As one local economic development career comes to an end, another continues to grow. With the recent retirement of Jackson County Economic Development Partnership (JCEDP) Executive Director, Jennifer Jacobs, 10-year JCEDP veteran Sam Brady will now be the new face of the initiative.
A 1998 Wellston High School graduate and former Wellston City Councilman, Brady first started with JCEDP in March 2008 when he was hired to administer a small business loan program as a Small Business Specialist. After working on that project for nearly a year and a half, he made the lateral move to Economic Development Specialist, a position he held for four years.
Throughout all 10 years with the JCEDP, Brady worked alongside Jacobs, who was the Assistant Director upon his hiring. In September 2009, when Brady made the transition into his role as an Economic Development Specialist, Jacobs was appointed as Executive Director, a position she held until May of this year. In December 2013, Brady assumed the role of Assistant Director which he held until Jacobs' recent retirement.
In speaking with The Telegram, Brady addressed what economic development is, as well as what it is not. To better convey this point, he used the words of longtime Ross County economic development figure Christopher Manegold.
"He's always quick to say economic development is not an event," Brady stated. "It's a continuous process. Things that are set in motion two or three years in advance, one day you finally see come to fruition. You're always preparing for the next prospect, the next lead, and it's up to you to figure out exactly what assets we need to develop to attract that."
One common theme of Brady's interview with The Telegram was his hope to develop with the community a better understanding of what economic development attraction entails. An example of this, according to Brady, is the common misunderstanding that any company is a good fit for any community.
"So many communities have the strategy of 'shoot at anything that flies, catch anything that falls,' and that's not always the best use of your time," he explained. "Sometimes you might have to work a prospect for six or seven months and it may not materialize."
Another hurdle agencies like JCEDP face with regard to keeping the public in tune with the goings on of economic development in a particular area, is the inherent confidentiality of the business.
This inability to be forthright at all times, Brady said, results in the general public assuming no progress is being made. In turn, he said this fact lends itself to the need for a continuing effort to educate the public as well as to bring in new partners from the community.
"I want a wide network of champions and ambassadors in this community," Brady said. "I might be the professional and the face of the effort, but this whole community bears the responsibility of economic development. Our citizens, our leaders, media partners, we all are selling Jackson County, we're all selling Southern Ohio, and we're all touting our assets and what we can offer a company. I really want a large choir singing the same song."
One of the more common and apparent success stories of the JCEDP is that of Jackson's Speyside Bourbon Cooperage. Securing this company, Brady said, represents a great partnership between Jobs Ohio, the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG) and the company itself.
"It's a good example of having the assets and the company coming," Brady said. "We can't begin to express our gratitude for the homerun that company is on all levels."
Unfortunately in this case, 168 individuals lost their jobs at the company that was once housed there - Merillat - for that asset to become available. However, as Brady pointed out, in a matter of just a few years, Speyside has almost made up for that deficit, with the company currently operating two production shifts and employing over 140 persons. In all, Brady said it easily took a year and a half from obtaining the prospect to Speyside starting actual production.
When discussions arise regarding Jackson County's workforce, some of the more common talking points include a lack of training and education coupled with an issue with drug abuse. These types of issues, however, are not solely germane to this area.
"That's not anything unique to Jackson County," Brady said. "If we were to go to Cuyahoga County, Erie County, Pennsylvania, Mason County, West Virginia, or Franklin County, you would hear that same sentiment from everybody. I have not once in 10 years of doing this job had any site selector or company ask me about a drug problem. These things are true nationwide; every community is dealing with it and that's why you hear everybody from the President to the governor to the county commissioners talking about opioids and pain-killer addictions."
Where are all the jobs?
This question is one that is often asked of not only local economic development leaders, but governmental leaders as well, with a finger having been pointed in the direction of the Jackson County Commissioners on more than one occasion.
"Our local officials get too much of the blame for these things and I don't think they get enough credit for being the champions they have been for economic development," Brady opined.
In small, rural areas like Jackson County, one problem that persists is a lack of local funding capacity to invest in such things as new infrastructure. In turn, this leads to a tireless effort to secure grants and other avenues of funding to not only find new opportunities, but to likewise keep the industry this county already has, like Speyside, General Mills, Osco and Bellisio Foods.
"There are a lot of counties that would kill to have these great companies," Brady said. "Not just the big manufacturers but also the great local businesses we have that support these companies, like Montgomery Machine, Brenmar, Geiger Brothers and Stockmeister Enterprises. We have great entrepreneurs and locally-grown businesses here; people that have stepped up and said 'we'll make sure these companies are taken care of.' It's been a great multi-tiered strategy that's paid off for us."
In the APEG region, a 25-county area stretching from Steubenville to Peebles, Jackson County is home to two of the top five companies. The Joint Economic Development Initiative of Southern Ohio (JEDISO) region of which Jackson County is a part, Brady stated, is home to four of the top five companies.
"There are communities every day trying to steal what we have," he said.
One thing that has helped the economic development initiative in Jackson, Ross, Pike and Scioto counties, according to Brady, is the "game-changer" that has been Fluor-BWXT's community commitment plan and the investment that company has made in the four-county region. Without that investment and partnership, Brady stated none of these counties would be where they are today.
Though in the way of specifics Brady remained notoriously tight-lipped, he did tell The Telegram that, activity-wise, the first quarter of 2018 has already outpaced all of 2017. So far this year, he said there has been a great deal of prospects, activity and engagement, though he also said what actually materializes is a different matter entirely, given the nature of the business.
"But, we have great reason to believe 2018 will be a great year for Jackson County and Southern Ohio," Brady said. "Prayerfully the start of good times."
Brady is a past President of the Wellston Area Chamber of Commerce, is Assistant Pastor of the New Covenant Worship Center, and is a member of the International Economic Development Council, the Ohio Economic Development Association and the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth Advisory Board. He currently resides in Lick Township with wife Rebekah Marquis Brady and sons Samuel, Sullivan and Simon.
Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Article comment by:
Superb article - lays out the foundation for Economic Development and makes strong points about the length of time it takes to secure a new business and the absolute necessity to be tight-lipped. Thanks Phillip!!