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By William Laney, Managing Editor, Wapakoneta Daily News
Wapakoneta's status as being one of the first state-certified Job Ready Sites and with continued growth in the city's Revolving Loan Fund serving as indications of progress made by the Wapakoneta Area Economic Development Council (WAEDC) this past year, two city-elected officials say they have adequate reasons for the city to continue its level of funding for the organization.
After WAEDC Executive Director Greg Myers provided Wapakoneta City Council members with an annual update, Councilor-at-large Wilbur Wells said he would support continuing the city's grant of $50,000 to the WAEDC.
"I think their work through the entire Job Ready Sites process, the modifications to the Revolving Loan Fund as well as the recommendation made tonight (Monday) to have council consider the entire city of Wapakoneta as a Community Revitalization Area and a Tax Incremental Financing District for downtown Wapakoneta are examples of the progress made just this year," Wells said after Monday's meeting. "In my opinion, they explored, instituted and are looking at a lot of new programs we have never looked at previously.
"I am very pleased with the work of the WAEDC and the direction they are moving," he said. "I think Greg and his assistant Erin Hollenbacher are doing a great job."
Wells pointed to several major projects during occurring in 2008 including the $10 million investment made by Lowe's Home Improvement to locate a store in the city. Other projects included the $1.5 million Wapakoneta WaterPark, the $1 million Wapakoneta Family YMCA fitness center project, the Community Health Professionals of Tri-County building, Schlosser Funeral Home and Cremation Services, O'Reilly Auto Parts and Fifth Third Bank.
The councilor also listed other new smaller businesses opening in Wapakoneta this year.
Wells said he is proud of Wapakoneta and Auglaize County being ranked among the top 20 micropolitans in the United States for the third consecutive year by "Site Selection" magazine.
Mayor Rodney Metz also praised the work of Myers and Hollenbacher during this past year.
"I think this past year has been a very good year for WAEDC," Metz said. "They have been very busy and there are a lot of things going on. I would call it a successful year for the economic times we are experiencing.
"I believe the money is very well spent," the mayor said. "I am very pleased with what WAEDC has accomplished, which is due to an excellent staff and an excellent board. We have achieved many things this past year, worked on many issues and completed many projects."
During his report, Myers thanked councilors for their support, but he acknowledged 2009 will be a more challenging year. He admitted economic development directors and legislators across the nation are concerned because of the economic slowdown.
"There is concern about the economy, especially in light of Toyota's announcement about its plans for its new plant in Alabama being placed on hold - that is a prime example of what we are facing," Myers said. "There are some companies still moving forward, but other companies are waiting to see what happens in the next six months to a year.
"I think a lot depends on the psychology of the country," he said, "we have to think positively and not be engaged in fear and a negative outlook."
Myers explained for companies with strong economic footing this is a "great time to move forward and buy, build and acquire" and "Wapakoneta is great place to locate."
"My goal, I think for us as an economic development council and a community, is to continue to try and to get our message out to people so that even in this time of slowing and slight hesitation that we keep planting the seed that the West Central Ohio Industrial Center is here, is ready, is rail-served," Myers said. "When your project is ready to go, keep us in mind. We have to keep selling even though people may not be ready to buy today, but they will know about us when they decide to take that next step."