Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
By Shelley Grieshop
Development director announces retirement
Mercer County Economic Development Director Larry Stelzer has announced his retirement after working nearly two decades to help secure jobs and businesses in the area.
Stelzer, 62, announced his plans this week, with his retirement to become effective June 15. He intends to stick around to facilitate a smooth transition for his replacement, he said.
County commissioners accepted the resignation on Tuesday and immediately took steps to solicit candidates for the job. The application deadline is April 28.
The commissioners applauded Stelzer's efforts the last 19 years.
"Larry has created a lot of good things during his time with the county," said Commissioner Jerry Laffin, who was a commissioner when Stelzer was initially hired. "He was a local guy but didn't know much about the job when he came on board. He's worked hard to make the county a better place."
Stelzer of Celina formerly worked in middle management at three former local companies, Agco New Idea, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Huffy's Bicycle Corp. A graduate of the former Immaculate Conception High School in Celina, he continued his education at Wright State University.
In 1990, he became the first economic development director ever appointed by the county. He jokingly calls the experience "baptism by fire." One of his biggest challenges through the years was the closing of the Huffy plant in Celina about 10 years ago, he said.
"When we lost Huffy's, we lost about 20 percent of our workforce," he said.
But the local area rebounded. Today, despite the sluggish economy, the county boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.
"We've all worked hard to attract new companies and help existing ones," Stelzer said. "Helping our existing companies is crucial. About 80 percent of all new jobs comes from within the companies we already have here."
Stelzer gives tribute to the county commissioners for their support of his office. It's helped him to do his job more effectively and efficiently, he added.
"One of the things that makes me the proudest is that politics has never once gotten into this office," he said. "It's never mattered; it's always been about who needs our help and what can we do."
He recalls the first economic development grant issued by his office. It was a loan made available to the county for S&K Products, south of Celina, which he calls one of the most successful companies in the area.
The grants and revolving loan funds that he and his staff have been able to obtain and administer through the years continue to give new and existing businesses a boost they need to survive and succeed, he said.
"I'm very proud that Mercer County has the largest revolving loan fund in the state of Ohio. That alone has created about a thousand jobs," he said. "We continue to put more and more money into (that fund) so it doesn't ever dry up. It's our No. 1 economic tool."
His office on the first floor of the Mercer County courthouse is filled with photos, hats and other memorabilia from the "great people" he's met through the years, he said. He's on a first-name basis with every CEO in the county and those friendships helped him serve the county better, he said.
A portion of his job has been to "wine and dine" prospective company reps who are considering moving their businesses to the area. Convincing them it's a good idea isn't hard, he says.
"I firmly believe that Mercer County is the greatest place in the world. We have such a good work ethic here and good people," he said.
Stelzer, who resides along Grand Lake, said it's time to move on with his life, relax with his wife, two children and four grandchildren "and the one on the way."
"I won't sit still, I know that," he said with a smile.
He is an avid scuba diver and instructor and loves to bicycle and hunt, he said. He looks forward to spending time on the lake in his boat, "H20 Addiction."
Stelzer also plans to keep his eye on the job front by working part-time as an economic development consultant, he added.
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