Here is the annual address I delivered last night (Feb. 27, 2020) at the Annual Meeting for the Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership:
Introduction - The Trip to Nicaragua
So, last September my older brother Steve invited me to join him for a 25-kilometer trail run in Nicaragua called the Fuego Y Agua Endurance Race. He lives in Portland, Oregon and works throughout Central America, and because I wanted to strengthen our relationship, I said yes.
Understand, I am a relatively new runner. I recently got some orthodics, which have allowed me to run for the first time in more than 35 years. When he asked me to do the run, I had completed my first 10k and was training for my first 20k in November. 25k in February sounded very doable.
The November race went well as did another 30k race in early January, and I was feeling really good about things. Unfortunately, it was right at that time when I injured my right foot. I tried to recover, but when I went for a long training run two weeks later, I had a pain in my ankle. Something was definitely not right. I was supposed to be heading to Nicaragua in three weeks. And I had come to understand that the 25k trail run was really one of the most extreme races out there, an 18-mile run up and down the third highest volcano in Central America.
I went and got some x-rays. Fortunately, I didn’t have a fracture, and fortunately I then went to a sports doctor, and we came up with a treatment and training plant that fixed me I two weeks. Last Monday I got the green light to do the event, and I didn’t have any pain. I was thrilled.
Then, for some pretty legitimate reasons, my brother tells me that he can’t do the race. My partner Andria, who was going to come with me, and I had some strong concerns. We were relying on him to get a rental car. We don’t speak Spanish, and Nicaragua is a country the US Dept. of State advises not going to because of its civil unrest, crime, limited healthcare availability, and arbitrary enforcement of laws. We were more than a little concerned.
Since we had already paid for the plane tickets, though, we decided to go. I figured out the transportation logistics, and we made it to the island fine. Although Nicaragua was definitely a Third World country, Ometepe Island was beautiful, and the we people met were honest, hard-working, and hospitable. We felt safe.
On Saturday, race day arrived, and it started with two miles down the beautiful beach and five more along some hilly picturesque dirt and gravel roads. I made it to the aid station with a personal best time, feeling great.
After the aid station, I started up the volcano, and it kept getting steeper and steeper. Tons of rocks, boulders, roots and trees. After about two more hours, I was 2200’ feet up the side of the volcano (about halfway), and I got extremely fatigued and lightheaded. Andria, who decided not to run the race but to hike the volcano with a local guide, was on the same trail and caught up with me by dumb luck. I tried a number of strategies to recover, but it wasn’t long before I blacked out not once but twice.
As I lay down on the jungle trail trying to clear my head, Andria, her guide, a doctor from Vermont who was running the race and passed us on the trail, and one of the race directors told me I had heat exhaustion and I should stop. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was not going to be my day.
I was pretty disappointed, we headed down the volcano and walked another five miles back to the hotel. Despite not finishing the race – which was a first for me – Andria and I had an amazing adventure, and it provides a great backdrop for two key ideas I want to share tonight.
Big Idea 1 - Impacting Quality of Life
The first idea the trip highlighted for me was how private business, economic development, and organizations like TSEP make an impact on the quality of life of a place.
First, you understand that quality of life is driven by private investment and private jobs. All public facilities and services basically get paid for by taxes, which themselves directly or indirectly come from business taxes, private jobs, or public jobs paid for by those private tax dollars.
Second, economic development increases quality of life, and economic development organizations help cause that economic development.
It is no coincidence that in Nicaragua, where there’s not much going on in the way of economic development, you have the poorest country in Central America. It’s also no coincidence that in Tiffin and rural Seneca County, where economic development is at an all-time high with more than 2,000 new jobs and half a billion dollars in new investment over the last six years, our quality of life continues to make significant improvements. To give you a sense of scale, we had more investment in our community in the last twelve months than the sum total of all the foreign direct investment into the entire country of Nicaragua for 2019.
I also don’t believe it is a coincidence that in Nicaragua, there are no local economic development organizations, and I don’t believe that is a coincidence that in Tiffin and Seneca County there is both a strong, growing economy and a strong local economic, community, and downtown development organization like TSEP.
Clearly, local, regional, and state economic development organizations are not the only reason for the rise or decline of communities, but I do firmly believe they are a deciding factor, and I am proud of the work we do and the difference I believe we make. So, that was the first big takeaway from the trip for me – a renewed appreciation that businesses drive quality of life; economic development drives increases in that quality of life; and local economic development organizations drive economic development.
Big Idea 2 - Living Our Values
The second big idea I took away from this trip is that the way you do things matters, not just what you do or why you do it. One mantra I often say is that we want to do the right things, for the right reasons, in the right way.
But what does it mean to do what we do in the right way? At the last board strategic retreat in October, we articulated our five core values. These values are nothing new, but this is the first time we have it written down on paper and for the first time the board came to a unanimous consensus on what they are. The neat thing is that those values are not just our values, but values I believe this community exemplifies, and this trip brought those values into focus in ways I did not expect.
