyse, or can be scheduled at Quest Labs.

Once the registration process is completed, each enrollee will be paid $75, said Wyse.

Should concerns be noted on the screening, the employee can be coached to chance his health habits and after three months if he successfully completes the program will be rewarded with another $50.

Once enrolled, said Wyse, participants will have access to recipes for healthy eating and other suggestions for healthy changes.

Digital coaching can be made available.

The first question on the application will ask the applicant is he is involved in another wellness program.

If the answer is yes, the application process stops, he said.

“We are not trying to steal people from other programs,” said Wyse.

Hardin Memorial Hospital offers a similar program, said HMH Manager of Business Development Kim Reisinger.

“We are really excited about this program,” she said.

“We don’t feel like we are competing. Our common goal is to get employees feeling better.”

Jesse Purcell, Director of Chamber and Tourism at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, suggested workers could make participation in the program a competition or employers could reward participation with financial incentives.

“This program would benefit them greatly,” she said.

The website for the program is go.activehealth.com/betteryoubetterohio.

People can obtain more information by calling Purcell at the Alliance or Reisinger at the hospital.

Times staff writer


The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance held their Annual Luncheon Thursday.


CEO Jon Cross spoke about how the chamber has over 330 members. He also talked about a new plan for a better and more streamlined approach to communications committees and membership by providing a Quarterly Breakfast Meetings.


The Hardin County Visitor's Guide Brochure is available at the chamber office and is a great asset to communicate with new businesses, visitors, and community.


The chamber is also seeking nominations for the Annual Awards Banquet. Nominations need to be submitted to the chamber by December 31st.


Looking like Christmas
Times photo/Dan Robinson

Carrying one of four wooden soldiers through the streets of downtown Kenton are (from left) Dan Evans, Jacqualine Fitzgerald and Frank Dudek as they decorate the square for the holiday season.

A lighted soldier was placed at all four corners of courthouse square as a part of the annual Christmas holiday display.

Wes Goldsmith and Jesse Purcell of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance hold copies of the new visitors guide developed by the Alliance’s tourism division.

New guide
Times photo/Dan Robinson

Wes Goldsmith and Jesse Purcell of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance hold copies of the new visitors guide developed by the Alliance’s tourism division.

The booklets were presented to the public at the Alliance’s booth at the Hardin County Fair on Tuesday and they feature attractions, recreation, antique and hidden gems, places to shop, places to stay and eat and key events throughout the county.

The guides are available at the fair booth or at the Alliance office in Kenton.



Alliance art showKenton Councilwoman Patti Risner (left) points out one of her favorite entries in the Discover Hardin County Art Show to Tourism Director Jesse Purcell.

Sponsored by the Tourism Division of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, there were 139 locally produced photos on display Wednesday evening at Table One in Kenton.

More than 7,000 people visited the Alliance webpage to view the photographs, said Purcell.

Voted as the top photo was a picture of the Hardin County Fair by Allison Howard. It will appear on the cover of the new Discover Hardin County Visitors Guide.

Times photo/Dan Robinson

Kenton residents are invited to learn about the city’s downtown revitalization plan during an open house Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Veterans Hall in the Hardin County Courthouse.

The program will be led by representatives from OHP, an architectural, engineering and planning firm which has been retained by the city for the downtown project.

Kenton, like many communities across the county, is built upon infrastructure that is nearing the end of its lifecycle. Aging storm, water and sewer lines – some of which are as old as the city itself – are in need of significant repair and replacement, according to a press release from OHP.

The city is in the process of preparing a plan to address needed capital improvements, while making sure it puts the streets and sidewalk back in a way that benefits the community, the release said.

“This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed,” Aaron Domini, principal planner with OHM, told the Times. Some of Kenton’s downtown infrastructure was built before 1900 and some buildings were built on top of it.

He called it “one of the oldest and most challenging infrastructure” the company has dealt with.

Domini said Wednesday night’s meeting will be divided into two parts. The first will be a presentation focused on the educational component of the project.

He said there is a lot to understand about the project, which he will attempt to clear up, as well as outline how it will benefit Kenton.

“First and foremost we are focused on fixing everything from the underground up,” Domini said.

The second half will entail a series of activities designed to get feedback on the downtown, including streetscape design and transportation issues.

He called the Kenton project a “carbon copy” of a downtown improvement project that is just wrapping up in Newark, east of Columbus. Newark has a courthouse on the square, similar to Kenton. Sewer separation was mandated by the Ohio EPA around the Newark square and a block off the square.

The cost of that project will end up at $25 million to $30 million. However, it has resulted in $80 million in private investment into the community, Domini said.

For the Kenton project, he said OHP will be looking to acquire funding from several governmental sources to go along with local funding to finance the project.


Young professionals from throughout Hardin County met to share information and ideas at the first organized meeting of the Young Professional Alliance on Thursday evening in Kenton.

The purpose of the gathering was to determine what the members see as the role of the new organization, said Jesse Purcell, Director of Chamber and Tourism at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

The professionals range in age from 21-45 and share an interest in improving the community.

“We have to stick together because we are going to be together for many years to come,” said Jon Cross, President and CEO of the Alliance. “It is important that we help each other out.”

The Alliance had seen the need for such a group in 2015, said Cross, and had invited a group of 35 people to help chart how to create a successful program. Thursday’s gathering, said Cross, was just the beginning. The Alliance is hoping to see membership flourish in the coming years.

Dustin McCullough said he thinks the young professionals should set goals and find new approaches to issues.

“The younger generation is more open to changes in the community,” he said. “As a group, I think we can accomplish our goals.”

The guests then divided themselves into small groups to determine what type of goals they should address. Their concerns often dealt with those younger than them and convincing them Hardin County has a lot to offer coming generations.

One of the problems in doing that, said Dane Jeffers, is the fact there are not many houses available in the county where they would want to live and no business space for investments.

“If you want the future to be better, we need to convince young people to stay here,” said Jeffers.

The county needs to be honest about the problems here, said others, especially the drug issue, but create activities to bring the community together.

Many expressed ideas on the future of the organization itself. The Young Professionals should meet on a regular basis and welcome others to join in their efforts.

“We are an organization which could mesh with Farm Bureau or 4-H and make both organizations better,” offered McCullough. “We want to make this organization something people want to be a part of.”

Citizen of year, community service recipient, businesses, others recognized at gathering

ADA — The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance named Deb Curlis its Citizen of the Year Thursday evening during its annual meeting.

Curlis is the marketing and events coordinator at Community Health Partners in Ada, where she has been described as being an invaluable asset to her organization, said Jesse Purcell, Director of Chamber and Tourism in her introduction.

Curlis volunteers her time on several boards and committees including the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce, the Wilson Football Museum, Ada CIC, Richland Manor, Buy Ada First and the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance Chamber and Tourism Committee, said Purcell.

Curlis also serves as an Ohio Northern University Entrepreneur Advisor and the Ada Rotary secretary.

“To say Deb is a caring individual does not encompass the true compassion of her spirit,” said Purcell.

“Deb holds countless events throughout the year including Beacon of Hope, Festival of Trees, and several community garage sales and book sales to benefit Hospice and those in need.”

Curlis said she and her husband had lived most of their lives in Hardin County, but now live near Findlay.

She became active in the Ada business community shortly after accepting a position with Community Health Partners and joining the Ada Chamber of Commerce.

Her involvement quickly resulted in Curlis leading the organization.

Her goal, she told the crowd at the banquet, was to fill each storefront in the community and as she leaves office as chamber president, she has nearly met that goal.

She said she will continue to work with the chamber and place a new emphasis on home businesses in the near future.

“This means so much to me,” she said of being named Citizen of the Year.

“I have made so many wonderful friends here.”

The Alliance’s Business of the Year honors went to Mid-Ohio Energy Cooperative.

The power company opened its new $7 million facility on Kenton’s west side earlier this year.

In her introduction of the company, Purcell noted the many ways Mid-Ohio serves the community.

It offers a large meeting room for gatherings and sponsors youth tours to Washington, D.C., to name a few, she said.

Being involved in the community is one of the goals of each of the electric cooperatives, said Mid-Ohio President and CEO John Metcalf.

Ten years ago, he noted, the company started Operation Roundup, which allowed its customers to round up their payments.

The added money was collected and presented as grants to worthy projects within the community, said Metcalf.

In those ten years, Mid-Ohio has distributed $400,000 in local grants, he said.

There are 24 cooperative energy companies in Ohio, he continued.

“We all try to give back to the community we serve,” said Metcalf.

“We are extremely honored to accept this award.”

Dave McPheron accepted the Community Service Award on behalf of the OSU Extension Master Gardeners volunteers program.

The Master Gardeners “literally changed the landscape of Hardin County over the last sixteen years,” said Purcell in her introduction.

“Evidence of their work would include Veterans’ Memorial Park, the gardens at Hardin Hills, the Herb Garden at the Hardin County Museum, Gene Autry Park, the sloping garden next to the Kenton movie theater and the Friendship Garden at Simon Kenton Harco Industries,” she noted.

“The Hardin County OSU Extension Master Gardeners volunteers program is a model of community service and the program is educationally designed to meet consumer horticulture needs,” Purcell said.

“The organization plans to continue growing and educating the community about plants and their care, along with the importance to the environment in the community.”

“It is a thrill to be here,” said McPheron in accepting the honor, “and get recognition for doing something we do for fun.”

The organization has 32 active Master Gardeners who enjoy sharing their love of horticulture with the public and answering questions about plants.

Without the OSU Extension Office and the tax levy which supports its programs, the Master Gardener program would not exist, said McPheron.

He thanked the community for its continued support of the extension programs.

The Small Business of the Year Award was presented to Iron Fit Gym of Kenton.

“Iron Fit Gym was established in August of 2015,” said Purcell.

“Over the last 18 months, they have invested over $100,000 in capital improvements to the exterior, interior, and equipment to build their business in a part of Kenton currently experiencing less economic development.”

Co-owner Amanda Crates-Bayliff said she joined owners Meg Manns, Joe Bayliff and Aaron Johnson to build the gym because they wanted to contribute something positive back to the community.

“They partner with the (Hardin County) Recovery Court to provide memberships to recovering addicts,” noted Purcell.

“Iron Fit Gym has hosted a 5k run in partnership with St. John’s, and hosted two powerlifting meets with an entry fee of a toy donation for Helping Hands during the holidays.”

“We are proud to be a part of what makes Hardin County great,” Crates-Bayliff said.

A new award was introduced Thursday which recognizes outstanding professional women.

The first Women L.E.A.D. Award was presented to Christina Cross for her work in helping organize the Women L.E.A.D. Program.

“Since Christina’s arrival in Hardin County,” said Purcell, “she has quickly become a mentor and community leader, sharing her insights in leadership, work ethic and vast national work experiences. Christina currently manages her own law firm, as a licensed business attorney to practice law in Ohio, California and District of Columbia. In addition, she is a Kenton High School teacher of American government and politics, mock trial and the Wildcat Community Connector Internship program.”

“I am very honored and touched,” said Cross as she accepted the honor.

She said when she moved to Hardin County, she saw the need for an organization to help professional women network with each other and educate younger women.

The Women L.E.A.D. Program is a response to that need, she said.

Times staff writer

County’s economy is strong and expected to get even stronger

The economic health of the county is good and on the threshold of setting records, according to Jon Cross, President and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

Cross was one of the presenters at the Alliance’s Economic and Community Development Breakfast on Friday morning at Henry’s Restaurant in Kenton. Community and business leaders filled the banquet room to hear an update on local development and the programs being offered to businesses.

The work force is estimated at 14,800 with 14,100 workers on the job, said Cross. That translates into an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.

“Basically we are at full employment,” Cross said. “Business is booming in Hardin County.”

He noted there have been no major layoffs of the work force. Plus businesses, such as Mid-Ohio Energy and Hardin Memorial Hospital, are expanding and investing in the community.

Cross also noted the announcement late last year that EverPower Wind Holdings LLC would move forward with developing 189 wind turbines within the county. That, he said, represents an investment of $300 million in the community.

A second wind farm is in development with a third on the wings, he said. Once the projects are all completed, there is the potential that the three energy producers will have spent $1 billion in the county.

Plans are in the making to develop the former Hardin Central School site in Kenton into a group of retail stores and there is some initial interest being shown by a company to move into the Kmart building after that stores closes in early March.

The Alliance is working to continue to strengthen the local economy through training programs for the work force and the development of opportunities for young people to secure professional training, said Cross.

The Student Job and Career Fair to take place next month at Kenton High School will connect students from across the county with at least 30 area business leaders.

“This is a great work force development issue we are launching,” said Cross. “If we don’t help provide good employees to you, our economy won’t grow.”

There is a need for commercial buildings, said Cross. Investors are looking beyond Hardin County because they are seeking “buildings ready to go.”

Hardin County Job and Family Services Director Barb Maxson said her agency is planning programs in partnership with Ohio Means Jobs to provide additional training to the work force. Some sessions are slated for next month during which JFS will meet with businesses in small groups to discuss what their needs are from the labor force.

“This is a very exciting time,” said Maxson. “We are all working together with the Alliance and the schools … We want to be where you go to when you need help to fill a position.”

There are work force training program funds available, she said.

“There are dollars on the table you can access,” agreed Cross. “Things are coming together.”

Later in the meeting, Steve Martin, dean of the Ohio Northern School of Pharmacy, gave an update on the university’s mobile clinic and introduced intern Colin Frank to share the advantages in using the school’s tobacco cessation program.

The cost of having employees who smoke, said Frank, goes beyond them missing work a few times a year. There is also the burden on employers to pay for the additional health care for those using tobacco.

It has been estimated that 30 percent of the county’s population uses tobacco in one form or another. The program ONU is offering increases the participants’ chance of successfully quitting smoking by ten times, said Frank.

“Or goal is to improve the health of Hardin County,” said Frank. “This is a tool for the community to help the community.”

Times staff writer




December 21, 2016

Alliance tabs Purcell to lead chamber, tourism programs

New director
The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance named Jesse Purcell (center) as its new Director of Chamber and Tourism at a press conference Tuesday morning at its offices in Kenton. Purcell is a native of Kenton and familiar to the Alliance staff since she was one of the co-founders of the Women L.E.A.D. program. She is joined for the announcement by Alliance board chairman Brian Sprang (left) and President/CEO Jon Cross.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance hired a friend to join its team of directors.

Jesse Purcell is one of the founding members of the Women L.E.A.D. program through the Alliance and will become its Director of Chamber and Tourism on Jan. 2. She replaces Annetta Shirk, who resigned from the Alliance to accept another job.

Alliance President/CEO Jon Cross said, during a press conference Tuesday morning, the board conducted an “executive search” to replace Shirk. It was searching for someone who expressed strong community values. He said they found that person in Purcell.

She is a native and resident of Kenton. She currently serves as a community manager for the American Cancer Society and the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer program.

She brings “nearly 15 years of experience in building successful fundraising campaigns, recruiting and retaining volunteers and stewarding strong business partnerships with career experience from the nonprofit, business and manufacturing industries,” Cross said.

“We are adding another all-star to the team,” he said of Purcell’s appointment.

“I am really excited about this,” said Purcell at the press conference at the Alliance office in Kenton.

The mother of a three-month-old son and a four-year-old daughter, Purcell said her children played an important part in her decision to return to her native county.

“I want to be a part of building a community where my family can grow up,” she said. “This job gives me a chance to stay closer to them, plus I look forward to telling everyone about the wonderful things happening in Hardin County.”

Purcell said she has ideas to present as part of the Alliance team and plans to “hit the ground running.”

“We believe she is the right candidate for the job,” said board chairman Brian Sprang. “We expect great things for 2017 and beyond.”

Purcell’s responsibilities will include overseeing the Hardin County Ambassadors, the Safety Council, Women L.E.A.D. Program and the Young Professionals Alliance.

“Great strides are being made in Hardin County and I feel fortunate to help advance these efforts through the important work being done at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance,” said Purcell.

Times staff writer


December 10, 2016

Alliance Announces New Initiatives For 2017

KENTON, OH - Hardin County Chamber & Business Alliance President & CEO Jon Cross announced two new initiatives for 2017 during the Alliance Christmas Luncheon.  The organization will develop a student focused job and career fair, as well as the formation of the "Young Professionals Alliance" for those ranging in age of 21 - 40, under the umbrella of the Hardin County Chamber & Business Alliance organization. 
As part of its ongoing workforce development strategies, the Alliance will host a new "Hardin County Student Job & Career Fair" in February 2017 for graduating seniors and college students.  Nearly 500+ twelfth grade students from local school districts throughout Hardin County, as well as area college students, will be invited to meet with several local and regional businesses that are recruiting full-time or part-time employment, summer jobs and internship opportunities. Businesses expected to participate will range from careers in advanced manufacturing, agriculture, education, financial, healthcare, retail and service industry.   
"As a first of its kind event for our community, not only does it give students the opportunity to explore more career pathways and interview for job opportunities, it allows businesses to recruit a skilled and viable workforce, and helps our community attract and retain a younger generation to live, work and prosper in Hardin County," said Jon Cross, who also serves as the director of economic development. 
The student job & career fair will be held at the Kenton Senior High School gymnasium on Friday, February 10th  from 8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.  Businesses, at no cost, can preregister by contacting the Alliance at 419-673-4131.  Each participant will be supplied with a table and chairs. 
In addition, the Hardin County Chamber & Business Alliance will launch the "Young Professionals Alliance" to allow professionals, entrepreneurs, small business owners, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, farmers, manufacturers, realtors, and many other career industries throughout Hardin County the opportunity to come together for networking, educational and social opportunities.   
Last year, the Alliance met with 30 plus young professionals to discuss the formation and experiences they would like to participate in to help with their networking or career development focus.  Details will be announced in early 2017 about the first organized gathering.  
If you are interested in becoming a member of the Young Professionals Alliance, please email your name and contact information to alliance@hccba.com.


December 9, 2016

Price: Local educators focus more on students not bound for college

Education talk
Hardin Northern Superintendent Dr. Jeff Price discusses educational changes with LouAnn Cooke, from Gov. John Kasich’s office during Thursday’s Annual Alliance Christmas Luncheon at the Hardin County Armory. The focus of public schools in the county is no longer dedicated that each student attend college, but also to be trained in a marketable career. The Alliance announced two new programs to help in the partnership between the county schools and area businesses and connect young professionals.

For many years, the focus of public education was preparing students for college.

But not every graduate was headed to a university, noted Dr. Jeff Price as he addressed the Annual Alliance Christmas Luncheon sponsored by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

To better address the educational needs of the non-college students and the business community, the school districts in Hardin County are shifting their focus to preparing students who are hoping to enter a trade school or secure a job following graduation.

Price, the superintendent of Hardin Northern Schools, said in recent years, there has been much emphasis on making sure students pass standardized tests and comparing the results of that testing system with other districts across the nation.

Teachers and administrators had been told the U.S. was falling behind other countries and needed to “up the standards.” All students from K-12 were to be prepared for college, he said.

“It’s a good goal, but I’m not sure it is the correct goal we should have,” said Price.

Many of those college graduates found themselves entering the world where there were no career opportunities in their chosen fields.

“We have a skills gap in the U.S.,” he told the group of businesses, professional and civic leaders gathered at the Hardin County Armory. “There are six million jobs open in the U.S. and the gap will continue to widen if we don’t help students focus on their careers.”

In recent years, he continued, the leaders of all county schools are telling their students attending college is a good decision, but there are other pathways open.

Two students may leave high school together with one going on to college and the other entering a career. While the college student is attending classes and paying tuition, said Price, the other student is earning money and staying out of debt.

“It could be hard for the student in college to catch up,” he said. “Economically, it makes sense. A good plumber will make more in his lifetime than a poor lawyer.”

The idea of testing students continually is also counter-productive to education, said Price. Testing may show how well a student knows facts, but it doesn’t put a value on their soft skills.

“We have put education on an assembly line,” said Price. “Our teachers and students have lost their relationships with each other because we are so focused on the tests.”

Employers are more often searching for employees who show up on time and work hard within a group,” said Price. Those are some of the lessons being taught in courses throughout the county.

“You can be proud of the work we are doing in Hardin County’s schools,” he said.

The six districts within the county system are partnering with each other, but also with businesses and schools of higher learning to train young people to perform jobs and learn marketable values.

“Each of the schools is looking for opportunities to work within their communities,” said Price.

The businesses willing to assist in monitoring programs, job shadowing or training programs should contact the local superintendents of the Alliance.

Students today are encouraged at an early age to identify an interest, Price said, and the schools are working to help make that interest a career.

The success of the new direction in education will depend on business leaders like those attending Thursday’s luncheon, he continued.

“Ultimately, you are our partners,” he said.

Following Price’s presentation, Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance Director Jon Cross announced two new programs being developed by his office to assist in the partnership between local businesses and school districts and the development of connections between young professionals.

