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.”