Value 1 - Collaboration
The first one is Collaboration, or the fundamental belief that more gets accomplished by working with others. It always takes longer and can sometimes be a pain, but it almost always produces a better and more long-lasting result. The only way I was successful in being able to run the race safely at all was my collaboration with doctors, my brother, and my partner. I wouldn’t have signed up for the race in the first place, been able to recover from injury leading up to it, have the courage to attempt it and the courage to stop without their counsel, advice, and feedback.
Collaboration has long been the hallmark of this community. Some immediate examples which come to my mind are the Seneca County Justice Center, All Patriots Memorial, Frost-Kalnow Stadium, Clouse-Kirian Leadership Park, East Green, the Joint Comprehensive Plan, and our Community Branding initiative. I think of the annexation agreements between Tiffin and the surrounding townships; the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center, Pathways to Prosperity; the 4CG initiative, OPWICS, DragonNext, the National Center for Water Quality Research, and even the large manufacturing projects we work on like MBDS and Church & Dwight. And there are many, many other examples.
Indeed, the very change of our name from SIEDC to the Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership expresses the core value of Collaboration for our organization and our community. In 2020, we will continue to broaden and deepen our collaboration with our city, village, township, regional, state and national partners.
And we will be putting collaboration to work in our various committees. TSEP now has 17 such committees, 14 of which have been launched or are ongoing, three more of which are to launch in the first half of this year, including 5 downtown committees, 5 operational committees, and 7 development committees. To find out more and become more involved, please contact any of the TSEP Team.
Value 2 - Innovation
Our second core value is Innovation, or the fundamental belief that you have to challenge the status quo and try new things, and you have to adopt new ideas and technologies in order to improve, progress and stay competitive. A lot of what I brought into the race was innovative for me – like my lightweight, carbon fiber trail running poles, my Salomon hydration pack, my Hoka trail running shoes and my Jeff Galloway run/walk approach. I wouldn’t have made it far without any of them.
Our community, too, has been innovating over the course of its history, and what first comes to mind are the Pan Yan tavern, National Machinery’s invention of cold forging, Tiffin Scenic Studios’ patents, the Pulaski tool invented in Green Springs, Taiho’s tribology, AFS’s sintering, Arnold Machine’s custom equipment, and Sutton Bank’s pre-paid card technology. I think of the Tiffin Community Reinvestment Group, Ironwood Steakhouse, ESOPs at Old Fort Bank and Webster Industries, Bailiwick’s coffee roasting, Ralph’s Joy of Living’s olive oils. I think of Heidelberg’s PlusOne program and TU’s PhD in Global Leadership, the PIVOT program, the Around the Town event, and Linda Rose and the County Parks outdoor education programs. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
TSEP has also promoted innovation in our organizational structure and partnerships, in our design and implementation of the City-funded façade program; in our communications strategies; and in the various technologies we use internally.
To live out innovation his year, we will attend state and national conferences to learn about what new ideas we can potentially adapt and adopt. We will help create the first-ever Tiffin-Seneca entrepreneurship strategic plan. We will help facilitate the first Midland CEO entrepreneurship program in Ohio. We will continue to strengthen and expand our retention and expansion efforts. And we will revamp our website, improve our stakeholder management, and continue to develop our internal salesforce.com system.
Value 3 - Inclusion
The third core value is Inclusion, the idea that we need to make an intentional effort to make our work more accessible; to encourage more people with diverse backgrounds and points of view to participate; and to help create a more welcoming community with an increasing quality of life for all. The 150 or so people that ran this race were from all over the world, had different jobs or no job at all, were young and old, super athletes and amateurs. All of them welcomed Andria and me in as part of the Fuego Y Agua community. We shared stories about the toughness of the volcano, celebrated the success of those who made it, and affirmed those who didn’t but had been brave enough to make the attempt.
I think our Tiffin-Seneca community is more inclusive than most our size in Ohio and in the Midwest. Things that influence my opinion include our colleges and universities – the international students from more than 40 countries at TU and Heidelberg, the students from diverse backgrounds and ages at Terra, the PALS lecture series, Ohio’s first female lawyer, TU’s ICARE value of interdependence; and the International Cultural Center. I think of international companies like Agrati, Taiho, AFS, TMD, Carmeuse, Hanson Aggregates, and Palfinger. I think of Celebrity Basketball, Seneca Re-Ads, NOAH, the United Way, the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library, our Mental Health & Recovery Services Board, Crosswaeh, Oriana House, CRSI, and Seneca County Job & Family Services. I think of our diverse religious, service, and social organizations. And we continue to get more diverse and more inclusive.
