LIMA — The Lima region’s shrinking population and workforce are the central focus behind the new Greater Lima Region, Inc., which President and CEO Jeff Sprague discussed at a public officials’ dialogue at the Lima-Allen Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
The Greater Lima Region, Inc., replaces the Allen County Visionaries organization, a group of businesses that supported half of the Allen Economic Development Group’s activities. The new organization is taking a regional approach in Allen, Van Wert, Auglaize, Hardin, Mercer, Putnam, Paulding and Hancock counties, with an emphasis on growing the region’s workforce.
Sprague pointed to several trends to justify the regional approach:
• Jobs in the eight-county region increased by 6.6 percent between 2011 and 2016, which is lower than the national growth rate of 8.8 percent
• The region’s population declined by 0.7 percent between 2011 and 2016, and projections from the Greater Lima Region suggest the population will fall another 0.6 percent between 2016 and 2021.
“We really do have a problem, and that is as businesses look to expand, as any growth opportunities you might have, it gets back to, ‘Where am I going to find the workforce, what does that workforce look like and where is it going to come from?’” Sprague said.
Sprague identified six cities the eight-county region is competing with — Columbus, Toledo, Dayton, Fort Wayne, Cleveland and Indianapolis.
“How many people do you know from here who moved to Columbus and never moved back?” he asked. “As we were looking at our economic development strategy, this the back end.”
Part of the goal, Sprague said, is to persuade educators in the region that there are employment opportunities for their students right here.
“A lot of times they don’t believe there are careers in this region,” he said. “They really think that they have to send the kids someplace else because that’s where the future is, when, in essence, we have great jobs here that are looking to employ a number of different jobs.”
The dialogue sparked conversation about how the Greater Lima Region, Inc., intends to address housing and livability issues central to the organization’s goal.
Sprague pointed to lower water and sewer tap fees, which he described as a barrier to new construction, as one example of an effort to encourage new housing. But he concluded that “it’s a matter right now of finding developable sites and having infrastructure.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.