Annual Address 2022: Where do we go from here?


The following is the speech delivered by David Zak, President and CEO of the Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Membership on Thursday, February 24, 2022.

Good evening. I’m David Zak, I’m President & CEO of the Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership. Tonight I want to say thank you, hit some highlights, and share some strategy.

1. Thank You

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  • Crowd - I want to start by thanking you for coming out tonight, despite the weather and the snow.
  • Camden - I want to thank Adam Smith and Camden Falls for providing such a great venue.
  • City/County - I want to thank the City of Tiffin and Seneca County for allowing us to be your economic, downtown, and community development agent. We take that responsibility pretty seriously, and we’re super thankful for such a strong relationship over the years. We also appreciate the contract we have with the Port Authority.  
  • Members - I also want to thank our 57 members and our several other financial supporters. Our members are all listed on the on the back of the annual report that’s at everybody’s place. Every single year these organizations give us what we need to do our jobs, and we appreciate each and every one of you. We also listed when they started supporting organization. It’s amazing how long some of the support goes back. We people who’ve been supporting us for more than 30 years, and we appreciate the new members who’ve just joined this year.
  • Volunteers – Next, I also want to appreciate our hundreds of volunteers. We literally have hundreds of volunteers contributing thousands of hours to the cause. Whether it’s on our Board, Executive Committee, Finance or Membership Committees; downtown committees; economic, community, or entrepreneurship development committees; Northwest Career Ready or Seneca County CEO; or any other of the events we support or run. We know that you are the ones who make the success that we get to talk about happen. Thank you so much.
  • Partners – I also want to thank our many other partners that we work with, on sometimes a daily basis.  
    • We appreciate elected officials and staffs here tonight from the Auditor’s office, the Courts, JFS, Tiffin City Schools, townships, and non-profits like the Seneca Regional Chamber, SCAT, the Tiffin Community Foundation, the Tiffin Historic Trust, and the United Way.
    • At the regional level, we work a lot with the GLCAP, Regional Growth Partnership, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.
    • At the state level, we appreciate JobsOhio, the Department of Development, Representative Gary Click, Bill Reineke, Robert Sprague, what we believe will be our new US representative Bob Latta, as well as US Senator Rob Portman.
  • Extended Team - I also want to take the opportunity to thank our team, including folks that support us in a very close way, like Lisa Young, Audrey Burkholder, Dead Shark Production, COACT, Spire, and now TRIAD.
  • Team Alumni - I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the contributions of Audrey Flood, Nick Dutro, and Chandler Grooms, who left us within the last year.
    • Audrey really helped get our rural, entrepreneurship, and community development off the ground.
    • Nick managed our economic development in such a way that we consistently ranked in the Top 10 nationally.
    • And Chandler helped launch Northwest Career Ready as a real thing BAC, implementing its marketing and plan.
  • Current Team - Last, but not least, I want to thank my existing team. I appreciate Adam and Corrina. Their impact is already being felt. We appreciate them for joining this crazy crew. And to Carol and Amy, I really don’t have enough time to tell you how much I appreciate you, as people, as professionals and colleagues, laboring in this thing for years with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

2. Highlights

Highlights – So, you’ve heard from the team on a lot of the great things that happened last year. I also want to touch on some things they haven’t mentioned yet.