One program, announced Cross, will develop a job and career fair in February. The program will bring an estimated 500 high school seniors and local college students together with area business leaders to recruit full-time or part-time employees for summer jobs or internships. There are expected to representative available from manufacturing, agriculture, education, financial, healthcare, retail and service industries.

“As a first-of-its-kind-event for our community,” Cross said, “not only does it give students the opportunity to explore more career pathways and interview for job opportunities, it allows businesses to recruit a skilled and viable workforce and helps our community attract and retain a younger generation to live, work and prosper in Hardin County.”

The Alliance will also be developing a Young Professionals Alliance for young people between the ages of 21 and 40. The group will work together in networking, educational and social opportunities, said Cross.

Times staff writer


November 19, 2016

Area students will begin training for jobs in the near future which may not be fully developed today.

Ohio Hi-Point Career Center Superintendent Rick Smith reported to the Hardin County Economic and Community Development Committee Friday morning that within two years his school will begin offering classes in smart technology.

It will be an opportunity for students to be on the cutting edge of self-driving automotive and drone technology which will be unique worldwide.

There are plans in place for development of the technology to be tested on U.S. 33 between Dublin and Bellefontaine, using the Transportation Research Center located between Bellefontaine and Marysville.

Hi-Point enrolls students in Union, Logan, Champaign and Hardin counties, he noted.

There will be need for people to design and develop sensors, switches and communication devices for the project to track the automated vehicles.

“This is a large project,” said Smith after the session.

“It will involve TRC, Ohio State, Michigan, ODOT, Carnegie-Mellon and more. This is a chance for students to help lay the foundation for a whole new job market.”

Cars are already being developed with lane sensors and automatic braking systems, he noted.

It has been predicted that within 15 years, most cars on the highway will be automatically driven.

“This is one of the few places in the world where we could expand the models and develop these type of jobs,” Smith said.

Students in the new program will be able to earn college credits and train for highly marketable careers, he said.

The school will be investing $1.5 million in remodeling classroom space for the smart technology and animal science programs, he said.

Hi-Point is also looking to return some of the courses which had been discontinued, said the superintendent, including HVAC and environmental.

There is also work being done to introduce an applied manufacturing class.

The career center has established satellite programs in 12 of the 14 districts served by Ohio Hi-Point, including one in Kenton and Upper Scioto Valley.

The satellite programs allows students to consider career decisions at a much earlier age with some enrolled in seventh or eighth grades.

Smith said there also are plans at Hi-Point to expand the internship programs to allow for more students to get hands-on training at area businesses.

The program has increased this year from 20 to 35 students with plans within five years to have 100 interns working through the school’s program.

He encouraged the business owners at Friday’s meeting to video the jobs done at their facilities to give the Hi-Point students more of an idea of the type of work they would be doing.

There has been an emphasis this year on expanding and better training the county’s work force, said Jon Cross, President and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance and Economic Development Director.

All county schools are offering internship programs, said Cross.

“Next we need to talk to parents and convince them things have changed in education since they were in school,” he said.

The added training is another example of the good economic news for the county, said Cross.

He noted there are 300 workers based out office located on the former Rockwell lot who are overseeing the installation of a Marathon pipeline through the area.

The workers are making an impact on local restaurants and hotels, said Cross.

There also has been news of EverPower signing an agreement to provide power to Amazon and install $300 million in wind turbines in 2017, said Cross.

Two other wind developers are in the process of setting up units in the county, he noted.

“There could be $1 billion invested in the county over ten years,” he said.

Development and expansion plans also were shared as the business owners went around the breakfast table in a discussion.

Hardin Memorial Hospital is planning to add an oncology department and expand telemedicine technology to bring the best “medical expertise throughout Ohio to Hardin County,” said Crystal Scott, Director of Nursing at HMH.

Thomas and Marker Construction Co. will be building the new department.

“All of this really helps our community,” said Cross.

November 19, 2016


ADA — It would be difficult to not notice Andrea Adams-Miller in a room full of people and she counts on that.

It is part of the message she has delivered across the United States and around the world.

It is also what she wanted to tell the young women from throughout Hardin County as the keynote speaker for the First Annual Women Empowerment Conference in Ada on Friday.

Adams-Miller. who calls Findlay home, is a successful publicist with offices in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

In recent months, she has traveled to London, Paris and Cairo.

At each stop, she wears a bright red dress which represents her outgoing nature.

It wasn’t always that way, she told the high school juniors and seniors who took part in the conference.

She grew up an only child and a lonely child, Adams-Miller said.

She had few friends except the books she read constantly.

She concentrated on perfection in school and when an illness caused her to take home a C and a D on her report card in the eighth grade, she was devastated.

“I thought seriously about killing myself,” she recalled.

“I wanted to be done, but then I realized it was going to be OK.”

She said a poem by Shel Silverstein helped save her life and encouraged her to believe in herself again.

As a plus-size woman, she said, people judged her and her response was to wear black to mask her size.

“I wanted to wear red, but I didn’t because I wanted to blend in and look like everyone else,” she said.

But when she first appeared in public in bright red, the response surprised her.

People saw her in a new way and told her how beautiful she looked.

Red became part of her new message and she named her new company the Red Carpet Connection.

“I am proud of who I am,” said Adams-Miller.

“I walk past a mirror and say to myself, ‘Man, I look good.’”

It really doesn’t matter what people look like to the world, she said.

The important thing is how they look to themselves.

“People have their opinions. If they are not my child or my mother, why do I care what they think of me?” she asked.

“Try to be selling yourself all the time. Let people know what you bring to the table and to the world.”

Find something you enjoy, she told the girls, and make a niche for yourself and share that talent.

Yet even if that plan leads to success, said Adams-Miller, there still will be difficult times.

“You will still have crazy days and the only one who can get you out of it is yourself,” she told them.

To cope with those hard times, said Adams-Miller, she has adopted a mantra.

“I tell myself, ‘All’s OK, Andrea. Everything works out for you. It always does,’” she said.

“Find your own mantra … Honor yourself so you make good decisions.”

November 22, 2016

The 30th annual Christmas Around the Square Craft Fair will be held on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Hardin County Courthouse in downtown Kenton.

Sponsored by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, the event will feature three floors filled with arts, crafts, and home party dealers. The Kenton High School Top 20 will perform holiday music at 9:30 a.m. Homemade food will be provided by the Hardin County Homemakers.

The annual basket auction will begin at 11 a.m. in Veteran’s Hall in the courthouse. It will feature 27 baskets with some truly unique containers. As always, they are filled with beautiful gift items, and various gift certificates from local businesses.

For more information on this event contact the Alliance at 419-673-4131 or alliance@hccba.com.

The basket auction will feature:

Ada Technologies – “Christmas Wreath.” Carol Slane Florist in Ada has created a beautiful wreath to decorate your own home or as a gift for someone else’s. Gold berries, gold pinecones and gold tipped leaves adorn this wreath along with a green, red and gold bow and ribbon that runs throughout.

Century 21 Sunway Realty – “Snow Capped Icicles.” This snowcapped, lighted crystal castle sits in the snow covered forest with a lighted snowcapped pine tree and lighted deer looking over the castle. Frosty the Snowman guards the front door to this enchanting display. Deer and tree are lit with AAA batteries and the castle has AAA batteries, plus can be plugged in directly.

Chris’s Country Cabin – “Rustic Reindeer Sleigh.” This metal sleigh features a reindeer with a festive plaid scarf around his neck. The inside is filled with greenery, red berries, a scent warmer with “Mistletoe Kiss” warmer cubes, a “Candy Cane Cappuccino” candle from Swan Creek Candle Company and a snowman ornament.

Community First Bank – “Snowman Lantern.” A festive red lantern with red berries hanging on the handle. Nestled inside standing on white berries is a snowman with a black hat and red, green and white scarf.

Domino’s Pizza – “Family Fun Night.” This is the perfect basket for a cold winter night at home. Included are the games, Trouble, UNO, and Pictionary, coupons for pizza, cheesy bread, and brownies and boxes of M&M’s, Skittles and Reece’s Pieces.

First Citizens National Bank – “Jingle all the Way to First Citizens National Bank.” A cute basket to keep for yourself or give as a gift. It includes 2 First Citizens coffee mugs filled with candy, jingle bell ornaments, 4 State coin collections, Jingle all the Way Pillow, Jingle all the Way picture, 2 First Citizens pens, 2 jingle pens, 2 note pads, 2 jingle candleholders and $30 in Chamber Gold Gift Certificates.

Hardin County Elected Officials – “We Are In For A Ride.” Our county officials have put together an old-fashioned sled decorated with greenery, ribbon and glitter stuffed full of gift cards from Martins Meat Mart in Forest, Domino’s, Subway, Viva Maria Restaurant in Ada, Bob Evans and Burger King.

Hempy Water Conditioning Inc. – “Christmas Lantern.” Hempy’s has put together an adorable house-shaped lantern all decked out for winter. Inside is a candle, a sled, snow covered pinecones and frosty logs tied up with rope and a cute little snowman peeking out from the greenery. On top is more greenery, pinecones and tied up logs.

Heritage Cooperative – “Jack Frost.” A wire basket filled with 3 frosted tea light holders (battery tea lights included). A frosted snowman and tree along with Jack Frost table runner. The snowman is wearing a sapphire necklace and diamond ring to frost that special loved one this holiday season.

HSLC – “A Christmas Classic.” Settle in for the evening and fix yourself a mug of hot chocolate, take your pick of assorted theatre candy, open a tin of popcorn and snuggle up with your soft snowflake throw. Once you are all warm and cozy treat yourself to any one of the 5 classic old movies included in this basket. Also included is a $50 HSLC Visa gift card for holiday spending enjoyment.

Iron Fit Gym – “Iron Fit Christmas.” A great gift for yourself or for that fitness buff on your Christmas list. A gym bag is filled with an assortment of things including a 6 month membership, coupons for fitness shakes and snacks, a water bottle, jump rope, elastic exercise bands, an Iron Fit t-shirt and a notebook to keep track of all your workouts in your quest to be more fit in 2017.

Keep Hardin County Beautiful – “Gardener’s Delight.” Everything needed for all those gardeners on your list. Basket includes a box of Febreeze scented trash bags, Miracle Grow Gardening book, decorative tin, Thanksgiving decorative bucket, $45 in gift certificates from New Leaf, $15 in gift certificates from Ace Hardware, an antique wash tub and antique garden snippers.

Kenton Nursing & Rehabilitation – “Holiday Wagon.” This adorable red wagon is ready to welcome everyone in for the holidays. Inside is a smiling snowman all dressed up for the cold and a round candle holder with a battery operated candle.

Ladies of the Alliance – “Church Bells are Ringing.” Santa is standing in the snow ringing his bell outside these two pretty lighted churches with a snow covered tree to the side. This winter scene is sitting on a tall wire basket that could easily be repurposed for a plant stand in the spring.

Liberty National Bank – “A Primitive Christmas.” A five-foot rustic distressed wood tree which lights up and decorated with greenery, raffia, wrapped twigs, berries, bells and a primitive looking star with a bell at the top. Great for those smaller homes with no room for a big tree.

Little Chicago Room – “Cocktail Hour.” A chalkboard beverage tub, shaker, jig, bamboo coasters, martini set, martini glasses, chocolates, olives, mixers and a cocktail towel.

Men of the Alliance – “The Pampered Man.” Start your pampering experience in downtown Kenton with a one-hour massage from Therapeutic Touch and a complimentary bottle of Hempz body lotion from Tiki Tanz, followed by a manly manicure and pedicure from the Element Salon & Spa. Enjoy a new pair of Toms Brogue loafers, accompanied by four pair of stylish socks provided by Twirl. Then stop over at Ths. Jitterz Coffee Company for a fresh cop of joe with your new mug. You can talk on your new bluetooth device provided by Radio Hospital/Verizon Wireless Premium Retailer. Travel to Mt. Victory to get a free oil-change, compliments of Nelson Auto Group. In Ada you will be offered a private tour of the Wilson football factory, receiving a football made for Super Bowl LI . While in town, you can also enjoy court-side seats to an Ohio Northern University men’s or women’s basketball game, wearing your ONU Polar Bear gear. Then enjoy dinner with a gift card from Viva Maria’s Pizza & Pasta Restaurant, wearing a new tie and scarf from Reichert’s Clothing Store, as well as a bottle of wine from locally owned Rose Acres. To top off the night, enjoy a sip of bourbon and fresh wrapped cigars before checking-in for an overnight stay at the Inn at Ohio Northern University.

New Leaf Landscape and Garden Center – “Burlap, Berries & Bows.” This 42-inch burlap tree is decorated with a Christmas topper of pine, snow covered berries and twigs, and a red and white country checked bow. Battery operated seed lights accent this topper. This tree is a 2-for-1. The tree topper is interchangeable with a topper of ivy, berries, twigs and a tea stained stars and stripes bow.

Ohio Health Hardin Memorial Hospital – “Christmas Lantern.” A red lantern with 3 candles inside and the top decorated with greenery, red berries and pinecones. Comes with a $50 Chamber Gold Gift Certificate.

Plaza Inn – “Basket of Goodies.” This basket is filled with an apple pie candle, a jar of the Plaza’s Strawberry Apple Spread, a pie shaped potpourri container, 3 battery operated tea light candles, a small decorative dish and teapot, a decorative bottle for your favorite lotion and a $25 gift certificate to the Plaza Inn.

Quest Federal Credit Union – “Warm & Cozy Elegance.” This elegant little chair would be a perfect addition to your home this holiday season. A beautiful cozy throw and sparkly pillow with a festive silver holiday bow round out this item from Quest.

Radio Hospital – “Frosty Nights and Snowy Days.” This rectangular crate is painted green across the front with the quote “I love frosty nights, snowy days and warm hearts.” Inside mixed among the greenery, pine cones, bells and snowman Radio Hospital has included a selfie stick, a cell phone, $15 gift certificate, Bluetooth headphones, and a couple stylus pens.

Schindewolf-Stout-Crates Funeral Home- “Light of the Season.” This lighted candle lantern is reminiscent of days gone by. The black lantern is embellished with greenery, red berries, and plaid ribbon. A cream colored, battery operated candle adds the perfect glow to welcome in the Christmas season.

Tiki Tanz, LLC – “Christmas at the Beach.” You’ll feel like you’re at the beach even if you aren’t with this basket of goodies from Tiki Tanz. Included in this beach tote are a beach towel, sunglasses, flip flops, tanning lotion, Swedish Beauty Sweet Escape Bronzer, moisturizers, water bottle, stickers, lip smoothie, t-shirts and a Tiki Tanz gift certificate for one month super unlimited tanning.

United Way – “Fifty Years of United Way.” Celebrating its 50-year anniversary, the United Way has put together a basket filled with everything but the kitchen sink! Included is a Christmas door decoration, 4 tickets to any performance throughout the season at the Freed Center, a candle centerpiece, a woman’s and man’s gold watches, a large red tote, 2 cookbooks, 4 tins of Boy Scout popcorn, a box of Lindt chocolates, an Oral B electric toothbrush with extra heads, a cross wall decoration, a gold woven bowl, a jar of change, 3 Subway gift cards, Mulled Cider assorted size candles, a Panera Bread gift card, $25 YMCA gift certificate and a Chamber Gold Gift Certificate.

Universal Home Health – “Holiday Buffet.” Enjoy the holidays with this charming antique buffet. With its worn black paint and rustic feel it will appeal to the eye wherever it is placed, either in the home as a furniture piece, or on the front porch as an outside decoration. Decorated with glowing greenery, accented with silver bells and burlap bows, this is sure to bring the holiday feel to your home.

US Bank – “Snowman & His Christmas Tree.” An old Kenton Bottling Works crate with a candy cane ornament on the front is just the beginning of this cute creation by Chris’s Country Cabin. A burlap snowman stands beside his Christmas tree surrounded by greenery, pine cones, berries, twigs, a battery operated candle, a small wrapped present and a rustic star rounds out the mix.

On Friday, the Hardin County Chamber & Business Alliance held its monthly Economic and Community Development Committee Breakfast with many Hardin County business, community and government leaders in attendance to meet with and hear from guest speakers.

On Friday, the Hardin County Chamber & Business Alliance held its monthly Economic and Community Development Committee Breakfast with many Hardin County business, community and government leaders in attendance to meet with and hear from guest speakers. 

The committee was excited to welcome to Hardin County, Dr. John C. Navin, the new Dean of Ohio Northern University's Dicke College of Business Administration.  Dean Navin was recently appointed to his position and gave an update on his business and economic development background, and spoke to the committee about his plans to increase partnerships between the business school and the area business community. 

The committee heard an educational update from Ridgemont Superintendent Emmy Beeson about the ability for community leaders to advocate to state legislative leaders for more local controls of education by reducing testing to the federal minimum requirements and giving back more control to the local boards of education.   

In addition, Nate Green, Director of Economic Development for the Montrose Group, provided details about Ohio's new law,  House Bill 233, that allows historical communities to create downtown redevelopment districts (DRD). The approved state legislation will allow historic communities to establish DRD's for the purposes of promoting the rehabilitation of historic buildings, creating jobs, encouraging economic development in commercial and mixed-use areas, and supporting grants and loans.  Several communities in Hardin County would be able to take advantage of this new incentive by creating local municipal legislation to incentive redevelopment and revitalization efforts. 

The next committee meeting will take place on Friday, October 28th and will be held host at Mid-Ohio Energy Cooperative's new corporate headquarters in Kenton.   For more information, contact Alliance President & CEO, Jon Cross at 419-673-4131. 

The last time Hardin County residents got together, it was a blast, said Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Chamber and Business Alliance. So the organization is planning a fall event to raise money for the downtown beautification program

The last time Hardin County residents got together, it was a blast, said Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Chamber and Business Alliance. So the organization is planning a fall event to raise money for the downtown beautification program.

In late June, Cross said more than 5,000 people gathered around the courthouse for the annual Eats On the Streets activities. In response to that success, the Alliance is sponsoring its first Buckeye Bash Game Watch on Saturday, Oct. 15.

Set up on the north side of the square, a 30 by 30-foot jumbotron TV will broadcast the football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Wisconsin Badgers.

To make the event more enjoyable, said Cross, there will be gourmet food trucks and craft beer, locally produced wine and soft drinks available.

Tailgating will begin at 5 p.m. and the game will kickoff at 8 p.m.

Participants are encouraged to bring a lawn chair and/or blanket to watch the game on the courthouse lawn.

“This will continue to raise money for the historic courthouse district and provide a fun community event,” said Cross. “We hope to do this on an annual basis.”

Last year was a stellar year for economic development for the Regional Growth Partnership, the 17-county Jobs Ohio network that includes Hardin County. RGP secured 2,940 new jobs in Northwest Ohio and retained 13,356 jobs and had $1.4 billion in capital investment.

Last year was a stellar year for economic development for the Regional Growth Partnership, the 17-county Jobs Ohio network that includes Hardin County.

RGP secured 2,940 new jobs in Northwest Ohio and retained 13,356 jobs and had $1.4 billion in capital investment.

Hardin County reaped the benefit of that growth including the opening of the $5.2 million Sekisui facility in Kenton and the completion of International Paper’s expansion project.

And if early indications hold true, 2016 could be just as strong a year for Northwest Ohio and Hardin County, according to John Recker of the Regional Growth Partnership and Jobs Ohio.

Recker said, during a Chamber and EDC breakfast Friday morning in Kenton, that so far in 2016 there have been 767 new jobs in Northwest Ohio and 3,795 retained jobs with $409 million in capital investment.

He told the 30 business and community leaders in attendance that Hardin County has several active projects in the works at the current time, citing the Associated Plastics expansion in Ada and another potential project in Ada, as well as potential projects in Forest and Kenton.

“Hardin County has had some great news in the last few years,” Recker said. “The International Paper expansion was tremendous. That was one of the biggest state wins for expansion that year. Sekisui was a a great win for getting an automotive manufacturer in the region.

“So Hardin County has had some great news in 2014 and 2015 and there are a lot of things cooking right now with projects in Hardin County,” Recker said.

Recker said Regional Growth Partnership normally maintains about 70 active projects.

“We have four active projects right now in Hardin County,” Recker said. “We worked with Associated Plastics and the Village of Ada and provided some roadwork grant money that Associated Plastics needed to grow.

“There is a second project that (Hardin County EDC Director) Jon Cross and I just started working on in Ada a few weeks ago. We also have a really exciting project, an attractive project, in Forest. That’s all I can say about that. And we have a fourth active project in Kenton that could be a very significant construction project for the community.”

Prior to Recker’s presentation, Cross gave some additional figures on economic development in Hardin County over the past two year.

