Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Retaining young population key to success

By William Kincaid
CELINA - Mercer County must retain its young people because rural communities have a tough time convincing companies to invest if they don't have a growing population, a county official said.
Mercer County Community Development Director Jared Ebbing recently delivered that message to the Grand Lake Rotary Club while touting the importance of the proposed Tri Star 2.0 project, a plan to consolidate the nine-district career compact's programs into one location.
"Our greatest asset are our people. Without people this community is going to die on the vine; people move away, and trying to get companies to expand without people, trying to get new businesses to come in without people is impossible," Ebbing said.
A growing population is vital not only for business development and expansion but community growth.
"It's impossible to ever have a levy for a school if you're hemorrhaging that many people," he said about other counties in Ohio. "If the young people aren't coming back and having kids of their own - enrollment, trying to get streets done (are all difficult)."  Unlike years ago, people aren't having families with 10 or more children, he said.
"You don't see many of those any more so naturally a rural area like ours, the population would be going down because people are not having huge families," Ebbing said.
Yet the number of those 20-39 years old is projected to increase 3.5 percent from 1990 to 2030, a positive number compared with other local counties.
"So for us to have a positive number in spite of that is important, that we are growing," he said.
In fact, Ebbing said officials from a large company told him three years ago they wouldn't have considered moving here if that population projection were negative.
"Why would they want to invest in a community that's not growing?" Ebbing asked. "It would be next to impossible to land a company like we did without that being positive."
"On top of that, our existing businesses are saying, 'we got all these people retiring soon. If we don't replace them with the similar skill set, how can we expand?' " Ebbing said. "And most companies I talk to say they would expand even more if they had even more people."
That's why population growth is paramount to economic development
Before talking about Tri Star 2.0, Ebbing highlighted the success of programs that help retain or bring back young people to the area.
Talent Connection Forum allows Mercer and Auglaize county juniors and seniors to meet with local businesses and professionals - engineers, architects, nurses, etc. - and start planning their careers. No more than eight students sit around a table with local professionals to discuss a vocation.
"It's that hands-on type of learning, that project-based learning. You're never going to learn that in a textbook," Ebbing said about students who talked with electrical engineers from Pax Machine.
Companies are offering internships, hiring students for full-time jobs and offering to foot their entire college tuition costs, Ebbing said, wishing these kinds of signings got the same attention as athletes signing with colleges.
"Getting people, not just kids, but parents and teachers and guidance counselors aware of all that we have will make this whole dot-connection a heck of a lot easier," he said.
The county, of course, can't retain all of its youth.
"But those that think they can't (stay here), those are the ones we want to get to," Ebbing step.
The next major step in keeping the youth here is to introduce them to the skill sets they need. Tri Star 2.0 would rival other high-tech centers in the state and country and help educate young men and women about businesses looking to expand but lacking skilled workers, Ebbing said.
"Learn by doing," Ebbing said. "It's only a half a day. You're still taking physics and calculus at your home school but learn by doing. You'll be a much better engineering student wherever you go. I don't care what the category is, that's what Tri Star 2.0 is going to try to do."
If a 15-year, 0.95-mill bond levy is approved by a majority of voters at a special election on Aug. 2, a 95,567-square-foot, two-story building would be built near Wright State University-Lake Campus. The facility would also offer expanded adult education, Ebbing said. The levy, if passed, would allow even more area students to earn college credits while still in high school.
The program would remain a compact, meaning students from all nine districts are eligible for part-day Tri Star instruction while remaining students at their home district.
The $25 million project would be paid with $8 million in state funds and a local share of $17 million. The construction levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 house $33.25 per year.
"This is our one shot to get this kind of money in from the state," Ebbing said.
Ebbing said he sees the levy not as a school levy but "an economic development-type levy that will give us that launching pad to continued economic and community success."
Tri Star 2.0, he continued, would have a ripple effect of expanded business, new businesses and the type of attractions that come with a strong community, such as new retailers and restaurants.
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