LIMA — With just about any political campaign these days, it is a near certainty two topics will rise to the forefront: Jobs and economic development. The three candidates running for one of two open Allen County commissioner seats are no exception.
Jobs and economic development are front and center of the campaigns for Don Kissick, Connie Miller and Cory Noonan. One thing all three seem to agree on is there may need to be change at the Allen Economic Development Group, the agency tasked with helping lead economic development efforts in the county.
“I say we need a shakeup. None of the people who work for the Allen Economic Development Group have contributed to my campaign, so they’re not looking to me to continue their jobs for them,” said Miller, a Democrat. “I think we need to reassess the contract we have with the Allen County Visionaries and the Allen Economic Development Group. I think everyone agrees economic development has been sluggish to use a term. We have expected more than we have received. Just continuing the status quo, I believe, is going to get us more of the same.”
Noonan, a Republican, said AEDG has been a good example of a private-public partnership but that perhaps it’s time for new leadership.
“We must have a plan. There needs to be direction with our economic development, there’s no question about it,” Noonan said. “Do we need new direction, leadership? I don’t disagree. I am saying we definitely need to go in a new direction.”
Miller and Noonan both said it may be time for Marcel Wagner, president and chief executive officer at AEDG, to move on.
Kissick, a Libertarian, said it almost sounds like there are axes to grind when it comes to Wagner.
“I bring a fresh set of eyes to this situation. I only met Marcel Wagner two days ago, so I don’t know anything about him, positive or negative,” Kissick said. “I would rather take the time to evaluate how he’s handled his position and move forward from there. I have no doubt there’s going to be plenty of feedback. It’s a matter of sifting through what’s personal bias and what is legitimate data that presents the case yay or nay.”
Wagner said he’s heard it all before.
“This is not unusual. Every election cycle, every economic development organization goes through this,” Wagner said. “We’ve been in the same leadership for 20 years. We have a very focused business plan. Most organizations have a five-year life cycle. I think the reason ours has been successful is we’ve been able to maintain support, and we’ve produced results.”
Wagner said he stands by AEDG’s record, with more than 6,500 jobs created and 3,500 at-risk jobs retained.
“It’s a highly competitive business,” Wagner said. “I just got done with meetings with about a dozen national site consultants, and from their perspective looking at the things we’ve done and how we’ve worked with clients, and their feeling is we’ve been a successful group, and we know what to do and how to do it.”
Wagner said he also feels confident that if stakeholders in AEDG’s mission truly wanted change, there would be more clamoring for change.
“The telling thing for us as an organization and when we evaluate our results at the end of the year, we talk to our investors in the public sector and the private sector. The private sector and the Allen County Visionaries have continued to support our organization for 20 years,” Wagner said. “I think if there was a feeling from the private sector that the return on investment was not sufficient, then there would be some feedback. They’re certainly not shy about telling us what they think.”