“There’s a lot of good things happening in Hardin County and we’re excited,” he said. “We always talk about having $200 million worth of new capital investment over the past two years, we’ve created over 500 new jobs in the county and produced significant numbers for the size of our county. With 2016-17 with some projects on the way we hope to add to those investment dollars and job creation numbers. There’s a lot of things to be proud of.

“Regional Growth Partnership is a tremendous asset for us. Without them and without the Jobs Ohio network we would not be able to chase a lot of economic development opportunities.”

Also during the meeting, Cross announced the merging of the economic development and community development committees.

“They talk about a lot of similar things so we wanted to merge some things together,” Cross said. “Jacqueline Fitzgerald will still oversee the community development division and EDC certainly has a separate and important role in the organization, but we wanted to streamline some things.”

The EDC director also announced he has been traveling around the county meeting with all the school boards.

Cross said he is working with the schools to put on a job and career fair specifically for 12th grade students sometime after the holiday break.

“When IP had its expansion project and the CEO flew into town he was not shy to say they recruit straight from high schools because they want to bring employees in, train them and have them be long, dedicated employees to the company,” Cross said. “We would like to try and do something for students to build resumes, learn about career services and find out about our companies.”

He also said he wants to see the Alliance begin industry tours for 10th and 11th grade students.

Cross said that idea came about because his wife Christina teaches at Kenton High School and a student of hers told her they lived in Kenton their entire life but have never been to Ada.

“It was really eye-opening for myself and Christina, so we wanted to do industry tours to get kids excited about opportunities in Hardin County,” he said. “And also so they can explore Hardin County. I’ve lived here my entire life but I never knew that Associated Plastics in Ada makes parts for the toy John Deere tractors you see in Walmart. In addition to Wilson football and all the exciting things that we do, we want students to see the true potential that is here. “

Fitzgerald announced there will be Buckeye Bash tailgate party the night of Oct. 15 during which a 30-by-30 foot screen will televise an Ohio State away game that is taking place at 8 p.m. She said there will be food trucks there, including local food vendors.

Not far from the busier streets of Findlay is the quiet world of Hardin County. The home of Amish farms, antique shops and an old-timey general store, it’s a place to explore history and enjoy the rural life.

Not far from the busier streets of Findlay is the quiet world of Hardin County. The home of Amish farms, antique shops and an old-timey general store, it’s a place to explore history and enjoy the rural life.

Annetta Shirk, chamber and tourism director for the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, has lived in the county her entire life and “wouldn’t live anywhere else.” Now she gets to share it with visitors from other areas, which she finds “very rewarding.”

Shirk said she gets visitors from all over, including many from Columbus. Sometimes car clubs wanting a rural, scenic drive will come through the area. “We are a great day tour,” she said.

The county has about 31,000 residents, with Kenton, the largest town, having 8,200.

Shirk said there are a variety of festivals throughout the year, “things going on all the time,” so she suggested looking at the calendar to plan a daytrip or a weekend adventure. September events include the Hardin County Fair in Kenton from Sept. 6-11 and the Harvest and Herb Festival in Ada from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 17.

Shirk often gets questions about the Amish communities and also hears from people interested in Wilson’s Football Factory in Ada, “home of the NFL football.” The factory, which produces 3,000 to 5,000 footballs daily, has been making the NFL football since 1941. Tours are only on select dates and are “first come, first serve.”

And the Hardin County Courthouse, still an active courthouse, is “absolutely gorgeous,” Shirk said. Known as an example of New Classical Revival architecture, it features stained glass skylights.

Gene Autry and a ‘pay it forward’ restaurant

One of the displays at the Hardin County Historical Museum in Kenton focuses on the cast-iron toys created by the Kenton Hardware Co. between 1898 and 1953.

The museum’s biggest claim to fame, though, is the Gene Autry cap pistol. The factory created a Colt .45, a ¾ replica of the actual gun Autry used, and it’s now on display as “The cap pistol that saved an entire town.”

All told, the factory made more than 10,000 kinds of toys, including toy stoves that actually hooked up to a gas supply, and toy trains.

The museum also features displays of clothing and household items, as well as some of the works of Hardin County native Fred Machetanz who, after moving to Alaska, became a famous artist. And there are unusual items like the 19th century wreaths of human hair.

Also on display is the nation’s first Medal of Honor, given to Kenton native Jacob Parrott in 1863.

The museum, in a Queen Anne-style home built in 1896, is believed haunted by a former resident. It’s located at 223 N. Main St., Kenton, and can be reached at 419-673-7147.

The Autry connection also includes a movie theater, still in use, where he performed in 1938. And in Kenton you can find Gene Autry Mural Park and a larger-than-life mural of the singing cowboy.

Looking for a place to eat in Kenton? Shirk recommended the award-winning Michael Angelo’s Pizza.

Then there is Table One, a “pay what you can afford” restaurant. The nonprofit organization’s president, the Rev. Loran Miracle, said in a phone interview that Table One is a normal restaurant in every way. But, while anyone who can afford to pay for a nice restaurant meal does so, anyone who can’t is still welcome.

Diners are asked to “pay it forward” for others and to volunteer if they have no money. All of the staff, except the cook, are volunteers.

Table One has been open since June, at the site of what used to be another longtime restaurant which went out of business. Miracle said he wants those who are struggling financially to get the opportunity to have a quality restaurant meal. The slogan? “One table. Everyone eats.”

Table One is at 1 N. Detroit St. and can be reached at 419-674-3400.

Recent visitors included a couple who were staying in a shelter and had to be out of it during the day. They and their 6-month-old baby came to Table One. Volunteers watched their baby and the couple ate lunch, then were sent home with food.

“There’s a hundred stories like that,” Miracle said.

Imports and old-timey items

Also in Kenton is Brim’s Imports, where car and motorcycle aficionados can see vehicles dating back more than 100 years.

Owner Tom Brim has met enthusiasts from all over, including the Netherlands, England and Japan.

“It’s a steady stream of characters,” Brim said. “And they’re fun.”

He has motorcycles, bicycles and automobiles from a variety of periods of history. Brim’s is located at 370 W. Franklin St. and can be reached at 419-674-4137.

The Pfeiffer Station General Store sells penny candy, hand-dipped ice cream, spices and many varieties of jam. Hot sandwiches and daily lunch specials are available for carryout. Aside from food, the store also sells quilts, candles, cards and other crafts. Much of the food and crafts are Amish-made. The store, built in 1883, also carries live bait for those who wish to fish in the nearby river. The store is at 19950 County Road 144, outside of Kenton, and can be reached at 419-674-4103.

Across the street is Wheeler Tavern, which was a stop on the Underground Railroad. When it was a tavern people such as Stephen A. Douglas, Henry Clay and President William Henry Harrison stopped there.

Some of the older residents of the area recall having gotten married in Kenton, then spending their honeymoon in the apartment above the general store. The apartment had, at one point, a wide-open dance floor, and couples also recall coming there to dance. There have also reportedly been paranormal experiences.

The current owner is Rebecca Whitaker of Kenton. Her daughter, Morgan Ellis, recently graduated with a degree in history and finds working in sales at the store suits her. “It’s very quiet, laid-back,” she said.

Ellis said they get tourists from overseas, and recently heard from a man in London, England, who is planning a trip and found the store on Facebook.

‘Yesterday today’

The village of Mount Victory, south of Kenton on Ohio 31, has 625 residents and 11 antique shops. Some are only open on weekends, so keep this in mind as you plan your visit.

Mayor Michael Trout said it’s a village where everyone knows everyone.

“You’ve got good neighbors,” he said.

And, asked what makes Mount Victory special, he replied, “The people.”

One of those people is Peggy Harrison, owner of Tea for Three Antiques. Harrison has a garden outside her shop which has been a stop on local garden tours. Her store is at 108 N. High St. and can be reached at 937-354-3334.

Harrison, 79, has lived on the same street her entire life, except for a six-month stint in Kenton. As a child she walked down the street of Mount Victory on stilts.

She taught at the small school, which was recently torn down. She’d attended school there, too, as had her mother, who was in first grade around the time the school was built, in 1907.

For awhile she taught school in the Columbus area, too, commuting 48 minutes each way every day. She found that her colleagues there would enjoy driving north to Hardin County to visit the Amish farms.

Another resident of Mount Victory is Pancake. The dog’s owner, Ron Eastman, is the real part owner of Eastman Antiques, but Eastman said it’s often Pancake who many locals stop in specifically to see each day. At the antique store you can find a variety of items large and small, with kitchen china and other similar items on display. Eastman Antiques is at 474 S. Main St., and can be reached at 937-354-2354.

Near Eastman’s is Plaza Restaurant, in business since 1959.

“The pies are outstanding,” Trout said.

He said many area organizations and businesses hold meetings there. Trout was first sworn in as mayor in a booth at the restaurant.

As you walk around town, Trout said, many things haven’t changed in decades. Mount Victory still has its own independent bank, in business since 1930, where customers bring in their passbooks.

Trout said Mount Victory is a place where “time does move slower.” He said another resident coined the phrase “Come spend yesterday today in Mount Victory.” Trout thought, “My God, that’s fitting.”

In the town of Ada you’ll find Ohio Northern University. Its Freed Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors in 1991. It’s home to a 550-seat proscenium theatre, a 132-seat studio theatre, a 3,000-watt radio station, a cable access channel and an art gallery. More than 1,070 productions performed by ONU students and professional companies have appeared on the stage. It’s located at 525 S. Main St. and can be reached at 419-772-1900.

The Fort McArthur Cemetery is at County Road 106 and County Road 115, outside Kenton. The memorial represents the graves of 16 American soldiers from the War of 1812. Fort McArthur was built in the summer of 1812 to guard the Scioto River. It was under command of future Ohio Gov. Col. Duncan McArthur.

This is the sixth in a series of seven stories exploring the counties that circle Hancock County.

Many times the A.L.I.C.E. training regarding surviving an attack by an intruder is thought of as being offered to students and teachers in the public schools. But area business owners were encouraged to think outside the box and develop plans in preparation for an attack on their staff or customers. The information was presented by Sgts. Scott Holbrook and Dwight Underwood from the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office at the Lunch and Learn session sponsored by the Chamber and Business Alliance at the Kenton Elks Lodge. A.L.I.C.E. is the training program offered by the sheriff’s department to prepare the public for physical attacks.

Many times the A.L.I.C.E. training regarding surviving an attack by an intruder is thought of as being offered to students and teachers in the public schools.

But area business owners were encouraged to think outside the box and develop plans in preparation for an attack on their staff or customers.

The information was presented by Sgts. Scott Holbrook and Dwight Underwood from the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office at the Lunch and Learn session sponsored by the Chamber and Business Alliance at the Kenton Elks Lodge.

A.L.I.C.E. is the training program offered by the sheriff’s department to prepare the public for physical attacks.

It stands for alert, lockdown, information, counter and escape.

Most public buildings in Hardin County are relatively easy for an invader to enter with a variety of weapons, said Holbrook.

Generally speaking, when a gunman attacks a school, they are hoping to cause a high number of casualties, said Underwood.

When an attack takes place in a business, the intruder is looking for a specific target.

He asked how many of the businesses represented have a policy requiring employees to report domestic problems at home.

The need for such a policy, said Underwood, is not to single out the worker, but to prepare the entire work force to be on the lookout for anything unusual.

The intruder may know the details of the store or office, he continued, such as the floor layout and work schedule.

It is important for the business owners to consider the safety of not only their workers, but also of their customers, Underwood said.

To better protect both, he said, a plan is needed to communicate information once an attack is underway and in advance of the intrusion.

He demonstrated methods of counterattacking an armed robber or enraged invader.

“We are taught not to hurt people,” said Underwood, “but you should train your employees to do whatever they need to do to stay alive. Stab with a needle. Run over them with your car.”

The tactic may just work long enough for help to arrive, he said.

One of the greatest weapons available to most anyone in a public building is a fire extinguisher.

The unit can be set off into the attacker’s face or used as a weapon by striking the gunman with it physically, said Underwood.

“A fire extinguisher is the greatest thing in the world,” he said.

“I encourage everyone to have one near them.”

The sheriff’s office is willing to inspect county businesses to evaluate their security, said Holbrook.

The inspection comes at no cost to the owner, he added, and provides the business with short-, medium- and long-term goals for their consideration.


Visitors will soon see new welcome signs when they enter Hardin County on U.S. and state routes. The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance unveiled new ‘Welcome to Hardin County’ signs on Tuesday featuring the county logo of a ‘great place to live, work and prosper’ as well as the county website, hardincountyoh.org.

Visitors will soon see new welcome signs when they enter Hardin County on U.S. and state routes. The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance unveiled new ‘Welcome to Hardin County’ signs on Tuesday featuring the county logo of a ‘great place to live, work and prosper’ as well as the county website, hardincountyoh.org.

The 15 signs, which were made locally by Scioto Signs, were paid for by the county commissioners, the Hardin County Community Foundation, the villages of Ada, Forest and Mount Victory, the City of Kenton and the Ada CIC.

The 2016 Eats on the Street Festival held in downtown Kenton Friday night was a big success. Jacqualine Fitzgerald, Director of Community Development for the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance said the weather was perfect for the event which left people wanting more, "People keep asking when are we going to do this next year, can we do it sooner? We had quite the crowd last night. The weather was perfect, we couldn't ask for anything better."

The 2016 Eats on the Street Festival held in downtown Kenton Friday night was a big success.

Jacqualine Fitzgerald, Director of Community Development for the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance said the weather was perfect for the event which left people wanting more, "People keep asking when are we going to do this next year, can we do it sooner? We had  quite the crowd last night. The weather was perfect, we couldn't ask for anything better."

As for a rough crowd estimate, "There were over 5000 at one point around 7o'clock. We'll probably have a little better a count next week. Someone had a GoPro and a drone out there so we'll get more of a feel I'm sure next week."

One of the activities at Eats on the Street was the Chairs For Hope auction to benefit Night By Choice, which Fitzgerald said brought in more money this year than last, "I was told that total was $13,500, so it's better than last year. I think it's maybe a $1000 higher than it was last year, so it was amazing that the community comes out. I guess I shouldn't be amazed, because we have such a giving wonderful community."

Twelve food trucks from Columbus will roll into downtown Kenton on Friday afternoon for the second Eats on the Street Fest. The event will run from 5 to 10 p.m. and also feature activities for children, an auction to benefit a local cancer support group, a car and motorcycle show and a live band. It is presented by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

Twelve food trucks from Columbus will roll into downtown Kenton on Friday afternoon for the second Eats on the Street Fest.

The event will run from 5 to 10 p.m. and also feature activities for children, an auction to benefit a local cancer support group, a car and motorcycle show and a live band.

It is presented by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

A year ago at the inaugural event, six food trucks made the trip and were greeted by long lines of people who weren’t deterred by a light rain.

News of the success of the fest made its way back to Columbus, resulting in a doubling of the food trucks this year.

“I had people calling me (to participate),” said Jacqualine Fitzgerald, Director of Community Development with the Alliance. “It was nice.”

Scheduled to participate are Kona Ice, Pitabilities, Phillybuster, Paddy Wagon, Schmidts, Dos Hermanos Taco, Mixing Bowl Asian Grill, Barley 31, Cupzilla Korean BBQ, Eric’s Ice Cream, Sweet The Mobile Cupcakery and Dine & Dash.

The food trucks will be lined up along Columbus Street from Detroit to Wayne. There will be limited seating with 12 picnic tables added this year.

Registration for the car/motorcycle show will begin at 4 p.m. at the corner of Main and Carrol streets. The fee is $15 per vehicle.

A Kids Zone will be located on the courthouse lawn at the corner of Columbus and Main streets. There will be face painting, an appearance by Tater the Clown and 3D chalk artists.

At 6 p.m., a Chairs of Hope Auction to benefit Not By Choice, a local group that provides support for cancer patients, will be conducted on the east side of the courthouse.

On display on Main Street will be Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 NASCAR vehicle. People can register to win an autographed racing helmet.

The band Wet Bandits will begin performing at 7 p.m. on the east side of the courthouse.

Craft and draft beer will be available, as well as wine from a local winery, Fitzgerald said.

Nice weather is forecast and she expects a big turnout.

“I think it’s going to be slam packed,” Fitzgerald said.

Hardin County is doing the right things to attract business and industry according to an economic development expert. Christine Schmenk, of the Brickler and Eckler law firm of Columbus, told a group of about 20 area leaders that Hardin County has developed a “pretty impressive” five-year plan.

Hardin County is doing the right things to attract business and industry according to an economic development expert.

Christine Schmenk, of the Brickler and Eckler law firm of Columbus, told a group of about 20 area leaders that Hardin County has developed a “pretty impressive” five-year plan.

She made the comments during an economic and community development briefing hosted by the Chamber and Business Alliance on Wednesday night.

“You have to have a strategy in place and you have a pretty impressive five-year plan,” said Schmenk, whose past experience includes serving as the director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, vice president for external affairs for the Scotts Miracle-Gro company, mayor of Marysville and is on the Ohio Northern University board of trustees.

“That is a really good thing because you are thinking about where you want to be in five years and are putting a plan together to get there,” she added.

Schmenk noted it’s good to have strong partnerships in place between public and private entities.

“Get the public involved and have businesses involved because they are the ones that are paying your employees in the town or county and you need those kind of teams working together for a comprehensive business development program,” Schmenk said.

“It’s good to always be looking at the plan and what should be done and when it should be done and to update it regularly. It’s very important to know where you’re going. As far as a structure you have there is no real right or wrong.

“Your plan from an outsider looking in, looks like you have all the important decision-makers all working together, which is wonderful. We don’t see that always. I’ve known communities where they maybe didn’t get a new project or new company because when that community called they didn’t know who to talk to and couldn’t tell who the decision-makers were. .. It’s good to have that organization and it seems like you do.”

Schmenk, who also detailed the different entities that can be put together to attract business such as port authorities, community improvement corporations, community reinvestment areas and enterprise zones, said it’s good to have a unified plan before it is needed.

“It’s good to really come together before the pressure is on,” she said.

“To think about if a big business approaches us, what would we want to do, That’s something I would encourage.”

“It’s always good to think ahead of time about would we offer any kind of incentive or programs and if we offer what would be our criteria. … when you have that it helps you make faster decisions because you’ve already got people on board like school superintendents, the commissioners or board of trustees,” she said.

“It also gives you the ability to say no if a business doesn’t meet the criteria.”

The importance of taking care of existing business and industry also was stressed by Schmenk. “It may not be as sexy or cool as getting new business into a community, but statistics show most jobs come from the businesses that you currently have,” she said.

“It’s always good to reach out and see what kind of help they may need.”

“Once you have the structure and tools, I encourage you to have a system in place and stay current on what is happening,” Schmenk said.

Also during the forum Gregory Lestini gave an update on what is going on in the state legislature.

Jacqualine Fitzgerald, director of Downtown Development with the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, stands with the colorful suspended chairs she placed on the wall of a building at the corner of Main and Columbus streets in Kenton.

Jacqualine Fitzgerald, director of Downtown Development with the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, stands with the colorful suspended chairs she placed on the wall of a building at the corner of Main and Columbus streets in Kenton.

Fitzgerald purchased five antique chairs from vendor John Sieg in Mount Victory and bought spray paint from Ace Hardware before completing the project with plants from New Leaf Garden Center.

“If these colored chairs make someone smile, then it is worth it,” Fitzgerald said. She hopes the art form becomes popular throughout the county. “I would love to see other walls decorated. It doesn’t need to be with chairs,” she said. 

There has been much progress made this school year in addressing the training of students to enter the work force. Those first steps will be taking a leap when classes throughout Hardin County start next fall.

“When I was in the eighth grade I had two days of job shadowing and that was it,” said Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance President Jon Cross as he opened the organization’s second Education and Business Summit Thursday morning at Kenton High School. “Things have changed and changed for the better.”

Educators and business leaders gathered in the cafeteria at the school to hear progress reports on what was accomplished this year and to share strategies for the future. The emphasis on the summit was on Kenton’s Wildcat Kommunity Konnectors program.

Students were recognized for completing the mentoring program’s initial year and area businesses owners who gave them the opportunity to get a taste of various careers.

“We feel we have started something great here,” said KHS Principal Chad Thrush. “We started with a few more kids than we have now.”

There were 30 students who signed up to take part in the Konnectors program, said Thursh, and 18 completed the training and presented their projects in the gymnasium following the summit session.

The school considers the first year of the Konnectors program a success, said Thrush, but will be making adjustments for 2016-17. One of the major changes will be the hiring of a full-time staff member administering the mentoring program daily. Jane Ensign established the new program this year through funding from a $128,000 Ohio Department of Education (ODE) grant. If that grant is renewed, said Ensign, she will return in the fall.

But regardless of the state funding, she said, the school is dedicated to the Konnectors program and will pay Christina Cross as the advisor.

“The district has put its stamp on this to make it work,” said Thrush.

“This grant,” said Jon Cross, “has changed the lives of our students and changed our community. Every dollar means a great deal to the community.”

