From Norwalk to the world?
After attending an international business conference and also visiting several businesses in the Indianapolis area earlier this summer, nine Norwalk residents believe existing businesses can grow and new businesses can be attracted with sustained economic development.
One interesting tie-in that several in the group noted was that businesses can service the racing industry, aeronautics and the marine industry all at once. With Summit Racing Eqipment Motorsports Park here, the talk of a regional airport at NASA Plumbrook and Lake Erie only a few miles away, that combination opens up some interesting possibilities.
"Just to go and visit an area that has economic growth that they're basing on racing was really fascinating," Mayor Sue Lesch said.
"We've begun to work on some of these ideas already. Economic development is not an overnight success," she added. "It's a long-term project.
"But you try to make a little progress every day. The biggest success we're already looking for is the retention of businesses that are here already. Sometimes you land the big company and you have a huge increase in jobs, but (usually) the successes come over time."
Lesch would like for the state to consider changes in the way it attracts businesses. "A lot of the incentives come from the state so our hands are tied locally," Lesch said. "As a state, we need to think out of the box more. We've talked to the department of transportation about several projects in the area. It takes time for them to consider new options."
The group spent two full days in the Indianapolis area on a grant through the Geotrac Foundation. The nine people in the party attended the 2007 annual meeting of the Academy of International Business and also visited several businesses and industries in the area.
Another idea that intrigues Lesch is the thought of a visitors bureau. "I was really impressed with a little community called Brownsburg. It looked smaller to Norwalk, but they had a visitors bureau," she said. "We could capitalize better on tourism, not only for racing but for the lake and Cedar Point. Cost is a factor there's always negatives and positives to be weighed."
Jeff Huber, vice president of Citizens Bank, agreed that the potential of companies serving multiple industries exists here. "Some of the things that they've done just don't concentrate on motorsports, but aerospace and other high-tech fields," he said.
He also would like to see more focus in the area on global opportunities. "One of the neatest things I got out of it is that people are trying to think globally, but they actually start on a local level. It's just a matter of getting the know-how to do that," Huber said.
He would like a round-table discussion program set up for local people interested in joining the global market to get advice from others who have experience in global industry. "We have a lot of neat cross-over possibilities," Huber said.
Vickie Davanzo, economic development executive for First Energy, agreed that Norwalk has the potential to build industry to support both motorsports and other recreational activities.
She said several businesses in the Indianapolis area are willing to offer advice to businesses here to make people in motorsports and other recreational industries comfortable here. For instance, she said, one company said people involved in motorsports have specific needs of cell phones and mobile communication. If area businesses know to supply those needs, people involved in the industry are more likely to come here, she explained.
"It started and it just got bigger and bigger," she said. "They are just now getting to that point of where they looked at as a business sector. By us working together in economic development in a region, we could help it grow really fast. That is possible here."
Melissa James, executive director of the Norwalk Area Chamber of Commerce, said, "It was a really good experience to be with folks from all around the world that were looking at business and economic development.
She agrees with Lesch that even with the potential of attracting new business and expanding into global markets, the city must not forget existing businesses. But some existing businesses need to look past local boundaries.
"We need to be in the global market," James said. "We need to be increasing our reach and our scope into the global market. Its not an impossible thing even for a small business. The Internet makes it easy."
Other members in the delegation were Bethany Dentler, NEDC Economic Development director; Dave Gulden, Main Street Norwalk manager; Jim Wiedenheft, Huron County Development Council director; Jordan Tkach, business student at the University of Toledo; and Praney Rane, Norwalk High School student.
Dentler compiled an extensive report with comments from all team members that is available at NEDC.