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  • Communications & Marketing – First, communications and marketing. It was a really good year for us. We issued a record 95 press releases, which helped generate more than 200 stories online, in print, and even on TV. We also created 160 pages of content on our website, and we  got about 70,000 visitors and 100,000 views. Through the 4,000 posts on our social media platforms, we generated more than a million impressions.
  • Workforce/Youth – In the workforce arena, you heard Carol mention Northwest Career Ready, an effort to connect high school students with great local career opportunities. It’s a great partnership with Vanguard-Sentinel, Terra State, 13 high schools and districts, as well as a number of local employers. It involves five counties. We launched a new brand, a new website, a plan of work with 18 specific initiatives, of which six have already been accomplished already. We’re now working on finalizing the plan for finding a new manager to replace Chandler in 2022.
  • Entrepreneurship/Youth – In the entrepreneurship space, Seneca County CEO. It’s a youth-based entrepreneurship and workforce development initiative. We’re in partnership with a lot of organizations including North Central Electric, Terra State, and many others, and we successfully launched the first class of students. It’s a national program with 60 chapters around the country. We’re the first one in Ohio. Love being the innovator here. The students already did two class businesses and are working on their individual businesses. Recruitment is currently underway for next year’s class.
  • Real Estate Development – In real estate development, there was the work going on on Spec Building 4 to accommodate TH Plastics, expanding from 50,000 to more than 100,000 square feet. We also went through a Request For Proposals process and announced a new spec building, #5 in our history, similar kind of situation, 50,000 square feet expandable to 200,000 square feet. It’s going to be a $2 to $3 million investment, and we’re going after some grant funding right now to support the infrastructure there. We also working on expanding the amount of industrial ground available.
  • Economic Development – Economic development in general, it was a great year.  We had a fantastic year in economic development, with $76 million in new investment and almost 500 new jobs. Industrial and commercial businesses that announced projects last year included CentraComm, Copper Mare Ranch, Crossfit Tiffin, Custom Machine, F&F Sheet Metal, Grammer, Independent Pallet, Miller Investment Fund, Mohawk Nursery, QT2, Sonoco Products, Tiffin Foundry & Machine, Tiffin Farmers’ Co-Op, the VC, Webster Industries, WIN Waste Innovations, Your Legacy, and many others. We also received a national ranking of #4 in the country for large, private economic development projects for counties like ours (there are almost 600) from Site Selection magazine, and we also won the Excellence in Innovation award from the Ohio Economic Development Association for our work with the Tiffin and Seneca CARES small business relief grant program.
  • Ratings – And last, but not least, our members and stakeholders, including many in this room, gave us our highest ratings ever on our performance - 4.6 on a 5-point scale. We appreciate it, and we’re going to continue to work really hard to earn your trust and respect every year.

3. Strategic Shift

Vision – We Made It!

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  • 10-Year Goals - So, let me now share some now about what we’re thinking strategically. You know, when I came in 2014, I shared a vision around expanding our communication, expanding our outreach, and expanding our economy. I shared 10-year goals of 1,000 jobs, 1,000 calls on businesses, and sharing 1,000 stories about why Tiffin and Seneca County were a great place to live and run a business.
  • 8-Year Results - So, the question is where do we stand today, eight years in? I’m happy to report that we are at 2,400 jobs, 1,600 calls on businesses, and 1,000 stories that we’ve shared on our website about why this is a great place. We have, so to speak, made it! As a result, the community has had over 800 development projects that have taken place, about a hundred a year, involving a half a billion dollars in new investment. For me, it’s incredible to think about and very satisfying and gratifying to have been a part of it.

Vision – Changing the Conversation

  • Amazement - And what we’ve seen happen, is the conversation about this place, both inside and outside the community, has completely changed. No longer is it why would you want to live there or start your business there; yes, it’s a nice, safe little community, but there’s not a whole lot going on. You have no …I think what we’re getting now, as people discover what we are, both people that live here and people that don’t, they have this sense of amazement. They’re amazed at our universities, our businesses, our internationalism, our growth and development, our downtown, our collaboration, and our quality of life. It’s super cool to see that that conversation is not why would you want to do it there to what the heck is going on there? Why are things so positive? Why is there so much growth?