Each school district is taking steps to establish programs to offer students more options in selecting careers and in giving them a boost academically to make that possible, he said. The Alliance is looking at being the “connector” for the programs, he continued.

“There are things we are going to do in a countywide basis,” Cross said.

Most districts are looking into mentoring programs, he noted, but are running their individual programs in different ways. Once those programs are ready to match the students with mentoring businesses, the Alliance will assist in the matching, said Cross.

He also announced the formation of two new countywide programs. The first will be the development of a job and career fair for all schools in the county. At the fair, business leaders and professionals will discuss the pros and cons of their careers.

Prior to the fair, which would be scheduled about Christmas time, said Cross, the students can receive instruction in resumé writing, interview skills, etc.

Then in the spring, industry tours can be made available to key locations, such as manufacturing, health care, education and agricultural businesses within the county, Cross said.

The tours would be geared toward sophomores and juniors, he explained.

“Once the student is in the 12th grade, we want them to have an idea where they want to go,” said Cross. “If people are going to build buildings and bring jobs to Hardin County, we need a good work force. Without a workforce, there is no economic development.”

Upper Scioto Valley Superintendent Dennis Recker updated the group on the programs being established in his district to train students for jobs and earn them credentials and college credits.

Ridgemont Superintendent Emmy Beeson said her district is not only requiring students in grades 7-12 to spend two days job shadowing, but is also requiring the teachers from those classes to job shadow a business or programs which have been successful in other schools. Ridgemont also is looking into inviting business leaders to spend a day in the classrooms as “guest teachers” to better make the connection between business and education.

The combined effort to connect businesses and schools should be a model for other communities, said Michele Timmons, of Ed Envision Plus, which helped the county in submitting the ODE grant for the Konnectors program.

“What you people are doing is phenomenal,” she said.

More food options are planned with the return of the Eats on the Street Friday Night Food Truck Fest, set for Friday, June 24 in downtown Kenton.

More food options are planned with the return of the Eats on the Street Friday Night Food Truck Fest, set for Friday, June 24 in downtown Kenton.

Ten food trucks have been confirmed so far, according to organizers with the Kenton Historic Courthouse District Committee (HCD), part of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

In the initial event a year ago, five food trucks participated and the fest attracted close to 3,000 people, said Jacqualine Fitzgerald, event creator with the HCD.

The event will take place from 5 to 10 p.m. on Columbus and Main streets within the Kenton HCD.

Also featured will be vintage motorcycle displays, classic car show, live music, craft beer station, photo booth and the “Chairs for Hope” auction supporting Not by Choice Outreach.

In addition, in a joint announcement with Rogers Nationwide Insurance Agency, the event will welcome Dale Earnhart Jr.’s No. 88 NASCAR vehicle. Attendees can see the race car in person and have a chance to win an autographed racing helmet.

“With warm sunny weather, we expect the Eats on the Street event to be bigger and better than last year,” Fitzgerald said. “Last year was exciting to put feet on the street to enjoy a festive time with friends, family and community members, and with less than ideal conditions, we still had over 3,000 people in downtown Kenton.”

For more information visit the Kenton HCD Facebook event page or to enter your vintage motorcycle or classic car, contact the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance at 419-673-4131 or email Fitzgerald at jfitzgerald@hccba.com.

Money raised that evening supports the Kenton HCD Committee and its downtown revitalization and beautification efforts.

Today, Sprang is in his second year as chief information officer at Quest Federal Credit Union in Kenton and is the new board chairman of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

When a planned move to Columbus fell through nearly 16 years ago, Brian Sprang had no way of knowing the opportunities that would come his way in his hometown of Kenton.

Today, Sprang is in his second year as chief information officer at Quest Federal Credit Union in Kenton and is the new board chairman of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.A 1996 graduate of Kenton High School, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Toledo in 2000 with an emphasis on information systems.

When the Columbus opportunity failed to materialize, Sprang and his wife Abbey came home to Kenton. Abbey landed at Mary Rutan Hospital in Bellefontaine, where she is coordinator of the radiology department.

Brian was offered a position at Allmax Software in Kenton, where he stayed for 13 years. In June of 2014, Sprang started at Quest, where he is responsible for the company’s information technology and marketing.

Quest CEO Matt Jennings encouraged Sprang to get involved with the Alliance and that led to his becoming vice chairman of the board. A year later at the Alliance’s annual meeting last month, he moved into the chairman’s role.

Sprang’s initial involvement on the Alliance board has been at a time of major investments in Kenton, driven by the expansion of International Paper and the completion of the Kenton Elementary School.

The Sprangs are the parents of a preschooler and first grader who attend KES and he said both kids are excited to be at the new school.

Sprang said of his fast rise up the leadership ladder at the Alliance, “The previous chairman (Tim Street) saw qualities in me to know I could handle the job,” he said.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity. I’m happy to fill my role and responsibility in the next two years,” Sprang said.

He hopes his term will be as successful as the aforementioned growth in 2015.

Sprang believes a new organization structure will be a big benefit to the Alliance. The reform is a “bottom up perspective” with committees representing different areas of the Alliance reporting to the executive board, which he also chairs. The areas include economic development, chamber and tourism, community development and the historic courthouse district.

He said the committee reports “allow the board to have concise, yet fluid discussions” of issues affecting the Alliance.

Sprang also said changes have resulted in a “tighter knit group” on the board, along with fresh perspectives from three new board members.

Sprang is following in the footsteps of his late grandfather, Leo “Barney” Bernard, who was board chairman of its predecessor, the Kenton Chamber of Commerce, in 1960-61.

Sprang said the Alliance wants to pull in members from all communities in the county and work with area Community Improvement Corporations “to foster and develop those relationships.”

“We want to be an ally to the smaller towns and let them know we’re here to help them. We can pool our resources together which is better than working alone,” he said.

Sprang noted one of the discussions at Wednesday’s board meeting was how to improve the Alliance’s partnership with the Ada Chamber of Commerce.

The Alliance also can benefit members through technology. The organization has a new website which allows member businesses to promote themselves.

“We’re putting our best foot forward. Our members see that,” Sprang said.

One thing the Alliance has done to try to increase involvement in the organization is to offer a free one-year individual membership to recent graduates of the Hardin Leadership program, he said.

Sprang believes the county is poised to see more retail and restaurant growth in the next 12 to 18 months, something he thinks will help attract young families to locate in the county.

“I think we have a lot of great things to offer,” he said.

The Sprangs have found that to be the case. They both have family in the area. Brian is choir director at Immaculate Conception Church and the fill-in organist. Both he and Abbey are active runners and Brian enjoys playing indoor soccer on weekends.

“It’s obviously home and we’re very excited to be here,” Sprang said.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance named John Hohn Citizen of the Year, International Paper named Business of the Year; Twirl named Small Business of the Year and Community Service Awards to Brenda Jennings and Jason and Jodi Theil from Hardin County Upward Sports Program.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance paid tribute to one of its own at its tenth annual membership dinner when it named John Hohn its Citizen of the Year.

The Alliance honored individuals, businesses and organizations Monday evening at a sold-out program at Ohio Northern University’s McIntosh Center in Ada.

Hohn retired at the end of 2015 after eight years as the Alliance’s director of economic development. In that role, he orchestrated the success, expansion and inclusion of the county’s business community.

International Paper Foodservice was named Hardin County’s Business of the Year following the opening of a plant expansion which doubled its size.

A Small Business of the Year category was added to this year’s honorees and was awarded to Twirl, whose owners have expanded their formal dress inventory and transformed a neglected storefront into a showcase of Kenton’s downtown district.

Upward Sports was named one of two winners of the community service award. The basketball program which reaches more than 250 young students not only teaches them the basics of playing basketball, but instills in them ideals for their lives off the court.

Kenton City Schools’ nurse Brenda Jennings was thanked with a community service award for the Back Pack program which provides weekend meals for 189 Kenton students in grades K-12.

The late Fred and Ruth Haushalter were recognized with the Richard E. Allen Lifetime Achievement Award. The Alliance honored the couple who transformed Robinson Fin from a local manufacturer into a business which reaches customers around the globe.

A retired Riverdale educator and coach, Hohn stepped into his role at the Alliance without any background in business. He quickly picked up on his role and was instrumental in the expansion at International Paper, but also a driving force in brining such newcomers to Hardin County as Sekisui Plastics and Harvest Pride.

But his impact goes beyond his success at the Alliance, said Tim Street, chairman of the Alliance board of directors in his introduction.

“John has also left a mark on the lives of thousands of students throughout his teaching and coaching years that they are able to use throughout their careers,” he noted.

But his success was not accomplished by just one person, noted Hohn, as he accepted the award. Many people played a role and should share in his recognition, including his co-workers at the Alliance, his family and the students he taught throughout his career at Riverdale.

One of those success stories is International Paper, which invested $70 million in Kenton and Hardin County when it expanded its facility, creating 125 new jobs. Their dedication to the community is also reflected in the way the IP employees support the local United Way fund drive, said Street. The company matches 60 percent of each employee’s pledge, he noted.

“The word ‘jobs’ has to jump out at anyone who drives down State Route 31 to Columbus or Marysville and sees the major expansion of IP. What a vote of confidence in Hardin County and its workers,” said the letter of nomination.

IP Plant Manager David Mulligan said the reason his company selected Kenton to “double down” its facility was evident by the people attending Thursday’s banquet. The citizens and workers of the county collaborate well with the company and he predicted many more years of working together.

“We look forward to future collaborations and we see a great future for IP in Hardin County,” said Mulligan.

In the five years since it opened its doors, Twirl has grown from a one-woman operation to a thriving business with 14 employees.

“They have brilliantly transformed the historic building in downtown Kenton into a one-of-a-kind bridal boutique that brings in clients from all over the state of Ohio and as far away as Atlanta, Georgia and Canada,” said Jacqualine Fitzgerald in her introduction. “Twirl adds sparkle and gleam to our community and we are proud to have them here.”

Owner Laura Wingfield said she is “super happy” at the success of the business. There were days when she was working with only one part-time assistant, when Wingfield questioned her decision to open the wedding and formal dress business.

She would work days without seeing a customer, Wingfield recalled, but she believed Twirl would be a success and its growth has been due to the devotion and assistance of her family, friends and employees.

“It takes a village,” she said.

The Upward Sports Program was established by Jason and Jodi Theil in 2011 after they saw the need for young people in the community to develop basketball and cheerleading skills in a Christian atmosphere.

Each Saturday, about 250 children play ball and cheer at the activity room at Kenton’s Christian and Missionary Alliance Church as their families look on. It takes another 120 volunteers to make the program work, said Fitzgerald.

“These people are truly making a difference in the lives of the student-athletes, parents, coaches and other associated with this important program,” said the nomination letter.

The purpose of the Upward program is to teach the children the basics of basketball and cheerleading, but its success is introducing or enforcing the impact Jesus Christ can have in their daily lives, said Jason Theil as he accepted the honor.

“We want to teach the children right from wrong and that self worth is not defined by wins and losses,” he said. “We pray this program is a blessing to the community for years to come.”

In her role as Kenton’s school nurse, Brenda Jennings had seen with her own eyes the need for the students to have a regular meals when school is not in session. In response to that need, Jennings began the Kenton City Schools’ Back Pack Program.

In the early years, said Fitzgerald, much of its success depended on the administration of Jennings as she organized volunteers, raised funding, and hauled groceries to make sure the young people in the district had square meals over the weekends.

“Without Brenda willing this program to life, the day to day reality for these children would be far less bright than it is today,” said the writer of her nomination letter.

The Central Church of Christ has since taken over the operation of the program.

“I am very humbled by this honor,” said Jennings.

She noted the teachers in her buildings often complained their students were hungry. Her program gives them enough food to prepare two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners for the Saturdays and Sundays they are not fed at school from September to May.

The program has grown thanks to the acceptance and assistance of Kenton City Schools and its staff. Jennings also thanked her husband, family and friends for their help in the Back Pack program.

The final award of the evening was presented by Alliance President Jon Cross to the family of Fred and Ruth Haushalter for their lifetime of achievement.

The success of Robinson Fin can be measured in how their products are used in NASCAR racers, the International Space Station, the Sea Wolf nuclear submarine and Pizza Hut ovens, but also their involvement in the community. Robinson Fin has gained a reputation for giving of its money and time to many projects, noted Cross, ranging from student scholarships to the Kenton Little League.

The community dedication was instilled in their children, said Sheryl Sopher and David and Mark Haushalter.

“This is pretty cool,” Sopher said the award. “We are the first people to say our parents were great, great people and it is rewarding that other people see that, too.”

Those looking to develop businesses, move or just learn more about Hardin County will have a wealth of information available at their fingertips thanks to a new website launched Tuesday by the Hardin Count Chamber and Business Alliance.

Those looking to develop businesses, move or just learn more about Hardin County will have a wealth of information available at their fingertips thanks to a new website launched Tuesday by the Hardin Count Chamber and Business Alliance.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Alliance. The old webpage, said Cross, was outdated to the point that it was dropped by GoDaddy.com, leaving the Alliance without a page since August.

“We lost everything, but now we are back in action,” said Cross. While the page was down, he said, the Alliance continued to promote the county through social media such as Facebook and emails.

The new bright, colorful web site designed by Envisionwise, said Cross, and is at the edge of the latest technology for online pages.

The address of the website is www.hardincountyoh.org, with a shortened version of www.hccba.com.

Visitors to the site are welcomed by a series of photos inviting them to “build here, invest here, work here, live here, learn here and love it here.”

Information offered includes data to encourage economic and community development while giving insight to the chamber and tourism departments of the organization, said Cross.

Guests are introduced to the $200M capital investment projects which have taken place in the county in recent years, he continued. There is also a link with each of the city and village webpages within the county, said Cross, which allows the communities to highlight the things in their towns they are proudest to share.

Each month, he said, a business will be featured on the site by the Alliance. This month’s member in the spotlight is Buckeye Machine and Fabricators of Forest.

Upcoming events will be shared on the page, continued Cross, and selected news stories shared with the public. Guests will learn of the transportation advantages Hardin County offers with its rail, highway and airport opportunities. School websites will be linked to the site for promotion of the educational advantages in the county. That information also will feature the Ohio Northern University link, said Cross.

The site emphasizes the advantages of locating in Hardin County, but also promotes what is available within a 45-mile radius.

Developers are interested in the advantages with moving to a location within that range, explained Cross.

The new Alliance site is the only Internet location which brings together so much information about Hardin County in one place, he said.

Kenton is well positioned for growth in both the industrial and retail sectors heading into 2016.

Kenton is well positioned for growth in both the industrial and retail sectors heading into 2016.

That’s the opinion of Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance. He presented a year-end report to members of Kenton City Council on Monday night. Cross is optimistic about future development along the U.S. 68 South industrial corridor. The reason for the optimism is the availability of a prime site – the former rail logistics center on the west side of U.S. 68, across from Golden Giant, he said.

A national site selector earlier this year identified the site with its rail access as a key area for future development.

After a recent meeting with the owners of the property, the Jim Jacobs family, Cross said they are changing their strategy. Originally planned to be a logistics center to serve the wind development field, they now are looking at it for industrial development, Cross said. “They have a major investment in the project and they are not going away,” he said. They would like to put additional capital into the site.”

Cross said there is room for up to a 500,000-square-foot industrial building on the property or several smaller manufacturers. Plus he noted the city’s goal of wanting to upgrade sanitary sewer service to the area will help make the site more marketable.

“It makes us excited that the city’s goals for infrastructure improvements are lining up with development,” Cross said.

The same can be said about the Ohio 67 East retail corridor. He said the city’s plan to add a traffic signal at the corner of East Columbus and Jacob Parrott Boulevard/Morningside Drive will benefit future development of the former Hardin Central property.

Equity Investment Group of Fort Wayne, Ind., has purchased the 12-acre site from the Kenton Board of Education.

Cross said not only is the city lucky to have sold the site intact, but Equity is a professional development group. “They have a very broad reach,” he said. “They are a major player” in the development business. “They’re very committed to working with us … They know they have a city excited about them” which is not always the case, he said. “We’ve made the right first impression,” Cross said.

He noted it already has been announced that Dollar Tree wants to locate on the far east side of the lot, but a plan is needed for the rest of the acreage. Cross said it could be a mix of housing, retail shops and restaurants. He said the key will be “strategically going after what’s not here.”

As for the other school site, the Espy property off U.S. 68 South, Cross said there have been some development leads but termed them “very distant.” He said people are interested in the location because of the development along U.S. 68.

Another area where the city is working with a developer is Ohio 31 at the corner of County Road 140. Leffel-Grimm Enterprises has a two-acre site that it wants the city to annex, with part of the site to be the new location of the Fastenal store. There would be room for another building on the property as well, Cross said.

Kenton is moving forward with the annexation as well as looking into extending sanitary sewer service to the site.

Cross announced that the Alliance will be launching a new website next year on which communities in the county can be highlighted."It will be an online resource guide for businesses to get the feel and flavor of communities,” he said.

The Alliance is planning a new tourism guide for the county next year as well, Cross said.

He also reminded everyone to stop in the Alliance office on Friday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. for an open house and retirement party for Jon Hohn. He is stepping down after eight years as economic development director.

The students at Kenton High School are getting training which may pay off for them long after graduation day.

The students at Kenton High School are getting training which may pay off for them long after graduation day. Jane Ensign is the instructor of the Kenton Kommunity Konnectors program at the school, which is in its first year and was established with a state grant received by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance. “The goal is to promote one-on-one mentoring for students to find a career path in the field of their interest,” said Ensign. “This gives students an opportunity to mentor in that field and make sure that is what they want to do before they go to college and declare a major.”

The Konnectors students are juniors and seniors, but the $128,000 Ohio Department of Education community grant secured for KCS by the Alliance also funds a mentoring program for the students in grades five through ten, said Ensign.

The Alliance applied for the grant in partnership with several other organizations, including the Ministerial Association in Kenton and Quest Federal Credit Union, she continued. Some students enter their junior year in high school thinking they know exactly what they want to do with their adult lives, she said, but others have no idea what career they should pursue.

The Konnector program will give the students a taste for the responsibilities and educational background needed to be successful in a career, said Ensign. Most of the 29 students enrolled in the program have identified business or management administration as a field they would be interested in training to join. Education and health science are also popular choices for the Konnector members, Ensign said. The school year for the students is divided into two parts. This grading period, the teens are hearing from professionals regarding their own career paths.

While that part of the training is going on, Ensign is matching up people in the community to serve as mentors to the students in the second semester. While this is the first year for this type of program at Kenton High School, Ensign has a solid background in this area. She has worked in similar mentoring/training programs in Dublin, Metro Early College High School and the OSU STEM school in Reynoldsburg.

In the classroom, students have heard from area businessmen like Kenton graduate David Haushaulter. Lt. Robert Lutes of the Kenton Police Department shared experiences in law enforcement with the students. Shawn Root told the students how the company he works for, Thomas and Marker, is designing the new ski lodge at Mad River Mountain.

“I thought this program would be a good opportunity for me to decide on what path to go: nursing or pharmacy,” said student Molly Walter.

“It has helped me a lot. The speakers are really good. They come in and discuss their jobs.”

Student Jarred McNeely said he was convinced after high school that he would enter the field of welding and fabricating, but in recent weeks in the program, he is now looking at a future in wildlife and natural resources.

While there is no requirement for the students to be compensated for their work, she said, it is her hope the students will receive a pay check when they work with companies in the second semester which they can set aside to cover college expenses.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance has announced a new partnership with Hardin Leadership Inc.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance has announced a new partnership with Hardin Leadership Inc., as the two organizations will work together to help recruit, train and engage community and business leaders throughout Hardin County.

Staring this year, all 2015 graduates will be provided a one-year free membership to the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, which will provide many opportunities to continue their leadership engagement through the various programs, events and committees that are coordinated with our chamber, tourism, economic development and community development divisions.

“We are excited to partner with the Alliance to offer this incentive to our graduates. This will only strengthen and improve the already diverse leadership training experience we offer,” said Tobey Steinman, board president of Hardin Leadership Inc. “Hardin Leadership has a goal to identify, develop, motivate and involve potential community leaders, and this partnership gives them another place to use the skills they have learned from the Hardin Leadership program."

This joint venture was board-approved this year by both organizations in a move to enhance the importance of leadership development. In addition, this was an important action item achieved within the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance’s five-year strategic plan.

“As Hardin County’s economy is growing and we are attracting new residents and businesses to our communities, developing strong leaders is critical to the success of our communities,” said Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Alliance.


To call Harvest Pride a Hardin County family business might be an understatement. The tortilla chips which are showing up on store shelves throughout the area are products of the Denny Hensel family.