In 2020, TSEP will be working to help launch the Tiffin-Seneca Japan Committee, to create a more welcoming environment not only for business but for the employees who come to work here and their families. Our Community Development Committee and staff will be orchestrating the development of a prioritized list of community development projects for the City of Tiffin and the orchestration of the application for $150,000 of Community Development Block Grant funding to assist the community in a number of areas, including assisting low-to-moderate income households. We will intentionally work to broaden the diversity of our membership, board, and committees. And we will launch a new community newsletter to share information with anyone and everyone about what is happening.
Value 4 - Fairness
The fourth value is Fairness. In Nicaragua, everyone had the same requirements, and everyone in each race distance started at the same time. There were no participation trophies, and I didn’t get a finisher’s medal. If you didn’t finish, you didn’t get one. Plain and simple. Everyone was treated the same.
In our work, fairness means that we provide our economic development services like project facilitation, site selection, resource assistance, and marketing to all legal businesses, entrepreneurs, and investors – regardless of size, regardless of industry, regardless of location within Tiffin or rural Seneca County, and regardless of whether or not the business contributes financially to us. Our litmus test is if that business, entrepreneur, and investor is going to invest capital or create and retain jobs we serve them. In fact, we are contractually bound to the City of Tiffin and to Seneca County to perform these services impartially, and we are to some extent legally bound by our 501c3 status as a charitable organization to help any business that will, either by its investment or its job creation, provide new and better opportunities for our residents. Although it is true that because of our contracts with the City and County, we do provide some geographically-specific services like downtown revitalization, community development, and rural economic development, within those boundaries we also impartial.
In 2020, our new Policy Development committee will look at how the Tiffin-Seneca community, and this organization specifically, can maintain fairness, while at the same time doing what we can to ensure that the development we facilitate will have the desired effect of increasing quality of life and to continually work on clarifying what exactly increased quality of life means. And we will ensure through our metrics that we are reaching out to businesses in downtown Tiffin, Tiffin citywide, and in rural Seneca County.
Value 5 - Excellence
Our fifth and last value is Excellence, the idea to do your best, learn from your mistakes, and improve; to never settle for average. In Nicaragua, I truly challenged myself physically and mentally, and I will become better as a result.
Examples of excellence in Tiffin and Seneca County abound. A few examples I immediately think of are members of this community getting on state and national boards for their profession, including Tom Daniel, Bill Reineke, Aaron Montz, Julie Adkins, Mark Zimmerman, and our own Amy Reinhart. I think of awards and grants that people and companies win, like Taiho and AFS, Kathy Oliver, Vanguard-Sentinel, the Mental Health & Recovery Services Board, the Ritz Theatre, the City Engineer’s Office, the Fire and Police Departments, Regional Planning Commission, and Tiffin, Heidelberg, and Terra State. I think about high state and national rankings for the universities, our fire rating, state report cards for education, entrepreneurship, economic development, low cost of living and low cost of doing business.
In 2020, TSEP looks to continue our tradition of every year of obtaining state and national Main Street accreditation (which we just received again in January). We look to win downtown awards, and we look to attain a high national ranking for economic development. The newest economic development rankings will be out within the next couple of weeks, and I am extremely confident that we will again be one of the best in the nation.
Additionally, for the first we will begin pursuing a national economic development accreditation for the organization, and members of the TSEP team will also continue to pursue individual professional certifications in their areas.
Summary & Conclusion
In summary, the Nicaragua trip was crazy, it was epic, it was a learning experience. I got to see first-hand a Third World country with a struggling economy, low quality of life and little to no formal local economic development. It made me appreciate this country, our community, and the opportunity TSEP has to help make a difference by helping private businesses and increasing the quality of life for all.
It helped me see our recently adopted core values of collaboration, innovation, inclusion, fairness and excellence in action during the race, and it helped me think what those values mean, how they are truly values of the Tiffin-Seneca community, and how we will live those values this year as an organization.
I am excited strengthening our existing local, regional, state, and national partnerships and expanding our committees; about developing our new entrepreneurship strategic plan, implementing Midland CEO model, and increasing our salesforce.com utilization; about diversifying our board and committees, pursuing our community development work, and launching the new Tiffin-Japan Committee; about our new policy development committee; and about pursuing a new accreditations.
Let me close with this thought. The most important part about the volcano race for the race organizers was that all the proceeds and tourism benefitted local schools and the local economy. They hope it will continue for many years, and everyone felt great about being a part of it.
In many ways, it’s the same with TSEP. The most important part of our work is that it also benefits the schools, residents, and local economy. We hope it will continue for many years, and all of us on staff and all who are here tonight and a part of it in various ways can feel great about being a part of it.
On behalf of the tens of thousands of lives you affect by your support of economic development, let me say to you a well-deserved muchas gracias y estamos entusiasmados para dos mil veinte. Thank you, and we are excited about 2020!