Last week, officials in Belmont County brought local leaders from all walks of life to unveil the county's new strategic plan for economic development.
School officials, township trustees, city and village leaders, heads of local chambers of commerce, business people and a who's who of area movers and shakers were present. Each was presented with a copy of the comprehensive Belmont County Economic Development Strategy.
Plans for the plan were first announced in January, when the county entered into a contract with W.S.O.S. Community Action Commission Inc. of Freemont, Ohio. The contract was not to exceed $24,750. The county did not have to put this work out to bid since it fell just under the $25,000 mark that by law would require public bidding.
The county took some criticism for this action. Taxpayers already pay for two economic development agencies in Belmont County - the Port Authority and the Community Improvement Corporation/Department of Development. Now, there is also a Belmont County Planning Commission that is geared toward focusing on economic development.
Over the course of the past several months, W.S.O.S. developed the strategic plan, interviewing many of the people who were on hand for last week's unveiling, as well as many other local leaders who provided input. Larry Merry, Port Authority Director, commended the commissioners for taking the action to develop the plan and noted that there needed to be an outside entity to spearhead the project and give a fresh, unbiased view of the county's needs from a new perspective.
Local officials seemed pleased with the action. However, this is simply a first step. The strategic plan is a roadmap to the future. It's not a rule set in stone. It brings everyone onto the same page. It reassures everyone involved that all parties are in the same boat and are rowing in the same direction.
We appreciate the county's enthusiasm about this development. But once again, the proof will be in the pudding. The public wants to see a return on their investment.
The best news to come out of the same meeting was that Chesapeake Energy will be setting up a headquarters at Fox Commerce Park. If the company creates local jobs, we must say that will truly be a great thing.