Vision – Grow our Team, our Stakeholders, our Collaboration

  • Expansion to Growth - So, now that we’ve kind of made it, we’re thinking about what’s next. And as I and the team have thought about this, not only recently, but for more than a year, we’ve come to the conclusion that what we need to do is shift our strategic focus from expansion. From expanding communication, outreach, and economic development—which we need to continue to work on in the same way that we have—instead of expanding and increasing the numbers, we need to focus instead on growing our internal talent, on growing our external support, and on growing available resources for development.
  • Let me dive into those three topics a little bit.
  • Grow Talent - So, the first thing is, we need to answer the question, “How do we increase our organization’s ability to attract and develop talented people?”
    • The Reality - You see, we know that the reality is millennials and Gen Z employees, which are beginning to make up a majority of the workforce, average less than three years of employment at one place. This has happened to us twice now. The very talented Bryce Riggs and Katie Lang. They left at the end of 2017, and we brought on Audrey Flood and Nick Dutro, who left at the end of last year. And what we discovered is that we’re very good at growing talent. We let people own things. They shine. People get exposed to how good they are. And we want them to fly. We encourage that.
    • Great College Sports Programs - We need to become like a college sports team that’s very good at attracting, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, coaching, mentoring, developing, and growing talented people so that they have a great experience, do great things professionally, and then whenever they go off to wherever their next adventure is, that we’re ready to reload and do it quickly and efficiently. And, actually, as they leave and succeed, if they do, then that’s a compliment to us and our system.
    • TSEP Thrive - So, instead of trying to fight it, we realized we’re really good it it. We have an awesome work experience that we’ve now tried to brand as TSEP Thrive. 
    • Career Mixers - Some other new initiatives for 2022 include our new Career Mixer events we’re doing at Heidelberg, TU, and Terra State.
  • Grow Support - The second thing we want to do over the next several years is increase our organization’s ability to grow its base, its support, and that involves membership and the financial contributions we get from there. It involves volunteers, and the time and the talents that they contribute. We have hundreds of volunteers and how do we support them and grow that number. And our partners as well.  
    • Increase Value - So, how do we become an organization that increases value to those stakeholders and enhances the experience they have when they’re involved and engaged with us.
    • TSEP 101 - So, some of the new initiatives we’ve launched for this year include our TSEP 101 events, both in-person and virtually, where members, volunteers, elected officials, or interested people looking potentially at engaging can meet the entire team and get an overview of who we are and what we do and ask questions.
    • TSEP Connect - We also just started TSEP Connect events, where periodically stakeholders or people that are checking us out can meet with us, the TSEP Team, in a casual setting (lunch, coffee, drinks, whatever), but we’re trying to make ourselves more accessible.
    • Volunteer Support - We’re also in the beginning stages of developing a better volunteer onboarding, development and training system, to provide more volunteer support, as well as more volunteer and member recognition events. We’re doing some Volunteer and Member Receptions, which we’ve never done before. We’re excited about that.  
    • Fundraising - And then also, the last time we did an intentional fundraising drive was my first year in 2014. We need to do another one this year. You know we’ve had a 20% increase in inflation since that time, plus our increased activity scope, and to stay competitive in the marketplace, we need to launch a fundraising drive to be able to sustain what we’re doing. So, we’re excited about adding more members. We’ll also be launching some new member benefits this year, and we’re excited about that.
  • Grow Resources - Last, how do we increase our organization’s ability to grow the resources that companies need in order for more development to occur. We’re finding there are obstacles to that development occurring. That includes not enough workforce, so we got to be focusing on workforce development. We got to look at industrial and spec building development, capital development, broadband and infrastructure development, community development resource development, entrepreneurship initiatives and resources, and rural planning.  
    • Workforce Development - So, in the workforce development, we’re going to keep focusing on career marketing, apprenticeships, Northwest Career Ready, and we applied with GLCAP to develop a new regional workforce training system through the Good Jobs Challenge grant, and many other partnerships and initiatives.  
    • Real Estate Development - In real estate development, the new spec building is going to go up this year. We’re also going to be working on expanding the amount of industrial ground, we’re beginning to talk about within the entrepreneurship strategic planning effort about doing incubator space, some of which is already underway on the college campuses.
    • Rural Development - In rural development, we helped launch the selection of the consultants to do the rural broadband strategic plan that North Central Ohio Regional Council of Governments is going to be running. We’re planning on being active participants in that, and we’re planning on taking the Rural Broadband Task Force, and turning it into a Rural Development Committee, so that we can update, communicate, and begin to collaborate on how to do rural development better in rural Seneca County.
    • Entrepreneurship - Last, but not least, in entrepreneurship, we’re going to keep cranking on Seneca County CEO, pushing the Entrepreneurial Clearinghouse, and finish the Entrepreneurship Strategic Plan this year. 

So, to sum it all up, we want to continue the communication, the outreach and the economic growth, and we believe the best way to sustain the success we’ve had is to invest in our organization’s ability to grow talent, support, and resources available for development.

Thanks for listening. Thanks for your support. Looking forward to what the next eight to ten years will bring. It should be incredibly exciting.

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