History of MCEDC’s County Development for the Future Program

Jonathan Leist, Culver Town Manager, asked me to help him in a forum presentation on Community Collaboration at the Indiana Municipal Management Association (IMMA) annual meeting at Swan Lake Resort on Thursday. Kevin Overmyer was to be the original speaker in my position, but he had to attend the Bill signing in Indy that day and backed out. As Jonathan said, Kevins are interchangeable. He also asked Chuck Kitchell, Interim CSC Superintendent, to participate to help discuss the shared programs between the town and the school.

Jonathan wanted me to give history of the County Development for the Future program since it was an example of community collaboration on a larger scale. He asked me to give examples of collaboration that came from the program and talk about how it had morphed to meet needs over the years. I thought a synopsis of that discussion might be interesting to others here, so here you go!

I can’t really talk about County Development for the Future (CDFF) without a brief synopsis of Marshall County Economic Development (MCEDC). The current reiteration of MCEDC began in 2007. There were several false starts before a formula was conceived that all the players could agree on. It consisted of financial support based on population with Marshall County carrying the lion’s share of the cost. Marshall County and each community provided one representative selected by their individual councils. The organization was set up as a 501c(6) corporation to have not for profit status, but allow lobbying where appropriate. The representatives from each community were barred from holding public office to assure privacy. Each community selected a representative and signed a services contract with MCEDC for economic development services.

In 2012-13, I was chairman of MCEDC’s board. We found ourselves constantly defending our positions and justifying why we might have been working in one community rather than another on projects that we saw as benefiting the County as a whole. The axiom, “A rising tide raises all ships” was part of our credo, but that often was lost as communities struggled to overcome their individual challenges. We had held several county-wide meetings to discuss common issues and it struck me that these gatherings were unusual in lieu of the norm. Some of the town officials had no idea who their counterparts were in other Marshall County communities. At a meeting with County Commissioner President Kevin Overmyer and Marshall County’s MCEDC rep, Roger Umbaugh, we discussed this and my thoughts on bringing a round-table together. With them on board, I floated the idea with the MCEDC board and in February, 2013, we had our first CDFF meeting. It was determined that each MCEDC board member would bring 2-3 members of their community to the table. These were to be community leaders, though not necessarily political leaders. We wanted to bring in influential people who could carry our messages back and affect change in their communities.

In hindsight, I believe that one of the key things that made this a success was bringing in an outside facilitator. Shawn Peterson, then working for the Corporate Partnership for Economic Growth (CPEG) in St. Joe County agreed to be facilitator. The original thought was to bring in a facilitator so there would be no sense of a dictated agenda. It also allowed for participation as a group member rather than myself or the MCEDC Exec Director trying to facilitate without contributing. I think we made an excellent choice in Shawn and I don’t know that another facilitator could have served us better. The goals given to him were: 1) Foster a sense of community throughout the various groups represented, i.e. common goals. 2) Foster a sense of collaboration, i.e. shared problems and solutions that can be shared. 3) Foster community goal setting with the idea of sharing results going forward. Shawn did an phenomenal job for us!

I blame some of the communication problems the towns within Marshall County experience on Indiana Basketball. The old small town rivalries die hard. But part of the success of CDFF is that competition. No one wants to come back to the next quarterly meeting and not have goals accomplished. It becomes a pride thing. On the other side, when a community touts a success, often the other communities take that as a challenge. It gets them thinking, “Why can’t we do that in our town?” or “We could do that better!”

A few examples of successes:

  1. Commerce Building Under Construction

    Shell Buildings – Around the time CDFF started, Plymouth had moved forward on their first shell building, known as the Commerce Building. This was already a point of contention. Why was it in Plymouth and not another community? Because Plymouth stepped up with the funding to make it happen! But because of discussions at CDFF, the Commerce Building was recognized for what it was, a beacon that brought interested companies to Marshall County where we could show them that and other options that might not otherwise received consideration. The Commerce Building in Plymouth was directly responsible for Indiana Composites locating in Bourbon.

  2. Argos 17th Rd Industrial Park

    Industrial Land – Discussions at CDFF caused the communities to evaluate what building and land stock they actually had available. Because of this, Argos took advantage of a farm sale at the edge of town and purchased land to expand their industrial development options. Then they came back the CDFF group for help in how to move that forward. They are now on their way to having the second Shell Building in Marshall County. (Actually the only one at this point since the Commerce Building has sold and is now home to Pretzels, Inc.)

  3. Community Support – Last year when Culver competed for Stellar Community status, a call went out for support to the other Marshall County communities. Letters of support were provided and nearly every community sent a representative to the opening meeting when the State agencies came to Culver for their site evaluation. That kind of support would not have happened without the relationships fostered at CDFF.
  4. Regional Cities – Marshall County would not have been as successful as they were in collaboration with St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties without CDFF working as a clearing house for ideas. The projects submitted under Regional Cities are now one of the key topics discussed at the quarterly meetings.
  5. Internal Community Resource Sharing – Argos came to a meeting touting the creation of an internal agreement between the Town, Park Department and Community School to share resources with the goal of cost savings. A prime example of this was shared services for snow removal. Culver, for one, immediately took this idea back and began holding meetings between the Town and Community School and have already duplicated some of this cost sharing with tangible savings.

The County Development for the Future meetings have evolved over the years since 2013. The meetings have continued to be a place of collaboration and the celebration of successes, but they are now also a showplace for what Marshall County communities have accomplished. Regina Emberton of Michiana Partnership and Jennifer Vandeburg, OCRA Community Liaison regularly attend. We have attracted the attention of our larger neighbors to the north with Jeff Rea, South Bend Regional County Chamber of Commerce President and John Affleck-Graves, Executive Vice President at Notre Dame attending our meetings. State dignitaries such as Jim Shellinger, former president of IEDC and current Secretary of Commerce has attended meetings. Bill Konya, then Director of OCRA attended one of our meetings. Officials from INDOT have attended. CDFF has been recognized as something unique. Many leave saying, “We need something like this in our County!”, but we’ve yet to see it duplicated.

Shawn Peterson no longer leads us in facilitation. He moved on with our undying gratitude for getting us started. The meetings are currently being handled internally by the MCEDC President. We’ve moved past the need to talk people into working together and now we’re in a continuing phase of how we can help each other. The relationship building continues. MCEDC facilitates this on a near daily basis, but CDFF is crucial to keeping those relationships moving forward.

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