To call Harvest Pride a Hardin County family business might be an understatement. The tortilla chips which are showing up on store shelves throughout the area are products of the Denny Hensel family. The corn is raised by Denny and sent to a manufacturing facility he owns in Ada. After processing, the corn is pounded and formed into chips by five members of the family and delivered in their family mini-vans and cars to stores in three counties. “It’s a lot of hard work,” said his daughter, Dawn Steiner.

But customers have begun asking for the Harvest Pride chips and the company’s future looks rosy. The area deliveries may be just the beginning. Denny said he began growing food-grade corn and cleaning it to be made into chips in 1987.

The corn is higher grade than a standard field corn and comes in a variety of colors, he explained.

Hensel planted about 900 of his 1,500 acres of farmland into white, yellow, blue and red corn. At first, he hauled it to the Seyfert factory in Indiana, where owner Joe Seyfert showed him his operation. Back then, said Hensel, Seyfert didn’t make a tortilla chip, but did produce a small, thicker corn chip. Denny began hauling his Hardin County corn to other chip producers, often spending four days a week on the road, taking him as far as Grand Rapids, Mich., to Washington, D.C.The idea of using his own corn to make the chips was never far from his mind after seeing how Seyfert’s system operated, he said. He met with his family and asked them to buy into the idea of producing tortilla chips locally.

His two daughters and their husbands each brought special talents to his proposed company. Denise Grappy is a pharmacist, he said, and has an understanding of chemistry helps her oversee the quality of the product. Dawn graduated with a degree in communications and uses her skills with Denise in marketing. Denise’s husband, Josh Grappy, is handy with computers and agreed to not only keep track of the company’s inventory, but design the packaging for the finished product. And Jared Steiner, Dawn’s husband, handles the mechanical needs of the equipment. “Everyone was on board from the get-go,” said Denny. “I wouldn’t have tried to tackle it without them.”

His next stop was at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, where Hensel said he found his strongest supporter in Economic Development Director John Hohn. “John was instrumental from the beginning,” said Denny. “He is our biggest cheerleader.” Hohn made the connection with the village of Ada and set things in motion to build the new facility in the town’s industrial park. It was important to Hensel to keep as much of the business for the building local, including financing it through Ag Credit.

In late summer, the first bags of Harvest Pride rolled off the production line with the entire Hensel family involved. “We are all playing a part,” said Denise. The colored corn is cooked for 14 hours in a vat filled with water and lime to get the skin off. It then goes through the washing system before it is ground into a pulp. “It looks something like cookie dough,” Denny said. The corn masa, as the pulp is called, goes through a sheeter, where two 10-inch rollers flatten it and a rotating die cuts the masa into chips. Harvest Pride can produce triangular or round chips, but at the present time is selling only the triangular style. The chips then go through an oven where they are baked at 600 degrees. After they cool on racks, the chips are fried, seasoned and bagged, ready to go to the customers.

But first, Dawn tags the Harvest Pride bags with an expiration date. The first place the tortilla chips were offered to the public was at the Mount Victory Plaza Inn in July, said Denise. The 302 Carryout in Ada followed and now, customers in Hardin, Hancock and Allen counties are buying the chips made at the Ada factory. Harvest Pride’s reputation has grown in a short time. Currently there are 14 stores selling the chips. “But that changes daily,” said Dawn.

The company is making its chips available to the Fresh Encounter stores, such as Community Markets and Chief, and the family is in discussion with Kroger. There are plans to expand the operation and new equipment is already being installed to make the tortilla chips faster and better. There also are plans to sell the white chips to area restaurants and the uncooked chips for Mexican restaurants to prepare on site. The business has grown to the point to where Denny has hired a distributor for his chips. The days of delivering the chips in their family vehicles may be numbered. The family is also working on a newly designed bag, which will be more durable and keep the product fresher longer. The bags will have the new Farm-to-Table logo on the side. The logo was designed for the Alliance especially to promote the Harvest Pride chips, said Denise.

Denny said he is happy with the success the company has seen in such a short time and often thinks back on the day in 1987 when he visited the Seyfert factory for the first time. “That was when the wheels started turning,” he said.

The public response to the blue corn, guacamole, ranch, nacho cheese and the new chili lime chips has been very positive.

Not only do customers ask for them and tell the family how much they enjoy them, but the proof is in the sales. The factory operates only when there is a need to make more chips. They make about 1,500 one-pound bags of chips in a day.

St. Rita’s Professional Services broke ground Monday on a new $1 million facility in Ada. Located across from the Ada school on Ohio 81, the new offices are expected to open in April.

St. Rita’s Professional Services broke ground Monday on a new $1 million facility in Ada. Located across from the Ada school on Ohio 81, the new offices are expected to open in April.

The 6,000-square-foot building will be the home of two medical providers, said Randy Buss, Outreach Marketing Manager for St. Rita’s, with enough room to expand to three providers if needed. The facility will offer general family medical services with x-ray and labs available.

Breaking the ground are Director of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance Jon Cross, Commissioner Brice Beaman, Ada Mayor David Retterer, Tara Miller of St. Rita’s, Developer Mark Jarvis, Ronda Lehman and Herb Schumm of St. Rita’s, Deb Curlis of the Ada Chamber of Commerce and Bob Bash, CEO of St. Rita’s Medical Center.

The Ada Community Improvement Corporation was presented with a check for $1,500 because of its participation in an economic development program.

The Ada Community Improvement Corporation was presented with a check for $1,500 because of its participation in an economic development program.

Jon Cross, president and CEO of business development, and John Hohn, director of economic development, both with the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, were present at Tuesday night’s village council meeting to present the check to village administrator Jim Meyer, who in turn will take the check with him to the Ada CIC.

The Alliance staff, officials from the Ada CIC, as well as the Forest CIC, participated in AEP Ohio’s 2015 Community Economic Development Academy, Cross said. The academy was a multi-phase program that included attending site selection workshops, preparing new marketing strategies and hosting national site selectors for tours of the county’s top industrial sites.

The $1,500 given to the Ada CIC, Cross said, is being shared from the grant money received by the Alliance and for participating in the academy. The original grant money was provided by AEP Ohio.“Community Improvement Corporations are very important to our county,” Cross said.

“They really help communities – the village of Ada and the village of Forest, we have one in the village of Mount Victory, I believe we’re having one in Dunkirk – it really helps with economic development and community development strategies, so it’s very important. There’s also legal things they can do that councils can’t do.”

The economic outlook for Hardin County has improved in recent months. International Paper has doubled the size of its cup-making facility in Kenton and created many jobs.

The economic outlook for Hardin County has improved in recent months. International Paper has doubled the size of its cup-making facility in Kenton and created many jobs. Sekisui has opened is plastics parts plant in Kenton with more jobs being available. Ada Technologies is adding to its payroll at the automotive parts maker.

The county’s unemployment rate is between four and five percent. But there are still people who need help finding employment, said Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

To meet the professional needs of the work force, the Alliance is partnering with Hardin County Job and Family Services, the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce and Ohio Means Jobs to sponsor a Job and Career Expo on Friday in Kenton.

Doors open at 9 a.m. in the community room at the Jacob Parrott Safety Center (sheriff’s office) on South Main Street, where 30 businesses will be on hand to interview prospective employees.

There is an eagerness to hire, said Cross, based on the positive response from the business community to plans for the expo. But he said it is more than just a job fair. The expo also can be a learning experience.

For many the process will begin the day before the interviews, said Director Barb Maxson of Job and Family Services. Her office will be open until 4:30 p.m. Thursday to help applicants with their resumes and coach them on how to improve their chances of securing a job. Job coaches will give advice to the workers on the hiring process, said Terry Hites-Suter of JFS. This service will be available to the general public, as well as veterans and those with jail or prison records.

The jobs offered will not be only factory jobs, said Cross. Employers from the medical, banking, government and other professions will be seeking employees. There are positions available for part-time and full-time employees on hourly rates or salaried positions, he said. There is no charge to employers or job seekers to attend the expo, said Cross.

The success of the expo at this stage is a testament to the cooperation between the sponsoring agencies and others in the county, said Cross.

The $70 million expansion of the Kenton International Paper plant was celebrated Monday with a ribbon-cutting and a ceremony. Cutting the ribbon is Kenton Plant Manager David Mulligan (center).

Company executives and politicians were on hand to open the expansion of International Paper’s Kenton facility Monday morning, but it was the 650 employees who were in the spotlight. The company announced 19 months ago it would double the size of its Kenton facility and create 125-plus jobs for the Kenton area. Monday’s ceremony celebrated that accomplishment.

Company officials cut the ribbon on the new 250,000 square-foot addition which represents a $70 million investment in the community. International Paper President and CEO Mark Sutton told the crowd in the new meeting room at the plant the disposable cup industry is expanding due to a change in the way Americans live. Grabbing a cup of coffee for the drive to work or getting a cold drink with a fast meal has become part of the U.S. culture, he said. “This product helps that business model,” said Sutton.  

IP produces fiber-based hot and cold cups, food buckets, containers, plates and lids for several fast-food restaurant companies. The increase in demand brought the IP executives to realize they needed to expand their production line and in searching for a location for that expansion, Kenton made its way to the top of the list, the company president said. It was the strong support and the “can-do” attitude that got the attention of the executives, said Sutton, but it was the success of the workers in the Kenton plant that sealed the deal. The workers in Kenton had already been the first IP plant to produce many of the items which had brought success to the company.  

“You made our decision for us,” said Sutton.  Any company can provide equipment to help make a project successful, he continued, but it takes quality people manning that equipment to make the difference in the product.
“To make this all work takes all of you,” he told the employees who filled most of the seats at the meeting.
Making the Kenton expansion a reality was made possible through the partnerships between the company and the county, city and state developers, said Sutton.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown was one of several political leaders who addressed the employees of International Paper at the opening of the expansion of the Kenton facility. The dedication of the workers was recognized as the main reason the company chose Kenton for the investment of $70 million in the plant. “I know Ohio workers can compete with anyone in the world,” said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. He vowed to continue to fight on the floor of the Senate for fair trade agreements to keep American competing on a level playing field.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta said the Kenton expansion was the result of everyone working together, but would not have been possible if not for the workers at IP and their reputation for quality. “The number one reason (the plant is here) is you,” he told the workers. “The reason people want to put businesses here is the work ethic of our people.  This wouldn’t have happened today without you.”He noted the location of the plant will not only benefit Kenton and Hardin County, but neighboring counties who will send workers to the renovated facility.

International Paper is relying on the history of the Kenton workers to prove their investment was a wise decision, said Sutton.“We are counting on that winning spirit in Kenton to make this a success,” he told the workers.

Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor and Sekisui Japan President Masato Kashiwabara cut the ribbon Wednesday morning in front of some of the mold presses at the new Seikisui Plastics plant off U.S. 68, just south of Kenton

Lt. Governor on hand to welcome Japanese plastics business to Hardin County

When the people of Japan say “good morning” to their friends, they use the word “ohio” and on Wednesday, Hardin County said “ohio” to their new friends from Japan.  A large crowd of guests from Hardin County, the state of Ohio, including Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, and from Japan met at the new Sekisui plant south of Kenton to commemorate the opening of the plastics parts manufacturer’s new American plant. When he greets his friends in Japan in the morning, said Sekisui Japan President Masoto Kashiwabara, he will think of the people in the company’s newest plant in Ohio.

The Sekisui company has been producing plastics products for 55 years with the company’s home located on Osaka, Japan. In 1964, said Kashiwabara, Sekisui opened a plant in Pennsylvania. While that plant failed to meet the company’s expectations and was closed, it was the first Japanese manufacturer to open a plant in the U.S. Soni was the second, the president said.

Under the guidance of then president Keizo Ono, Sekisui adopted a 100-year strategic plan for the company which included returning to the global market. In 2007, the company opened another American plant in Tennessee with positive results. The new facility was so successful in such a short amount of time, continued Kashiwabara, that it needed to build a second plant in the U.S. to meet the demands of its American customers.

Thomas Pontiff, President of U.S.A. Sekisui, as company executives attempted to locate the best location for such an expansion two years ago, they drew a circle around a map of northern Ohio, southern Michigan and northern Indiana. Kenton was within that range and a visit to Hardin County convinced the executives they had found the ideal location.“We were welcomed with a can-do attitude and open arms,” recalled Pontiff.

Economic Development Director John Hohn worked closely with the company executives, Jobs Ohio and other organizations to make the move into the plant owned by Steve McCullough become a reality. “John did a lot to make it possible for what is happening today,” said John Cross, President and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance. Addressing Hohn personally, he said, “You worked hard to make this a monumental success for the community and for your career.”

Kenton Mayor Randy Manns also congratulated Hohn on his work on securing the new business for the city in an atmosphere where “everyone worked together.” “You picked the right place and the right location,” said Manns. “I ask God to bless your company.”

The $5.2 million facility will begin operations next week with 50 employees, said Pontiff. It is the third Japanese-owned business to locate in the county. The nearby Durez plant is now owned by a Japanese company, as is Ada Technologies.

The Sekisui company met with state and local authorities at the plant Wednesday morning to thank them for their assistance in the process. Lt. Governor Taylor welcomed Sekisui Plastics to Ohio. She had been a part of the efforts which made it possible for the company to locate in Kenton, Taylor said.

The Japanese manufacturer was facing issues with regarding the use of boilers. The problem was a hurdle, but Taylor, through the Common Sense Initiative, was able to review the regulations which were outdated and offered the legislature changes needed to remove the obstacles. “Thank you for believing in Ohio and for believing in our people,” Taylor told the Sekisui leaders. “I think we will make you proud as you expand with opportunities in Ohio.”

Wednesday’s ceremony was a bit of a homecoming for one of the officials. Ono, who had been president of the company from 2004 to 2014 and now works as a consultant, shared with the large crowd he had first come to America as an engineer in 1987. He learned about the U.S. while employed at a business in Troy, Ohio. He was the first Japanese worker in the plant and was made to feel welcome by his co-workers and the residents of western Ohio, Ono said. “Things changed,” said Ono. “I could have easily called Ohio my home. Now I call Ohio my home away from home. I love Ohio and look forward to many future visits.”

In a collaboration designed to benefit women and the community, Hardin County hosted its first Women L.E.A.D. program on Wednesday evening at the Kenton Elementary School.

In a collaboration designed to benefit women and the community, Hardin County hosted its first Women L.E.A.D. program on Wednesday evening at the Kenton Elementary School.

About 85 professional women attended the event, the first of its kind in the county, to encourage them to build relationships and leadership skills. It is supported by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

It is the brainchild of Christina Cross and Jesse Purcell. Cross, an attorney, said since moving to Kenton from California a year ago she has missed not having a strong women’s organization. Purcell, while she knows people in neighboring counties through her role as community manager for the American Cancer Society, said she doesn’t know many professional women in her own county.

Chris Burns-DiBiasio, director of community relations at Ohio Northern University and a member of the Alliance board, told the women that by joining together “we hope to have a greater impact on the leadership landscape of Hardin County.”

Guest speaker for the inaugural program was Tracy Stuck, assistant vice president of Student Life at The Ohio State University. It was a homecoming of sorts for Stuck, whose first job was at ONU in the admissions office. She later become director of student activities and assistant director of the McIntosh Center. Stuck called it a “dream job” and she worked in admissions under former President Dr. DeBow Freed. “I never worked for someone with such high standards,” she said. At ONU she learned the value of being a “Jill of all trades.” In cold weather, she drove a university van around town to take students to ONU. “I got to do it all since I started in Hardin County,” Stuck said. Had she started at Ohio State, “I probably would have been pigeon-holed” in a job. She said in a small county, people know you and what you’re doing. “It’s harder to be a leader in Hardin County.”

However, Stuck told the women, “If you manage your brand well, people will see your strengths and seek you out.” One problem she has noticed is women don’t support women enough. “You have to understand the power of support and connectivity,” Stuck said. “I say there’s value in getting to know people.” Stuck said she learned many valuable lessons from Dr. E. Gordon Gee while he was president of OSU. One of those is about the random person.

She said Dr. Gee, who was known for engaging students on campus, once told her, “Tracy, there’s 50,000 people on this campus and I don’t want to see anyone twice,”

Stuck said, “It’s great to hang out with people you’ve never met before. You’ll learn a lot from them.” She encouraged the women to develop a personal leadership style. “Know who you are and be proud of it.” Stuck told them being a leader is stepping up when needed to solve problems. She knows that firsthand and is credited with galvanizing support for construction of the Ohio Union at OSU.

She advised the women to take on something outside their comfort zone and don’t be afraid to fail. “That’s how you grow,” she said. Stuck predicted, “You will gain great friends in this organization.”

The new organization Women L.E.A.D. was introduced to the community Monday at a press conference at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance office in Kenton.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance wants to assist professional women in the community through a new program unveiled Monday. Women L.E.A.D. was founded by co-chairmen Christina Cross, a local business attorney and educator and Jesse Purcell, Community Manager for the American Cancer Society. They hope to bring opportunities to women in the area to network, collaborate and meet other successful women through a series of events.

During a press conference in the Alliance conference room, Cross and Purcell said they had discussed the need for an organization in which women of all ages and experiences could encourage and support each other in a professional setting. They worked through the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance to create Women L.E.A.D. “Women Leading Women Forward.”

The L.E.A.D. stands for “Leadership through actions; Embracing and encouraging personal growth; Advancing career opportunities and Developing strategic relationships.” The new logo, designed by Ohio Northern University student Rebecca Carman, was presented during the conference.

The organization’s first public gathering will be its kick-off event on Sept. 30 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Stephen McCullough Conference Room at Hardin Memorial Hospital. The guest speaker will be Tracy Stuck, vice president of student life at The Ohio State University.

Any woman member of the Alliance is automatically a member of Women L.E.A.D. This concept is new to Hardin County, but is not a new idea, said Chris Burns-DiBiasio, director of community relations at ONU and member of the Alliance board. “The conditions and times were right (for this organization),” Burns-DiBiasio said. There are many talented women in Hardin County and many are in leadership roles within the community, she said. Women L.E.A.D will give those women an avenue to network resources, share experiences and broaden discussions which might never happen outside that environment. “This is a chance for women to connect and that is something that women do really well,” Burns-DiBiasio said. “This is an idea that is ripe for this time.”

Women L.E.A.D. can be used as an educational tool, added Stephanie Jolliff, ag teacher at Ridgemont High School. Many high school girls think there are no professional opportunities for them in Hardin County. This organization will open communications to encourage them in their chosen fields, she said. “This program could serve as an open door,” said Jolliff. “It can have a ripple effect for years to come.”

“Any woman can be a mentor to other women,” said Cross. “We want to reach out to women of all ages.”

New friendships and partnerships will be formed through the organization, she said. It is up to the leaders of Women L.E.A.D. to make sure those relationships take place.

“We want to help women become innovators and leaders of the community,” said Wendy Rodenberger of Hardin Memorial Hospital.

Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance Director Jon Cross noted there are already many women in business throughout Kenton and Hardin County. This new program is a way to assist them professionally.

Prior to the press conference, Cross announced, Women L.E.A.D. had been endorsed by Jenny Craig. The founder of Jenny Craig, Inc., issued a statement in support of the new organization. “As one who has promoted the advancement of women both in health and business my whole life, I applaud your efforts at bringing women together in support of each other,” wrote Craig. 

“Women are the hardest working people on the planet,” Cross said. “The diversity we need in Hardin County starts with a group like this. Hardin County would not be who we are today without women leaders of all ages.”

The county has received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a study of properties which pose threats to contaminate the water and soil of the sites.

The Hardin County commissioners are working with the Chamber and Business Alliance and the public in identifying brownfields in the county as part of a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Hardin County had applied for $400,000 twice before for the federal funding, before its third application was approved for half the requested amount.

The county has three years to create a list of brownfields and prioritize them for the project.

Brownfields, by definition, are properties which may pose a threat due to a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. The goal of the grant is to transform that property into a marketable site for development.

The owner of the property, said Donald Pinto, Senior Certified Professional with T&M Associates of Columbus, can not be the person who was responsible for the contaminant being on the site and must be willing to work with the county in the process. Once the priority list is completed by the commissioners, said Betsy Bowe, grants program manager with T&M, her company will begin the assessment process which takes an average of three months to complete.

Phase I involves an assessor visiting the property and determining what, if any, potential contamination could come from the location. This would include sampling the soil and ground water, said Bowe. Once that phase is completed, a cleanup plan is developed, she said. If the location can be developed into a workable business, continued Bowe, there are grants available through Jobs Ohio.

Should demolition be suggested, but no jobs created, there are other avenues for funding, she continued.

The advantage to an owner or potential owner of one of the properties is to have the two phases of assessment paid for through the grant, noted Bowe. Those studies can be a significant cost to the owner, she added.

While the brownfields program might appear to be only for large industrial sites, said Bowe, much smaller empty business should be considered for funding by the committee. Corner closed gas stations or empty dry cleaners should also be considered, she said.

