Featured News Archives for 2015-02

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.