March 28, 2013
Everyone talks about the importance of economic development when elections roll around.
We’re happy to see the Allen County commissioners actually doing something about economic development after the elections passed.
Namely, they’re actively promoting the excess properties they own in different ways than in the past.
For instance, they’re using the Port Authority of Allen County to help sell county-owned buildings and property. They’re also listing industrial sites with the state.
It’s all good to see for the county, which owns 80-plus residential, office and industrial properties. They’re researching the sale of vacant downtown properties, they said Tuesday in a meeting of The Lima News’ editorial board. As Commissioner Jay Begg said, they don’t want to be landlords.
They’re also actively touring the area’s manufacturers with new Allen Economic Development Group Executive Director Jeff Sprague, looking at two or three businesses per week. They’re getting to see firsthand what businesses do here and how they’re interrelated.
There is a renewed energy in economic development, thanks in part to the newness of Sprague in his current role and the energy with two new commissioners, Begg and Cory Noonan. That, paired with the limited-government advocacy of incumbent Commissioner Greg Sneary, brings a fresh excitement to the county. Selling some of these properties can only build the momentum.
The commissioners also seem to understand the jigsaw puzzle that is finding a place for the county’s 1,100 employees to work. They must provide a safe work environment for them all, but they don’t all necessarily need their own buildings. Empty office space is just a waste of taxpayer money. Shifting people into those open areas will eventually open up more space for the county government to sell off to private enterprises.
Truthfully, the county commissioners have a limited role in economic development. Their primary responsibility is signing the checks for government bodies to do their work. They can, however, pass tax abatements for businesses, and they control the county’s property holdings in area industrial parks.
If Allen County stops owning these properties, it likely means a major manufacturer or service industry moved in, which is a positive for the entire region. It also means taxpayer money isn’t funneled to maintaining all those properties, and the county can focus on maintaining the properties it must own to fluorish.
The county hasn’t inventoried everything it owns yet, so it’s hard to know their potential values. Still, involving the port authority and showing a willingness to sell these structures and land shows the county is moving in the right direction. We commend the commissioners’ efforts.