Five sites were suggested for consideration to begin the process, but those are only suggestions, said Bowe.

They include the former Rockwell plant and the old toy factory in Kenton; the ice house and Mike’s Garage in Ada and Highway Oil, at the intersection of Ohio 309 and 235, just south of Ada. In fact, the abandoned gas station was discussed at length during the meeting. Bowe is a graduate of Ohio Northern University and was familiar with the eyesore which welcomes visitors from Ohio 309 to Ada. “That corner has a great potential to become a gateway to Ada,” said Bowe. “For something to happen at the site would be a great thing.”

The next step in the process is to create the priority list. The public is invited to make suggestions for the funding by calling the Alliance at 419-673-4131. That list will then be turned over to the commissioners for final approval.

“This could be a job creator or it may be something which results in a park,” said Director of Economic Development John Hohn after the meeting. “We can’t do anything without the owner. We would expect something to move forward.”

The list will be based on the proposed purpose of the property, said Commissioner Brice Beaman after the meeting. “This is not something to sit on, but something to react to,” said Beaman. “We will not be willing to help those not willing to help themselves. We have to see a willingness to become an equal partner.”


In the year since Jon Cross returned to Kenton to lead the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, he has encouraged officials to think about long-term plans for the community.

In the year since Jon Cross returned to Kenton to lead the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, he has encouraged officials to think about long-term plans for the community. He said a lot of good ideas have come to the table from Mayor Randy Manns and members of City Council, and now is the time to assess the city’s strategic priorities.

Cross, at Monday’s meeting of Kenton City Council, said the city needs to organize those ideas and create a 10-year Community Development Plan. He suggested they could be compiled in goals that can be accomplished in one to five years, more than five years and 10 years, with the cost growing as the length of the project increases. Projects that lead to new jobs would rank high on the list.

For instance, Cross said, one project could involve improving the infrastructure leading to the Hardin County Rail Logistics Center on U.S. 68 at the south edge of the city, identified recently by site selectors as a prime industrial location. Cross said this project could be accomplished in the next 10 years.

To accommodate more jobs, however, first the city would need to develop a labor pool, he said. Those new jobs would lead to improvements in the quality of life, Cross said.

Councilman Brian Hattery agreed with Cross about the importance of developing a labor force for the creation of new jobs. He said the city must make it a priority to secure more jobs and businesses to build Kenton’s tax base and provide more funds for projects. “Jobs are the only way for the city to grow and become healthier,” Hattery said.

In a meeting with Cross earlier on Monday, Mayor Randy Manns outlined five goals he would like to see accomplished:

• Development of a city trash services plan;
• Improvement of city parks;
• Improvement of the Scioto River bridge corridor;
• Develop a north/south through traffic realignment; and
• Improve the city’s sidewalks.

Manns said he would like to meet with council “to see if our goals mesh” and to develop a game plan to move forward.

Council President Joel Althauser agrees. He said the city’s strategic planning is at a point “where we need to start putting it all together.” Althauser said it is important that the city get priorities down on paper, prioritize them and move forward.

A meeting will be held to discuss such a plan. Althauser said he will poll members about options for a meeting date which will be announced later.

Kenton City Council approved the first reading of legislation Monday night that it hopes will position the city for job growth.

Kenton City Council approved the first reading of legislation Monday night that it hopes will position the city for job growth. It would establish a Job Creation Incentive Program available to existing businesses that expand their number of employees, as well as new businesses bringing new jobs to Kenton. The program offers a tax credit by way of redirecting a portion of the local income tax back to businesses that create jobs.

Proposed guidelines are: 10-25 jobs, 25 percent tax credit for three years; 26-50 jobs, 35 percent tax credit for five years; 51-99 jobs, 45 percent tax credit for seven years; and more than 100 jobs, the tax credit would be negotiable and run for 10 years.

The legislation makes it the responsibility of the employer to provide information to obtain the tax credit in the following calendar year. Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, said the program would create an incentive for job development that neighboring counties may not have. Plus, it would direct development inside the city limits.


Two grants obtained this spring by Kenton City Schools will help the district meet new state requirements for career advising and creating student success plans.

Two grants obtained this spring by Kenton City Schools will help the district meet new state requirements for career advising and creating student success plans. Superintendent Jennifer Penczarski said the goal of the policies “is to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge, skills, work habits and aspirations to succeed in the future workforce.”

A total of $128,000 for one year was awarded through the Community Connector Grant, which will serve students in grades 5-12. She said the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, Quest Federal Credit Union, Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, Hardin County Ministerial Association, Ensign Associates and the Kenton City Schools co-created the Kenton Professional Mentoring and Leadership Initiative. This partnership connects student interests and learning with 21st century careers, Penczarski said. “Research shows that when youth are connected to caring adults who help them building character, resiliency and goal setting/problem solving skills, they have a much greater likelihood to reach their fullest potential,” she said.

Kenton Elementary (grades 5-6) will embed career awareness and informal mentoring during and after school for all students as well as create a new after-school program for at-risk students which brings a child’s student success plan to life through formal mentoring, academic supports and social emotional skill building.

Kenton Middle School (grades 7-8) will expand job shadowing and career exploration curriculum so every eighth grader leaves with a five-year academic/career plan. Penczarski noted the district has added a course at KMS that every student will take focused on careers and STEM (science, technology, engineering and manufacturing). She noted that in “STEM” the “M” typically refers to math, but KCS changed it to manufacturing since math is embedded in all areas.

A new peer mediation (grades 5-8) program will build the program solving, character, communication and resiliency skills.

For Kenton High School students in grades 9-12, the district has renovated the former Northwood building to house three new STEM career tech satellite programs — Advanced Manufacturing, Allied Health and Nursing, and IT Help Desk. In addition, KHS is offering IT programming. Penczarski said these programs will help meet local workforce needs. Plus, high school students will have an opportunity to participate in hands-on internships/capstone projects.

“Partners will design new leadership training, service learning opportunities, commissions and boards so high school youth develop character, leadership and 21st century skills for workplace success,” she said.

The ministerial association and other partners will recruit informal mentors to act as role models for youth in grades 5-12. They also will create after-school programs for at-risk students.

Penczarski said the 21st Century Grant ($600,000 over three years) will support all the work of the Community Connectors Grant but focus on students in grades K-6. Club Roar will be established for students and they will be encouraged to participate in programming at least three times per week. Students can be involved in the program before or after school. Transportation will be provided for students who live in Kenton.

Penczarski said 232 KCS students in grades K-6 have been identified as below proficient and not supported enough at home. “They are not on the same playing field,” she said. Every week these identified students will receive 30-45 minutes of personalized instruction/support in reading and/or math. They will also receive homework help, small group interventions and tutoring, interactive literacy and STEM building projects, and a volunteer mentor to support them.

Programs in Club Roar will be designed to build character and leadership skills, physical, mental, behavioral and social emotional resiliency, health and wellness, career awareness through STEM clubs and projects, and core values/volunteering. “Accomplishing the goals of both grants will require a strong collaborative partnership across all community sectors,” Penczarski said.

Information on how to support the work of the Kenton Professional Mentoring and Leadership Initiative will be released in the few weeks.

AEP Ohio awarded a Rate Stabilization Program, Retention and Expansion Grant to International Paper that helped secure a 250,000 square foot expansion of the Kenton plant, doubling its manufacturing space

AEP Ohio awarded a Rate Stabilization Program, Retention and Expansion Grant to International Paper that helped secure a 250,000 square foot expansion of the Kenton plant, doubling its manufacturing space.

The facility is part of International Paper’s Foodservice business, which manufactures fiber-based hot and cold cups, food buckets and containers, plates and lids for the foodservice industry. The expansion is expected to create 125 new jobs and retain 532 jobs at the Kenton plant.

The AEP Ohio Economic Development Rate Stabilization Plan grant program provides financial assistance to new and existing industries for expansion projects that create new jobs, retain existing jobs and generate new investment within the AEP Ohio service territory. Funds are designated to assist with the cost of utility infrastructure and are based on criteria, including: jobs, investment, demonstration of need, and assistance from additional funding sources. “AEP Ohio is proud to be a strong partner to the communities that we serve,” said Tim Wells, manager, Economic and Business Development. “By working with businesses and chambers in our local communities to attract new jobs and maintain existing jobs, we are able to help our communities flourish. International Paper is a cornerstone of the business community in Hardin County whose continued investment in the community highlights the competitive characteristics of Kenton, Hardin County and the State of Ohio.”

“International Paper is expanding to support the organic growth of our customers and the increased demand in the marketplace for our products,” said Tracy Pearson, vice president and general manager, IP Foodservice. “We are pleased to work with AEP Ohio so that we can continue to expand and offer more jobs to the people of Kenton and surrounding areas.”


After nearly three decades of watching others turn his corn into tortillas and tortilla chips, Hardin County farmer Denny Hensel is doing it himself, in Ada.

After nearly three decades of watching others turn his corn into tortillas and tortilla chips, Hardin County farmer Denny Hensel is doing it himself, in Ada.

His Harvest Pride Tortilla Chips were featured in the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance’s annual Member Appreciation Day luncheon on Friday, at the chamber’s headquarters in Kenton. Chamber officials used the occasion to announce a new Farm-to-Table marketing initiative that they hope will spawn similar agribusiness efforts here.

“Harvest Pride is our marketing case study,” said HCCBA president and CEO Jon Cross. The chips — crisp and crunchy, in Ranch, Guacamole and Nacho Cheese flavors — were 28 years in the making. Hensel, who has farmed all his life and currently farms 900 acres, said he first thought of going into the chip business when he sold his first bushel of corn to snack food giant Seyfert's Foods in 1987.

“Joe Seyfert took me through the plant, showed me the process,” he said.  Through that, and other encounters with manufacturers, Hensel said he was “listening, looking, reading,” and brain storming on how he could do it, too. He said he has spent “millions and millions of dollars” building a manufacturing plant on East Montford, in Ada’s industrial park. He’s relied on his daughters, their husbands and his grandchildren for support. “There are three generations working out there,” he said of his tortilla plant.

The plant has two production lines, one fresh corn tortillas, the other for the fried tortilla chips that will be bagged and sold in stores. He also has the ability to make un-fried tortilla chips for Mexican restaurants, to fry and serve hot on demand for their customers.

The next step is to get his tortilla chips into the mouths of local eaters through area grocery stories, restaurants, even schools. That’s where the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance hopes to help though its new Farm-to-Table initiative.

“We’re trying to encourage farmers and growers to be entrepreneurs, to start a business like Denny Hensel did,” said CEO Cross.  “It’s no different than trying to recruit light and heavy manufacturing.  It’s local food for local consumers."

To build awareness and buzz around local ag products, the Chamber had Hardin County resident and Ohio Northern University grad Wesley Goldsmith design a logo. The image is a fusion of a barn and silo with a plate and fork, under which is the phrase, “Eat Fresh. Eat Local. Hardin County.” It will be featured at the upcoming Hardin County Fair. Cross said he hopes to see it at area restaurants and on locally-produced products like Harvest Pride. “There are a lot of people who want to have access to fresh food, and they really support the ‘buy local’ concept,” said Cross.

Cross and Hensel said they’ve reached out to local grocery store chains, including Community Market. Hensel said local Mexican restaurants have shown interest.  He said he expects to be in full production by the fall.

“I farm for a living, I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire,” he said.  “This has taken longer to get going than I had appreciated."

Denny Hensel, owner of Hardin County’s newest agribusiness, Harvest Pride Tortilla and Chips of Ada, was among the speakers Friday afternoon at the unveiling of the farm-to-table logo and marketing campaign at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance unveiled a new farm-to-table logo and marketing campaign to promote new agribusiness opportunities in Hardin County, as local farmers and growers are producing locally grown food for consumers.

“Eat Fresh, Eat Local Hardin County” is the motto of the campaign.

The announcement was linked with the Alliance Membership Appreciation Day Luncheon, where members were treated to a barbecue lunch prepared by Chef David Wagner of the Plaza Inn Family Restaurant. The luncheon was a farm-to-table event in itself, as Hardin County’s newest agribusiness, Harvest Pride Tortilla and Chips of Ada, provided samples of their new chips as part of the menu. Alliance members also had the chance to purchase bags of chips as a special preview sale.

“We are excited to develop a marketing initiative to spotlight the agribusiness efforts and opportunities of our local farmers and growers who are growing fresh produce for consumers,” said Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Alliance.

“A key element to farm-to-table is being able to get the locally grown produce into our local restaurants, schools, grocery stores, etc.,” said Mark Badertscher, agriculture educator with Hardin County’s OSU Extension. “It’s great to have the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance work with our agricultural industry in building some collaboration between our farmers and growers and the potential buyers of these products.”

Wesley Goldsmith, a Hardin County resident and Ohio Northern University graduate, designed the new farm-to-table logo. He has designed many new logos for the Alliance, including the new county motto, Hardin County Ambassadors, Buy Local First Hardin County and the Kenton Historic Courthouse District logos. The farm-to-table logo also will be featured at the upcoming Hardin County Fair.


The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance presented it's first 2015 mid year report.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance presented it's first 2015 mid year report.

Alliance President and CEO Jon Cross said the report was presented by conference call for Alliance members and investors, "Where we had a great opportunity to talk about a lot of positive economic development activity in northwest Ohio and also what's happening in Hardin County with regards to development from industrial development to restaurant to retail. There's a lot of exciting things happening, and we're working to try to get some of those to come to fruition."

He said positive positive things happening within the Alliance were discussed, "We're seeing a tremendous growth of membership, welcoming over 50 new members this year. We're providing a lot of great member services, programs and events, and we're looking at trying to get more people engaged in the community through networking, lunch and learn programs, talking about SBA loans, business after hours, getting our community business leaders to have a chance to connect, so a lot of good things taking place."

He also said industrial growth in Hardin County was also talked about, "International Paper's expansion of the 125 new jobs was one of the top six major companies making an announcement in the northwest Ohio market. The top 5 had anywhere from 150 to 200 new jobs, and this 125 job creation for Hardin County is a major capital investment by the company, but also a major economic boost."

And he adds that's not all of the positive things happening in industry in Hardin County, "Sekisui Plastics USA is hiring for new employees, and that will be a potential of up to 50 new jobs for this market, so there's a lot of great employment activity taking place with all of our businesses, and we're excited the economic development activity in Hardin County."

Despite the dreary conditions the people turned out in droves for the first Columbus Food Truck Fest and Chairs of Hope Auction on Friday night in downtown Kenton.

Despite the dreary conditions the people turned out in droves for the first Columbus Food Truck Fest and Chairs of Hope Auction on Friday night in downtown Kenton. Dealing with a light drizzle most of the time – though forecasts called for worse – area residents came prepared with their umbrellas and appetites.

There were long lines of people for a good portion of the evening waiting to be served at The Paddy Wagon, Pitabilities, Schmidt’s Sausage Truck, Phillybuster, Sticky Fingers and Cold Stone Creamery which were parked along Columbus Street on the north side of the courthouse.

“It was unbelievable,” said Jacqualine Fitzgerald, director of Downtown Development with the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance. “The community really came out.”  “I’m pleased,” she added. Fitzgerald said the food truck operators were just as happy. “They want to came back,” she said. “But they all told us, ‘You’ve got to have more food trucks.

’”Classic cars lined both sides of a block of Main Street, while vintage motorcycles were on display as well. Fitzgerald noted plans for 3-D chalk artists were scrapped because of the weather, but they want another opportunity to draw their creations in Kenton. “Yes, we will try this again,” she said.

Equally as pleased was Marcia Retterer, founder of the cancer patient support group Not By Choice Outreach in Kenton. It used the event to conduct a fundraiser.Its Chairs of Hope auction – sales of 12 adult and 2 children’s Adirondack chairs – brought in $12,550, she said. Retterer said the people really came out to support the organization. “We can help a lot of people with that,” she added.

“Eats on the Street,” which will run from 5 to 10 p.m., will feature six food trucks from Columbus serving a variety of food available in the capital city.

Columbus food trucks featured at ‘Eats on the Street’

An auction to help a local organization raise funds has mushroomed into a big community event in downtown Kenton on Friday night.

“Eats on the Street,” which will run from 5 to 10 p.m., will feature six food trucks from Columbus serving a variety of food available in the capital city. At the same time there will be a vintage motorcycle and classic car show, along with performances by two music groups and other activities.

Jacqualine Fitzgerald, director of Downtown Development with the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, said it was a meeting with Marcia Retterer, founder of the cancer support group Not By Choice Outreach in Kenton, that led to the food fest. Retterer wanted to have an auction of Adirondack chairs as a fundraiser for the organization.

Fitzgerald said she wondered, “How can we get her a bigger audience?” She decided they needed some sort of food to get people downtown.

The first person Fitzgerald thought of is former Kenton resident Taylor (Roof) Klinger, who lives in Columbus with her husband, Josh. They have a Cold Stone Creamery food truck and agreed to drive it to Kenton to be part of the event.

Fitzgerald, talking to others at the Alliance, said, “We haven’t had a community event in a long time. What if we make this really big and draw a big crowd downtown?” She said they decided they should invite more food trucks.

Their first call to a food truck operator happened to be the president of the Columbus Food Truck Association.

He said he could get more food trucks to drive to Kenton and “Eats on the Street” was born.

Fitzgerald called Retterer and told her, “Marsha, I think we can get you a bigger venue. It’s all falling into place.” Lined up to be in Kenton on Friday night, in addition to Cold Stone Creamery, are The Paddy Wagon, Pitabilities, Schmidt’s Sausage Truck, Phillybuster and Sticky Fingers. “It’s such a hot thing,” Fitzgerald said of the food trucks, “and no one in the surrounding counties is doing this. It’s nice to be on the cutting edge of things.”The trucks will be lined up on Columbus Street between Detroit and Main. In addition, there will be a beer tent with live music.

Although there will be some benches borrowed from the fair board, Fitzgerald encourages people to bring a lawn chair.

Groups performing on the north side of the courthouse are Whitaker Brothers from 5 to 6:45 p.m., followed by Zoo Trippin’ at 7:30 p.m.

The original reason for the event, auction of the Adirondack chairs to benefit NBC Outreach, will begin at 7 p.m. on the courthouse lawn. Fitzgerald said the minimum bid for a chair will be $125. There will be two children’s chairs and 12 adult models – including one each painted in the colors of the six schools in the county.

Another attraction is a vintage motorcycle and classic car show. For the car show, the vehicles will be parked along Main Street, with the entrance off Franklin Street. The motorcycles will be displayed on Columbus Street across from US Bank. There is no pre-registration. Owners can call the Alliance (419-673-4131) or just show up to get registered.

Trophies and cash prizes will be awarded at 8 p.m.

Two 3-D chalk artists will create their artwork on the sidewalk on the east side of the courthouse. There will be face painting and local resident Bob Halsey as Tater the Clown making balloon creations.

Specially created T-shirts featuring a picture of the 1911 Kenton Motorcycle Club will be available for $15.

They will be sold from a tent at Columbus and Main. Fitzgerald she encourages everyone to come to downtown Kenton for “great food, great music and to raise money for Not By Choice.”

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance’s Development Team met with International Paper corporate executives and local management Wednesday to tour the new 250,000-square-foot expansion of the Kenton plant

International Paper is nearing completion on the 250,000 square foot expansion at its Kenton manufacturing facility. As final construction continues and new equipment installation begins, International Paper officials credit community organizations for being advocates behind growth for the company and 125 jobs that will be created in the Kenton community.

Representatives from the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance (HCCBA) and JobsOhio visited the facility Wednesday for an update and tour of the project progress. “This is an exciting time for our Foodservice business and for Kenton. We have reached a critical milestone in this process – the walls are up and we are gearing up for our full move-in,” said Tracy Pearson, vice president and general manager, Foodservice. “We know our strong history in Kenton would not be possible without the support of Hardin County, city of Kenton and state leadership along with organizations such as HCCBA, the Regional Growth Partnership and JobsOhio. We truly appreciate the contribution that each of these organizations have provided to making this vision a reality.”

In early 2014, International Paper announced the expansion of its Kenton facility, which manufactures fiber-based hot and cold cups, food buckets, containers, plates and lids for many popular quick-service restaurant brands. The expansion reflects industry trends showing solid growth fueled by consumer demand for convenient, on-the-go food and beverage containers as part of their daily routines, according to a release from the company.

Kenton was selected based on access to a skilled workforce, its multi-mode transportation capabilities and easy distribution access to the Midwest, East Coast and Southern markets.

“As we envision the future of Kenton and the surrounding areas, we know that business, education and workforce work hand in hand,” said Jon Cross, president and CEO, HCCBA. “Our partnership with International Paper is a prime example of the collaboration it takes to drive and sustain growth in our community.”

