Stepping Down from MCEDC post

January 14, 2019

Kevin Berger

After 13 years helping to move Marshall County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC) forward, I have stepped down from my position on the board. I originally sought and received appointment in 2006 to represent the Town of Culver on the organizing committee and I saw that through to the organization of the 501(c)6 corporation in 2007. Last month I completed my fourth 3 year term on the MCEDC board of directors. During that time I have served as an officer for all but two of those years. I served as Board Chairman, Vice Chairman and most recently Secretary/Treasurer. With my retirement, there are only two of the original members still on the board. Change can be good, but with it can come a lack of history, so I leave with mixed feelings.

The organization struggled at its inception. The organization that I helped form was at least the second attempt at a county-wide EDC. There was a lot of back and forth about how funding should occur and how to determine representation. Kevin Overmyer deserves much credit for making the current version work. His efforts in organizing the players behind the scenes and then assuring that there would be financing was critical to getting the EDC started. Securing the lion’s share of funding support through the County, while agreeing to only one representative on the board set an example that the municipalities could follow. Our organizing committee met with other ongoing EDC’s to get a feel for how operations should be managed and worked with Ice Miller attorneys to make sure the organizing documents gave us the proper mix of control and flexibility. Roger Umbaugh, the organizations first chairman, was instrumental in using his contacts to connect us with the right people. Pam Davis came on as Office Manager at the beginning and has been a fantastic asset on the one constant for the organization. Looking at the cooperation occurring across the county today, it may be difficult for some to realize the early struggles. Things such as finding an office location, hiring an executive director and determining a name & logo were all considered carefully against the backdrop of some continued push and pull among the member communities. At the board, we often joked that the old basketball rivalries die hard.

During my time as chairman, I suggested a county-wide meeting to help foster better cooperation. The board supported this initiative and again, Kevin Overmyer stepped up to help make the first meeting at Swan Lake happen. Thus, Marshall County Development For the Future (CDFF) was born. While the germ of the idea was mine, it would have never happened without the help of others. Pam Davis was invaluable in making the connections and getting people committed to come. Her suggestion to ask Shawn Peterson from the Corporate Partnership for Economic Growth (CPEG – now defunct) to come in as an outside facilitator was inspired. Shawn did a fantastic job of getting our community leaders to open up and engage with each other, breaking down barriers that everyone came to realize, never should have been there. He drew out the leaders and got us all talking about what we could do together. MCEDC and Marshall County owe him a debt for his assistance.

I believe the first tangible thing that came from CDFF was Argos’s purchase of land for an industrial park. Argos officials came to a meeting and announced they were doing this and said they wouldn’t have done so without broadening their thinking at CDFF meetings. This has led to the construction of a shell building on that property. Marshall County would not have rallied to be included in the St. Joseph and Elkhart County Regional Cities Initiative if it weren’t for CDFF. Because of that, Regional Cities has injected millions of dollars into Marshall County and made us more visible to the State as a whole.  The support that Culver received from CDFF was instrumental in the Stellar Communities designation we received. Without CDFF it is unlikely that OCRA would have suggested that Marshall County compete for designation as a Stellar Region or that Ginny Munroe would have stepped up to lead that county-wide initiative. Those are just a few of the benefits achieved from CDFF and it makes me proud to have been a part of it. It has evolved over the years, but still serves as a place for Marshall County leadership to come together.

I was a part of the selection committee as MCEDC has selected and been headed by four different directors over these 12 years. All of them have brought with them different strengths and weaknesses. Throughout this, it has become clear to me that there is not just one way to do economic development. The board’s position is to find the best fit possible and then tailor our mission to maximize the strengths of the individual chosen to perform the day-to-day functions. Not all of these directors have seen eye-to-eye with our communities, which has made having a well placed liaison from each community critical. This can be a struggle for a volunteer board with limited time for daily engagement, but the trust between the community and their representative is important. It’s not just a seat to fill. MCEDC does important things and is making decisions that affect our communities daily. It is a delicate balance of engagement, while avoiding micro-management, that has kept the organization moving forward through its twelve years of existence.

Marty Oosterbaan

Marty Oosterbaan has been selected as my replacement to represent Culver. Marty’s engagement in the Culver community as well as his key role in the Marshall County Stellar initiative makes him an excellent choice. As a recent retiree, he has the time to be engaged and he has shown he has the energy and drive to make a difference. Removing the onus of attending 3-5 MCEDC meetings per month as well as feeling an obligation to attend as many Culver governmental meetings as possible will be a relief, though I can’t see myself completely disengaging. I wish Marty the best as he assumes this position. In my case, the sense of accomplishment has been worth the headaches. I hope Marty builds on those accomplishments with fewer headaches!

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