“International Paper is a premier supplier in its industry, and their focus on process efficiency and product innovation are key drivers of the company’s growth and expansion,” said Glenn Richardson, managing director, JobsOhio. “Along with the Regional Growth Partnership, we are excited this state-of-the-art expansion is in Kenton and will bring 125 more manufacturing jobs to the area.”

The company said the facility has passed initial inspections and has begun partial occupancy of the new building.

Completion of the expansion is anticipated in late summer. More information about starting operations and grand opening activities will be released in the coming months.

Forest Mayor Tom Seem is joined by Forest CIC member Karen Moore and Hardin County Director of Downtown Development Jacqualine Fitzgerald as they stand with one of the nine planters recently placed in the business district of the village.

Forest Mayor Tom Seem is joined by Forest CIC member Karen Moore and Hardin County Director of Downtown Development Jacqualine Fitzgerald as they stand with one of the nine planters recently placed in the business district of the village.

The flowers are part of the village’s Main Street Beautification Campaign. The purchases were made possible through donations from businesses and residents.

R.E. Allen holds the key to the city of Kenton, one of the many honors the former Kenton businessman was presented during a reception Monday evening at Kenton High School.

R.E. Allen made just 97 cents in his first year as a salesman and his wife wouldn’t let him quit.

A few businesses later, his perseverance paid off when he created Imperial Cup (now International Paper) in Kenton, which became the world’s largest producer of vending cups. When he sold the business in 1989 to Federal Paper Board for $100 million, he shared some of that with his employees, most of whom received $25,000 payments.

He then donated $1 million to create the R.E. and Joan Allen Scholarship Foundation to benefit Kenton High School graduates and those of his former cup company employees.

For all of his accomplishments, Allen was named the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance. The award was presented at an annual reception for Allen on Monday night at Kenton High School, during which he met with past scholarship recipients.

Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Alliance, said the award saluted Allen’s “entrepreneurial spirit” and the “generational impact” Imperial Cup had on the growth and success of the Kenton community. The award also recognized Allen’s financial commitment to students through his scholarship fund. “I don’t think we can thank you enough for all you’ve done,” Cross said.

He noted the award now will be named the Richard E. Allen Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

Allen also received proclamations from Kenton Mayor Randy Manns and the Hardin County commissioners, as well as a key to the city from Manns.

Allen expressed appreciation for the awards, but also joked about his longevity: “Just go to work every day and 95 years later you wind up being 95.” His success in the wholesale candy business – which started by selling candy from the removed back seat of a 10-year-old Buick – led him into the vending machine business. Problems with cups used in the vending business motivated Allen to get his own cup-making machine. He sold the excess cups to other vendors, which led to more machines and the creation of Imperial Cup. “It just turned into a real business,” he said. Allen said his cups were a hit because “we handled them like eggs.”

The Allen scholarship foundation has been just as successful. Awards being presented this year to graduates, as well as renewals, will total $64,000. That means the foundation will have awarded more than $2.3 million in scholarships, said Edison Klingler, a member of the foundation’s board.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance will be welcoming a representative of a national site selection firm in the upcoming days.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance will be welcoming a representative of a national site selection firm in the upcoming days.

Site selection firms typically come into communities unannounced to scout prospective development sites. But Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Alliance, told Kenton City Council Monday night that the site selector’s visit is being arranged through American Electric Power and this will be a learning opportunity for local officials. “We’re going to learn what we have and how we can improve things,” Cross said. He said site selectors “are basically site eliminators.” A community has to hit on 90 percent of a list of factors to be considered by a potential developer.

Cross said the site selector will view development-ready sites in Kenton and Ada, with discussions about Forest as well. He said 85 percent of industrial development deals start with having an existing building – something the county lacks. “We have zero modern industrial buildings ready,” Cross said.

He said the county needs to find investors and developers willing to construct a building of 100,000 square feet with 28 feet clear height, with land available to expand. While being “vertically challenged,” Cross said on the positive side that 90 percent of all real estate deals for new developments happen in rural America.

Cross, who was delivering an overdue quarterly update to council, also reported on working with Kenton City Schools

on the marketing of the district’s former Hardin Central and Espy sites. “We will talk to the school board about how to move forward,” he said. “Clearly we are trying to encourage the right type of development for the sites.”

Cross said the goal is to do what’s best for the school district and the city. He said Alliance officials have been talking to commercial brokers about the sites. “We believe they are the best sites for development in Kenton, in addition to Morningside Drive,” Cross said.

He also briefed council on the “Eats on the Street” event set for Friday, June 26 from 5 to 10 p.m. on Kenton’s downtown square. Six food trucks from Columbus will feature their offerings. There also will be a vintage motorcycles and classic cars show, a beer tent and live music. Cross said he is hoping the event will draw people to Kenton from throughout the area.

The Kenton Historic Courthouse District Committee unveiled its new logo Tuesday morning and announced the first Eats on the Street event in June.

There will be a new event this summer in the Historic Courthouse District of Kenton and a new logo to welcome it. The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance announced “Eats on the Street,” a night of food, music and fun around the square.

Alliance President Jon Cross said it is hoped the one-day event will become an annual tradition for downtown Kenton. “Each year we hope to see it grow,” said Cross.

Slated for Friday, June 26 from 5 to 10 p.m., Eats on the Street will feature vintage motorcycles and classic cars. It also will give guests the chance to experience a variety of tasty creations from Columbus food trucks. Those offering their specialties are expected to include The Paddy Wagon, Cold Stone Creamery, Pitabliities, Schmidt’s Sausage Truck, Phillybuster and Sticky Fingers.

A beer tent will be located near the food trucks with draft and craft brew offered to guests.

In addition to the taste treats, there will be live music and an auction of adirondack chairs. The money raised from the auction will be donated to Not By Choice. Marsha Retterer, founder of Not By Choice, said the chairs will be painted by artists from Kudostudios. Six of the Chairs of Hope, she said, will feature the colors and mascots of the six county school districts. Another six will also be available. The chairs are to be located around the square in the weeks leading up to the auction.

There will be activities for the children attending Eats on the Street, said Community Development Director Jacqualine Fitzgerald. A 3-D sidewalk artist will decorate the concrete around the square. A face-painting artist from the Columbus Zoo will transform children into wild animals and a balloon artist will offer children his creations.

Entrance to the activities is free. Main Street between Franklin and Carrol streets will be closed for the event, as will Columbus Street between Detroit and Main.

“This is not specifically a Kenton event,” said Cross. “We hope that everyone in the county and surrounding counties will enjoy the great things happening at this event.”

The Alliance also unveiled its new logo for the Kenton Historic Courthouse District. The blue circular design is the creation of Ohio Northern graduate Wesley Goldsmith.

Teresa Styer, a Kenton councilwoman and member of the Downtown Revitalization Committee, also announced a day set aside to spruce up the downtown area. Planned for May 16, volunteers will mulch, cut weeds, hang flower baskets and clean windows to improve the appearance of the city’s downtown.

More information on volunteering for the cleanup or sponsoring Eats on the Street is available by calling the Alliance at 419-673-4131.

People who have served Hardin County for years and others who are just beginning to make an impact were recognized for their accomplishments Thursday night at the annual meeting of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

People who have served Hardin County for years and others who are just beginning to make an impact were recognized for their accomplishments Thursday night at the annual meeting of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

Long-time Kenton resident Margaret Carmean was named 2014 Citizen of the Year in honor of her long teaching career and volunteer activities, while Quest Federal Credit Union, which traces its roots to 1969, was named Business of the Year.

In a nod to the younger generation, Community Service Awards were presented to Maddi Kugel, an 11-year-old who spearheaded efforts to develop a dog park in Kenton; and Wesley Lowery, a young man who raised funds to rehabilitate the old tornado siren in Alger.

More than 200 people attended the event, held in the McIntosh Center ballroom at Ohio Northern University in Ada.

Citizen of the Year

Margaret Carmean, a 1950 graduate of Kent State University, moved to Hardin County in 1952 to become a physical education and health teacher with Kenton City Schools. A couple years after moving here she married county native Nelson Carmean and they had two children, Fred and Lisa. During her 30-year teaching career, Carmean also coached a variety of high school girls sports teams and clubs, including Kenton’s first volleyball team. She was a pioneer and advocate for young female athletes during the 1970s when high school athletics were going through many changes. Following her retirement, she was a mentor in the elementary school reading program.

“She has truly touched the lives of thousands of Hardin County students,” said Annetta Shirk, director of Chamber and Tourism, who presented the award. Carmean also was recognized for her countless volunteer hours, including being an active member of the Hardin County Ambassadors and serving as a greeter at Ohio Northern University’s Freed Center. She has served on boards for Hardin County Hospice, Hardin County Historical Society, Sullivan-Johnson Museum and First United Methodist Church. She has volunteered at Hardin Memorial Hospital, was involved with the Hardin County Sesquicentennial Bicycle Tour and Gene Autry Days, while also promoting many local organizations. Shirk said one of the nominations said Carmean “continues to do the right thing and contribute to her community/county because of her character, not because anybody is looking, and Hardin County is a better place because of her contributions.” “Obviously I feel very humbled,” Carmean told the crowd. “When I came to Hardin County and Kenton in the early 1950s I only planned to stay a couple of years and I stayed here 63. It’s a wonderful place to live and work. Thank you very much for this honor.”

Business of the Year

To be considered for the Business of the Year Award, Shirk said “a business or industry should give back to the community, support local business, and create or encourage job growth.” She said Quest Federal Credit Union has more than exceeded each of those categories. Started in 1969 as the Kenton Rockwell Standard Federal Credit Union, the business as Quest has grown to $87 million in assets with four locations and serves members in the Kenton, Ada and Bellefontaine areas. Giving back to the community is a goal of Quest. It has invested many volunteer hours and monetary donations to many projects including Home Run Memorial Park, Hardin County YMCA Soccer Complex, Hardin Memorial Hospital, downtown revitalization and the Kenton Armory restoration project.

Quest actively participates and contributes to the United Way of Hardin County and the Hardin County Junior Fair livestock auction, has established a scholarship program for high school seniors and provides financial literacy programs in area schools. The company also encourages its employees to actively participate in their schools, churches and organizations. Matt Jennings, Quest president and CEO, thanked the Alliance “for bestowing on us this great honor.” He noted it was a grassroots effort to start the original credit union, with board members handing out membership cards at Rockwell. “Our growth is a testament that we are doing the right things,” Jennings said.
Board President Dick Wilcox added, “I’d like to thank our board, our employees and our nearly 13,000 members who patronize the credit union.”

Community Service Awards

Maddi Kugel said it was getting her dog, Lombardi, that led her to wanting a dog park. She said she wanted to have a party and there was no place to take Lombardi. That motivated Maddi, with the encouragement of her grandma, Patti Risner, a member of Kenton City Council, to promote the need for a dog park in the city. She presented her idea to the council and the Parks and Recreation Board, then began researching types of dog parks and how to pay for one. Based on space needs, it was decided Wharton Park on the city’s southwest side was the best location. Many local and corporate volunteers started to assist her by donating money and time. “I never thought we would be able to raise the money and be operating in seven months,” said Maddi, who appropriately named it the “Bark Park.”She developed two sections of the dog park – one for smaller dogs and the other for larger ones. She has spent many hours volunteering at the park and has written a grant for benches, trash receptacles and landscaping. “I thank God and everyone who believed in the park,” said Maddi, now a fifth-grader at Kenton Elementary School. “Thank you for this award for me and Lombardi.”

Wesley Lowery remembers watching television coverage of deadly tornadoes that struck Oklahoma a couple years ago and that prompted him to question why the Village of Alger did not have a tornado siren. He was told they have one but it needed repairs. Wesley decided to approach the village council to ask if they would repair the siren if he helped to raise the money. The council agreed. A student at Upper Scioto Valley High School, Wesley starting making pet caskets with his grandfather, with all the proceeds going toward the siren project. He also asked the community for donations, plus helped with a benefit supper and raffle. The cost of the siren repairs was $3,000 and Wesley was responsible for raising more than $1,300. The siren is being repaired and Alger plans to have it in operation by May. One of the nominations for Wesley said, “If Wesley had not taken this project on it would have never happened – he is a determined young man.” “I am very happy to accept this award tonight,” Wesley said. “We need the tornado siren so bad.” He said when the siren was taken down it was rusted, but still worked. Now, he said, “It got painted red and it’s got my name on it.”

Coming off what may be the best year for economic development in the county’s history, leaders of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance hope to continue to capitalize on that momentum with a new five-year strategic plan.

Coming off what may be the best year for economic development in the county’s history, leaders of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance hope to continue to capitalize on that momentum with a new five-year strategic plan.

That plan will be highlighted during the organization’s annual meeting, set for Thursday evening in the McIntosh Center ballroom on the campus of Ohio Northern University in Ada. A reception will begin at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m.

The 2014 Citizen of the Year, Business of the Year and Community Service Awards will be presented. A keynote speech will be delivered by Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.

During a pre-annual meeting interview with President and CEO Jon Cross, Director of Economic Development John Hohn and Board Chairman Tim Street, they discussed the county’s recent success and goals for the future. During 2014, the county saw its unemployment rate fall to 3.9 percent – the lowest level in several years. Plus, more than $150 million in new construction projects were started or completed during the year, headlined by International Paper’s move to double the size of its manufacturing facility in Kenton. Add to that the announcement by Sekisui Plastics USA that it will locate a new manufacturing facility in Kenton. Also, construction of the Kenton Elementary School was completed and a new K-12 building for Ridgemont Schools will open in the fall.

To continue that growth, the new strategic plan features six core goals:

• Foster economic vitality: Position for new growth, jobs and investment opportunities.
• Revitalize our communities: Improve countywide image and appearance and enhance the quality of life.
• Invest in people: Develop, cultivate and recruit workforce talent and entrepreneurial opportunities.
• Promote agricultural connectivity: Advancing agricultural innovation with agribusiness opportunities.
• Build community collaboration: Foster public-private partnerships with community stakeholders.
• Strengthen the Alliance: Remain a professional and resourceful member-driven organization.

“We’ve already hit the ground running,” said President and CEO Jon Cross. During a series of meetings with governmental and business leaders and owners, he said they all have the same focus of creating more jobs in the county.

Hohn said business retention and expansion has been and continues to be a priority of the Alliance. “I’ve probably spent 80 percent of my time to keep what we have,” he said. After some eight years on the job, Hohn said in landing Sekisui Plastics, “We finally caught the big fish.” He said it was a matter of having a willing land owner, the facility and space available, and marketing it to the fullest extent.

“It took us seven years,” Street said, noting economic development “is a marathon, not a sprint.”

But that was the last available building. While there’s plenty of land to develop, to continue industrial growth Cross said the county needs more buildings. During the next 24 months he will be meeting with developers and contractors to get more buildings. “We have to have something to sell,” he said. As part of that selling process, Cross said the Alliance has divided the county into two sections. It will market the City of Kenton and its industrial park, as well as what they are calling the U.S. 30 industrial corridor – which will focus on opportunities in Ada, Dunkirk and Forest. “We don’t care where they land, we just want them in Hardin County,” Cross said.

Another concern is while low unemployment is good, the county has to make sure it has the workforce available for new business. By 2025, Cross said, 50 percent of the employees in Hardin County and northwest Ohio are going to retire. “Today’s students need to fill a major void,” he said.

To help develop a future workforce, the Alliance has received a Community Connector grant. It is designed to start reaching students in the fifth and sixth grades to let them know about businesses in the county, and continue in grades seven and eight with job shadowing.

For students in grades 9-12, projects such as the new career center planned at the former Northwood School in Kenton will help them develop skills needed by local employers. But Hohn said for non-collegiate students, area businesses want workers who are on time, drug-free and have basic math skills. “They can take someone and mold them into the employee they need,” he said. “They need to train workers using the latest technology used in their plant.”

Cross said the key is retaining young people to work in these jobs. He said through such things as a Junior Ambassadors program, they can learn that Hardin County is a great place to live, grow and prosper.

“Many of our students don’t know what’s out there. They have an opportunity for good wages and good benefits in Hardin County,” Hohn said.

Cross said the county also needs other students to learn a trade and want to start their own businesses. “We need to teach students and challenge them to be an employer and not an employee,” he said.

The Alliance has evolved along with the growth of the county. Street noted that in Cross it finally has one person in place to run the organization. Plus, the board made the decision to keep Hohn in his position through the end of this year, when he plans to retire. “It gives us the opportunity to really move forward with everything we’ve begun,” Hohn said.

The board itself has changed. Rather than having new leaders every years, Street said the positions of chairman, vice chairman and past chairman will be two-year terms to help follow through with the strategic plan. In addition, the number of committees has been streamlined and aligned with a certain division within the Alliance to get more accomplished, Street said. “The organization has positioned ourselves for future growth,” Hohn said.

Kenton City Council will be asked Monday night to become a part of a plan to transform an underutilized city park into a gathering place for veterans.

Kenton City Council will be asked Monday night to become a part of a plan to transform an underutilized city park into a gathering place for veterans. Organizers of Camp Jacob Parrott believe the facility could reach the lives of thousands while also providing a unique opportunity for economic growth for Hardin County.

The Rev. Scott Johnson and members of Warriors First plan to seek permission from council to develop Saulisberry Park into a facility which will not only continue to offer camping and fishing to the general public, but will welcome veterans and their families to camp, fish, hike and bond around a campfire at no charge. The park, home to France Lake, is connected to the city through a narrow strip of land although it is about two miles southwest of Kenton off Ohio 67.

The idea of the camp came from discussions between Johnson and his friend, Ret. Col. Jim Ramsey, a Hardin County native, regarding the needs of veterans. A camp, they agreed, would provide a environment for vets to rest, restore and re-engage with each other. The camp would be faith-based and would provide counseling for those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI), but would be open to any veteran and his or her family.

The pair was searching for a location for the project and shared their vision with Jon Cross, president of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance late last summer. A problem they were facing, said Cross, was finding property to purchase to build the campgrounds. “Sometimes we forget what is right in front of you,” said Cross. He suggested Saulisberry Park/France Lake as a possible location. A quick visit to the site convinced them the seclusion of the picturesque lake and the existing camping area made the location perfect, said Johnson.

The property is owned by the City of Kenton and Cross and his staff worked with Warriors First and city officials in determining if the city would be willing to sell or lease the land. “We are advising for a long-term lease,” said Cross.

For many years, he said, the city has lost money or broken even at Saulisberry Park. If a private organization came in and retained the services available to the public, including the Lake of Lights holiday lighting display, while improving the infrastructure and landscape, it would be an improvement for the city, said Cross. “Plus we don’t want the organization to have to take money out of its pocket to buy land,” said Cross.

The first phase of transforming Camp Jacob Parrott from a dream to a reality is securing the lease, said Johnson. Once that has been completed, the Warriors First volunteers will work with the Poggemeyer Design Group in developing detailed plans for the site. “We want to show the public our master plan,” said Johnson.

Those building plans include hiking paths, campsites, more restrooms, more boat ramps, an amphitheater for outdoor concerts, a chapel, meeting house and a series of cabins where families can stay.

Poggemeyer knows a lot about securing federal and state grants, said Johnson. That will help with Phase II of the project: finding funding.

Warriors First will seek donations and sponsorships from church organizations, veterans groups, corporations and individual gifts. There are a lot of defense contractors in Ohio, noted Johnson. “We want to get payroll deductions available so the money is not coming from one person, but a little money is coming from a lot of people,” he said.

The group will also seek donations from corporations or groups willing to sponsor a cabin or contribute to the construction of the amphitheater or chapel.

Once Camp Jacob Parrott is built, said Johnson, there will be activities for the vets and their families. They might enjoy the solitude of France Lake or take part in the endless destinations within three hours of Kenton, such as the NFL Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, professional sporting events, the Columbus Zoo or one of the two nationally-know theme parks in Ohio. “It is a never-ending list,” said Johnson.

To make the outing more affordable to the vets, Warriors First volunteers plan to visit each of the destinations to secure discounts or free admission for the families. Those who will be eligible for the special admission rates will be given dog tags identifying the participants and when they visited Camp Jacob Parrott. Those dog tags will be made by the Kenton Jr. ROTC students, which will raise funding for their organization.

The influx of guests to the county will mean an increase in need for restaurants and hotels, he said. With vets expected to come not only throughout the state, but the nation, the potential is unlimited, said Cross.

In addition to the established destinations offered within the reach of Kenton, the camp itself could be the goal of trips for travelers throughout the area. Next to the campgrounds is the Hardin County Airport. Johnson and Cross can envision the runways being filled with crowds for hot air balloon festivals, vintage war plane shows or Civil War reenactments.

“We have lot of flexibility and elbow room for this,” said Cross. “But everything takes a back seat to the mission of helping veterans. The economic development is not the driver here, the mission is the driver.”

Down the road, said Johnson, if Camp Jacob Parrott is a success, Phase IV of the project is to see it replicated at other locations throughout the nation. He has been in contact with other areas who are anxious to see what happens in Kenton.

Should the plans not pan out as expected, said Johnson, Saulisberry Park will revert to what it is now at no cost to the city, which would retain ownership of the land. “We have no idea how many lives will be bettered if we build this and take a risk,” said Johnson.The local economic impact of the camp is potentially endless, said Cross.

Jon Cross sits in the war room, where things happen, with maps of Kenton proper and Hardin County on the wall. The new sign and slogan for Hardin County claims, “a great place to live, work, prosper” which Cross proudly accepts as an indicator of progress made. The former motto used to be “Hardin County, a great place to call home”.

Jon Cross sits in the war room, where things happen, with maps of Kenton proper and Hardin County on the wall. The new sign and slogan for Hardin County claims, “a great place to live, work, prosper” which Cross proudly accepts as an indicator of progress made. The former motto used to be “Hardin County, a great place to call home”.
“I hated that motto,” he said. “That was the first thing I wanted to change, because it reinforces we’re just a bedroom community. It’s only a place to call home, and that is farthest from the truth. We are a great place to live, work and prosper. A very simple message, but the message is we want you to build here, we want you to invest here, we want you live here, work here, learn here.”

Cross became the CEO of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance (HCCBA) in 2014. The outgoing President, John Hohn, active within the organization for several years, is retiring at the end of the year.

Hohn said, “I’ve lived here for a long time. I taught in Kenton for years, had absolutely no economic development experience when I started the job in 2007, and in 2008 the economy went flat. So we have been building this organization up from the past seven and a half years and Jon is a very important part of that development. We’re going to take it to the next level. So for a year the board has committed to keeping us together and working to advance this county as far as we can.”

After the transition, Cross will be both the Economic Director and CEO. Croos and Hohn explained the merging of the County Chamber and the Economic Development Department to streamline resources and communication.

“There was an opportunity for this organization, which wanted to continue to become a professional organization, and with that they wanted to have full time leadership,” said Cross. “Previously, we had a part time director, then we had our economic development director, chamber and tourism director. And what was previously called downtown development is community development now.”

The Board decided to recruit a fulltime president and CEO to manage the entire organization. Cross officially started in October 2014. Unofficially, he began working to promote the county in January 2014 as he wanted to help build the strategic plan.

Cross, a Hardin County native, left the region 11 years ago, in 2003, to go to California.

“I worked for the Arnold Schwarzenegger administration for two years, then in a San Diego real estate company owned by Richard Allen who started Imperial Cup in Kenton. I was the Director of marketing, sales and leasing for the real estate company of industrial parks in Dallas, Kansas City and California.”

Cross got back into politics working with a political action committee as a fundraiser. He called it a great experience, adding, “It had the same similarities as this organization, with budgeting and the board structure. All those experiences were very helpful. To be able to come back here and take on this position and this role because what we do here.We deal with the politics of dealing with council, our local government. We deal with real estate. Obviously we deal with community and community relations, so all those things I had great experience with. I had, on my board of directors at that action committee, very successful business leaders.”

Family, passion and love of Hardin County is what brought Jon Cross back.

“My father, Jerry Cross, served for eight years as a county commissioner. He passed away in 2010, and it started to play on my mind, emotionally. I thought, what can I do to stay involved in the family business of giving back to our community? Dad and Mom did a lot for the community.”

As the new CEO and President, Cross said the HCCBA wanted to define who they are, what their vision, mission and focus was and put this into a marketing tool. They also worked to better define our organization chart. After reorganizing into four departments, they focused on their strategic plan to help Hardin County communities grow.

“Workforce development is a key issue statewide and regional wide,” Hohn said. “If we’re going to recruit business here and employees, from factory floor to CEO level types, we have to have housing, restaurants, retail, and entertainment venues. Those things that make a community what it is.”

Cross explained the HCCBA goal hierarchy.

“Job creation is number one, restaurant and retail development number two and housing number three. And they all go hand in hand.”

Their insight is backed up by numbers, demographics, reports and analyses from state agencies and institutional research.

“By 2025, 50 percent of the workforce in Hardin county and NW Ohio is going to retire. There’s going to be a huge gap of employment that we need to fill. If we maintain a 3.9 unemployment rate — if between three to five percent over the next 10 years, where is our workforce going to come to fill all these new jobs that are happening in Hardin County? We are going to have to attract people from outside of the county to move or drive to Hardin County to take these jobs.”

In addressing the present workforce issue where businesses already have difficulty filling positions, he stated, “We notice businesses telling us, ‘they either don’t show up on time, they are on drugs or don’t have the skills’.

Cross feels that students that are going through the system today are going to have very diverse opportunities, whether they go on a collegiate path or they go into additional training and straight into the workforce path. The HCCBA is currently working with Kenton schools on a $500,000 community connector grant. Cross explained the grant will allow businesses to come into the classroom at the fifth and sixth grade level, to pique kids’ interest in engineering and business and manufacturing, technology and service related industries. In seventh and ninth grade, students will be doing more job shadowing. In ninth through 12th grades, they will be doing internship and capstone projects.

“Here is where the public and private and education partnership come together,” said Cross, “Business will be able to use this as a tool for recruitment. Much like we are very good at football here, businesses can go into the classroom, train them, mold them, provide them internships and then maybe offer them good paying jobs after they graduate.”

Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance has lots of big plans to help in the growth of this area.

Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance has lots of big plans to help in the growth of this area.

“We believe international businesses and domestic business will be expanding or relocating to Ohio, because Ohio is very business friendly,” said Jon Cross, President and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance. (HCCBA),”Especially Hardin County, because of our skilled work force, low real estate costs, our little to no regulations, which a lot of businesses have to deal with in other places, and access to major transportation infrastructure.”

According to Cross, in the past year, Hardin County has seen tremendous growth with $150 million of new construction and business expansion. Outlined in the five year HCCBA strategic plan, the county has seen the creation of 350 new jobs and unemployment falling below four percent, which is a three percent drop compared to the previous year.

HCCBA is taking proactive measures to prepare and position Hardin County for another phase of new growth, jobs and investment opportunity. They developed a strategic roadmap for the next five years with business priorities set to promote a prosperous business, agricultural, and educational climate, strengthen the local economy and improve the quality of life across the county.

The alliance has restructured its organization to streamline the efficiency and effectiveness of the board and committee meetings. Board leadership terms have been lengthened and various committees were consolidated into four core committee: Executive, chamber and tourism, economic development and community development.

Annetta Shirk has lived in Hardin County her entire life, but she never got to fully witness all it has to offer until she joined the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

Annetta Shirk has lived in Hardin County her entire life, but she never got to fully witness all it has to offer until she joined the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.

Shirk has been the Director of Chamber and Tourism with the HCCBA for almost four years. It’s her responsibility to not only promote Hardin County internally and externally, but also to handle public relations, Hardin County Ambassadors and safety council programs.

Shirk was born and raised in the county, attending and graduating from Upper Scioto Valley. She now resides in the Dunkirk area.

In her time as the Director of Chamber and Tourism, she has learned more about the county than she ever imagined she would.“I’d never been out to Lawrence Woods until I came here,” Shirk said. “You start appreciating things more, realizing what assets the county has that maybe others don’t have.We have a beautiful courthouse, and you go to some of the other surrounding counties, they don’t have the courthouse we’ve got. We did a tour there this past summer with a group of ladies and they said it was one of their favorites in the area.”

According to Shirk, the two main points of tourism she is asked about are Wilson Sporting Goods Manufacturing Company in Ada and the old order Amish of southern Hardin County and northern Logan County. Those two things she was familiar with prior to working at the HCCBA.

“Before I stared here, I worked with Roby’s for many years. I did outside sales, so I did calls on Wilson’s, so I was familiar with them,” Shirk explained. “My husband and I have horses, so we have friends who are Amish, so I’m very familiar with the Amish community.”

Promoting Hardin County isn’t something Shirk ever imagined she’d be doing. For 25 years, she worked at Roby Company, and for a time during those 25 years, Xerox as well. Xerox was a part of Roby’s but separated, during which part of that time, she went with Xerox, but always had an office at Roby’s.

In her time working with Roby’s, the HCCBA was one of her customers, and in working with them, she always found what they did interesting.

“I love graphic arts, design and laying things out,” Shirk said. “It wasn’t something I initially thought, ‘I want to do this,’ but as time went on, somebody approached me who was on the board and said, ‘I think you’d be great at this job,’ because they had seen some of the different things I had put together, and they knew I was a people person – I like to get out and talk to people.”

There’s always something going with the HCCBA, whether it’s in or out of the office, Shirk said, and because of that, it’s always necessary for her to be on her toes. “You’ve got to constantly be multitasking,” she said. “There’s things going on with all four divisions (Chamber of Commerce, Tourism, Economic Development and Community Development). It keeps you on your toes. It’s very busy – there’s something going on in this office all of the time … and we’re all a team. We pitch in together and work on projects together to get them all taken care of and the needs of our membership taken care of.

“Everything cycles, but there’s always something new, whether it’s a member having questions or a new program that we’re going to launch. There’s always something, so you’re always adapting or changing with what’s going on.” Because of the busy schedule, it can mean working at different times of the day on different days, including weekends. Luckily, she said, she loves what she does and has support from her husband, Tom.

“When there’ s an event coming up, you may work late on getting that event together,” she explained. “There’s events on Saturdays, so if a member wants a ribbon cutting on a Saturday, you just automatically do it; it’s just part of the job. My husband is very supportive and I drag him along when the events are on the weekends. When he’s not at work, he’ll go to the different events, whether it was back when we were doing Gene Autry Days or a ribbon cutting.”

Despite the busy schedule, Shirk and her husband are members of the Hardin County Draft Horse Association and also belong to the Black Swamp Driving Club.

The top local story of 2014 was the economic rebound Hardin County saw throughout the year.

The top local story of 2014 was the economic rebound Hardin County saw throughout the year.

The Kenton Times staff voted on the most important stories of the year and the improved economy was the top vote-getter, followed by the opening of the new Kenton Elementary School in second place. As the last days of 2014 ticked away, unemployment was at 3.9 percent in the county, noted John Hohn, Director of Economic Development at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance. Hohn noted many established businesses have expanded their work forces, while new jobs have also been created in manufacturing, health care and retail.In addition to the job retention, said Hohn, new companies are making Hardin County their home including Sekisui Plastics USA in Kenton, which is expected to offer 50 new jobs to the community. While there was good news for jobs and employment, continued Hohn, the county also saw an estimated $150 million in capital improvements during 2014.

Ohio Northern University President Daniel DiBiasio said the university wants to continue to partner with Hardin County to help it grow and prosper.

Ohio Northern University President Daniel DiBiasio said the university wants to continue to partner with Hardin County to help it grow and prosper.

“We can sense and feel the momentum in our county and we feel a partner in that,” he told the some 170 people Thursday at the Christmas Luncheon of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, held at the Hardin County Armory in Kenton. "We are grateful there are so many ways we are able to work in partnership with the community,” DiBiasio said.

Part of the partnership involves the county helping ONU.

The county commissioners and the Kenton CIC enabled the university to refinance $65 million of bond debt which saved ONU nearly $4 million, DiBiasio said.

He said the new dean of the College of Pharmacy, Steve Martin, is seeking to revive collaborations with the Kenton-Hardin Health Department and Hardin Memorial Hospital to better serve the health needs of the community. DiBiasio also noted that his wife, Chris, who leads community relations at the university, works collaboratively as a member of the Alliance board.

“We want to know how many other ways ONU and the community can partner together to make resources available to Kenton and Hardin County,” he said.

DiBiasio told the gathering “Christmas came early” at ONU this year with the announcement that the College of Engineering has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from the Kern Foundation in Waukesha, Wis. It will help ONU’s mechanical engineering students to apply the entrepreneurial mindset in their studies.

ONU also received news it has been named a College of Distinction in a recent college guidebook. DiBiasio said only 10 universities in Ohio and 400 nationwide received the honor, which recognizes efforts to engage students with a committed faculty, leading to successful outcomes. He also noted ONU’s success in the class of 2014 placement survey. He said 95 percent of the students are either employed or in an advanced education program.

DiBiasio said the ONU Holiday Spectacular just completed its 20th year, during which it has been seen by some 135,000 people through its performances at the university and in Lima.

He also announced that on July 4, 2015, ONU will be hosting the Lima Symphony Orchestra at the Ada campus and invited area residents to attend.

DiBiasio’s comments followed an upbeat assessment of the county’s economic outlook by Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Alliance.

“We’re chasing deals,” said Cross, citing interest in the retail, restaurant and manufacturing sectors. “Hardin County is the new hot spot of NW Ohio,” he said.

Kenton City Council in November was encouraged to “start building a war chest” to help attract new industry to the community.

Kenton City Council in November was encouraged to “start building a war chest” to help attract new industry to the community. That “war chest” promoted by Jon Cross, president of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, is expected to total $75,000 to begin 2015.

The city had designated $25,000 for economic development in its 2014 budget. The finance committee has proposed adding another $25,000 from this year’s carryover funds – a move yet to be approved by the council. Plus, the 2015 budget before council includes an additional $25,000 appropriation for economic development efforts.

The money will be combined in an economic development capital projects fund, the creation of which was adopted by council Monday night following suspension of its three-reading rule. The fund will be used to assist in capital projects that will advance the economic development of the city, according to the legislation. City Council authorization is required to use money from the fund.

Cross encouraged the city to build the war chest to offer local incentives to attract new industry.

He said at council’s Nov. 10 meeting that “anything we can do to give ourselves a slight advantage” over other communities vying for a new industry is the goal of the fund.

That’s because of the announcement that Sekisui Plastics USA will be opening its second U.S. plant in Kenton at the former Innoplas building on U.S. 68, just south of Kenton. The new plant is expected to create 50 jobs and is scheduled to open in July. Cross said until the plant gets up and running, anyone wanting to submit resumes can do so through the Ohio Means Jobs Hardin County office in Kenton.

He also announced the Alliance will be restructuring its committees into divisions of chamber and tourism, economic development and community development (formerly downtown development).

Jacqualine Fitzgerald will be heading the community development committee and she announced Kenton could soon be getting a new restaurant.

Hot Head Burritos, a quick serve Mexican restaurant, wants to open a location in Kenton. The company is looking for a franchise operator and anyone interested can contact Fitzgerald at the Alliance office. The Ohio-based company already has 59 locations, mainly in Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

Cross reported the Alliance and the Downtown Revitalization Committee is continuing to receive mainly positive feedback on the proposal for two sides of diagonal parking on the north side of the square between Main and Detroit streets. Columbus Street would be made one-way in that block.

The committee is continuing to gather more information before presenting the plan to City Council. Cross also noted that the Window Wonderland project in downtown Kenton continues to generate plenty of comments. The Alliance’s Facebook page has over 10,000 hits about the holiday decorations project. He praised Fitzgerald’s creativity and vision in coming up with the idea.

Jon Cross, newly appointed President and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber & Business Alliance made a visit to Ada’s Northern On Main on Oct. 24.

Jon Cross, newly appointed President and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber & Business Alliance made a visit to Ada’s Northern On Main on Oct. 24.

“A model community” were the words that Cross repeated numerous times as he discussed Ada’s key role in the county.  Cross recently returned to Kenton, his hometown community, from California, where he spent the last 11 years developing experience in political, government and business relations. 

A highlight during that time was an experience he refers to as “once in a lifetime”. Cross managed the Southern California volunteer headquarters for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign and continued to work for Governor Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver after the election.

Now that Cross is home, he has set to work helping Hardin County build business goals and take the first steps towards reaching them. Cross’s primary focus of business development includes generating new growth, jobs and investment opportunities to advance Hardin County’s economy, as well as expanding the county’s market awareness on a regional, national and global scale.

When asked what Ada could do to contribute to the overall efforts of the Chamber and Business Alliance, Cross said that Ada is already leading the way for the county, and he is working to help other towns model themselves after the Ada community.  One way that Cross felt Ada citizens could help is to break down the walls between communities. He referenced the positive way the university and the community have torn down the divide and come together and believes that the changes the county wants to see, starts with today’s youth. The relationship between ONU students and the Ada community is yet another aspect that Cross feels makes Ada truly the model community. 

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance is starting fresh this month. The agency is welcoming its new leader in CEO Jon Cross.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance is starting fresh this month. The agency is welcoming its new leader in CEO Jon Cross. It unveiled a new logo and motto for the county at a ceremony Tuesday and then invited the public to see the Alliance’s remodeled offices.

Alliance Chairman Tim Street told the large crowd of business and political leaders from throughout the county that the agency is attempting to “plan forward.” The old motto “Hardin County – A great place to call home” has been replaced with “Hardin County – A great place to live, work and prosper.” “This defines who we are as we market beyond the borders of Hardin County,” Street said.

The motto is part of the new logo for the Alliance, which was designed by Wesley Goldsmith, a graduate of Kenton High School and Ohio Northern University. The circular design also features a field of green stars signifying the 15 townships in the county.

The fresh start at the Alliance, said Cross, will help the board “build a model community in northwestern Ohio.” “That starts today,” Cross said. “Hardin County is a gem of a location.” Not only does it offer prospective developers a hub of transportation opportunities, Cross said Hardin County also provides the business community a variety of shopping experiences, a solid educational system and the work ethics of an agricultural environment.

The Alliance has spent several months working with municipal leaders throughout the county in developing a five-year strategic plan for business development and retention, Cross said. “We are working together to help each community identify their specific goals and needs and help them grow and prosper,” he said. “We are a countywide organization.”

Cross noted more than $100 million has been invested in Hardin County within recent months.

The county has a new elementary school in Kenton and is building a new preK-12 facility in Ridgemont. The new community health center opened and revitalized an older building in Kenton. Hardin Memorial Hospital has expanded and renovated its emergency room facilities. A building is being constructed on the eastern edge of Kenton which will house a new credit union and the Lima Memorial Hospital health care center.

A new farm-to-table business is opening in Ada. Harvest Pride Tortilla and Chips will use grain grown in the county and create a food product from that grain, noted Cross.

International Paper has begun construction on its expansion at the Kenton plant which will provide an additional 200 jobs.

Heritage Cooperative has opened a new fuel station and agronomy expansion. Vancrest Health Care Partners is beginning work on a new $7.5 million facility in Ada.

“Hardin County is open for business,” announced Cross.

“Hardin County is a very exciting place on the move,” said State Rep. Robert Cole Sprague, R-Findlay.

Industry is looking at investing in the county and northwest Ohio, said Sprague “because of our people and their ability to work.” “Nobody in the world can out work us in Ohio,” he said.

Commissioner Brice Beaman thanked the Chamber and Business Alliance for the work it has accomplished in the past and for its commitment to the future of the county. “We are looking forward to seeing Hardin County live, work and prosper,” said Beaman.

The incoming leader of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance wants to hear Kenton’s plans for the future.

The incoming leader of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance wants to hear Kenton’s plans for the future. Jon Cross, who takes over Oct. 1 as president/CEO of the Alliance, said he wants the city to join with the Alliance in planning for 5 to 10 years down the road. “We’re trying to build a model community in Hardin County,” he said.

As part of that approach, the Alliance is modifying the county’s longtime phrase, “A Great Place To Call Home” to “A Great Place To Live, Work, Prosper.” Cross said the Alliance wants people to build, live, learn and invest in Hardin County. He said the Alliance is “bringing people through all the time” who are looking for a place to start a new business.

“We want to show them a vibrant, vibrant community.”

One problem is Kenton and other communities in the county are running out of available real estate for new industry. Cross said Kenton needs to think about ways to expand the city limits to create more available land. Another issue in Kenton is the need for future housing.

“We need more turn-key properties” for business managers and leaders, Cross said.

He noted a superintendent told him about the difficulty in hiring new teachers because of the lack of new housing. Cross said the extension of Morningside Drive on the city’s east side for the new Kenton Elementary School opens a new area for housing.

Noting the upcoming retirement of Becky Potts as the city’s economic development contractor, Cross said, “You need to think of us as part of your team. It’s a great opportunity to build our relationship.”


The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance made a major staffing announcement.

The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance made a major staffing announcement.
According to a release, Hardin County native Jon Cross will serve as its new President/CEO and Director of Business Development.

Cross said he will take what he's learned since being away and apply it to his new position, "We want to try to take our message and our marketing tools beyond the borders of Hardin County, and really search both regionally, across the state, nationally and even globally, so I'm glad they reached out. I'm excited and accepted without any hesitation. I've enjoyed California. It's provided my family and I with some great opportunities, but I also understand the importance of giving back to the community, and I'm ready to come back and give back."

Cross will start in October of this year. Current Director Jacqualine Fitzgerald will transition to the roll of the Director of the Downtown Development Division, and Economic Development Director John Hohn will work with Cross during a planned 15 month transition period starting in October.