A newly approved plan to boost economic development in the region has already helped net more than $13 million in federal funding and sets equity and inclusiveness goals for each regional economic priority.
A year in the making, with input from community, government, education and businesses stakeholders across the 13-county Dayton region, the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS, was developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).
The CEDS is required to access certain federal funds and technical assistance. On June 8, the EDA approved the new five-year plan, which replaces one written in 2012.
Interviews with 20 area economic development professionals and government, education and business leaders found broad support for the CEDS’ priorities and optimism that the strategy will help the region build on its success in adding jobs, diversifying the economy, growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem and improving infrastructure.
Adding equity and inclusiveness goals, a first for the CEDS, was applauded by officials across the region.
“We know there are disparities in our region, and those disparities are not limited to one county or one city or one area or one industry,” said Stacy Schweikhart, director of strategy and engagement for the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission. “So we are very committed to helping advance everyone in the region. And building a strong and resilient economy for all 13 counties and everybody who resides in those counties.”
The CEDS emphasis on equity will benefit the entire region by helping create more jobs, said Whitney Barkley, director of the Greater West Dayton Incubator.
“I think the thing we will see for small businesses is sustainability,” Barkley said. “By making resources more accessible, just addressing some of the inequities we’ve seen in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, I think it gives businesses an opportunity to really grow, to connect with resources that they may have never known existed and to really bridge connections that they may not otherwise have had.”
While the plan looks to the future, it also is relevant right now, officials said.
“It’s very well put together and it really addresses those things that are extremely important in this day and time, and what’s going on in our economy,” said Jody Gunderson, Hamilton’s economic development director.
EDA funding is competitive, and the CEDS’ regional approach and focus on working cooperatively are what the federal funders look for, said Springfield Assistant City Manager Tom Franzen.
The plan sets economic development goals, strategies for achieving them, and an evaluation framework for Auglaize, Butler, Champaign, Clark, Clinton, Darke, Greene, Mercer, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby and Warren counties. Jurisdictions can apply for EDA funding and are more likely to get it if their projects fit the strategy, Schweikhart said.
“The CEDS was well-done, extremely relevant and will be a very effective tool in giving us a significant leg up on other communities outside the region when it comes to capturing national grant funds for economic development projects,” said Troy City Director Patrick Titterington, who served on the CEDS steering committee for the Greater Dayton Mayors and Managers Association.
Titterington said Troy has already used the new CEDS in applying for an EDA grant to expand its sewer treatment plant capacity.
The CEDS was written by Schweikhart and Julie Sullivan, executive vice president for regional development at the Dayton Development Coalition, which is the western regional representative of JobsOhio, the state’s privatized economic development arm.
The boards of each group approved the CEDS earlier this year, and the region will now seek EDA approval of a new Economic Development District serving all 13 counties, opening up additional funding opportunities, Schweikhart said.
MVRPC and the coalition will also produce an annual report that includes metrics showing progress on the CEDS priorities and goals.
“Measuring is a big part of it. That’s how you know you are successful. If you weren’t, what do you need to do differently?” Gunderson said. “Everything is about moving forward.”
The CEDS sets five regional priority areas:
- Workforce development and talent attraction and retention
- Infrastructure, including roads and bridges, water, sewer, energy and broadband
- Vibrant, diverse communities where people want to live and work
- Supporting small business and entrepreneurship
- A resilient, growing and diversified economy
“These priorities align closely with our mission to create jobs,” Sullivan said. “Every one of these priorities drives economic growth and job creation and overlap with a lot of our current efforts.”
No one wants to revisit the Great Recession years when General Motors and Delphi closed operations, taking down suppliers and leaving the region reeling. Of stakeholders surveyed during CEDS development, 40% said their top aspiration for the region was economic resilience.
Sullivan said the region has become far more diversified in its industry mix since that recession.
The CEDS report calls for building on that and continuing to leverage the presence of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Springfield Air National Guard Base, which helped attract aerospace, advanced manufacturing and other high-tech jobs.
“I think the takeaway is we don’t want to be top-heavy in one sector,” said Erik Collins, Montgomery County director of community and economic development.
He said the CEDS provides the region with more focus and alignment on what initiatives to pursue.
“Regardless of whether we are going after federal grants or not, this CEDS was a great exercise for all of us to come together and really identify our strengths and opportunities going forward,” said CEDS steering committee member Horton Hobbs IV, vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Partnership. “The good news for our region is that spirit of cooperation is not just a buzzword. It’s evident in the way we do business as a region.”
As examples, Hobbs pointed to the Dayton Development Coalition’s Annual Community Leader Fly-In and the annual Priority Development and Advocacy Committee (PDAC) process. Leaders at the Fly-In talk to government officials in Washington D.C. about funding priorities related to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the region’s key industry sectors and community needs.
The PDAC involves representatives from the region’s business, government, education and civic organizations who set regional priorities for specific projects, so that the region speaks with “one-voice” in seeking project funding, Schweikhart said. That process is separate from CEDS, but the PDAC list of projects, along with the MRVPC’s long-range transportation plan and proposed community projects are included in the CEDS.
“The Dayton region, from an economic development standpoint, is a model for interjurisdictional and public-private cooperation,” said Middletown Assistant City Manager Nathan Cahall. “Not to say there are not parochial battles from time to time. But you really get a sense that all ships rise with the tide.”
The new CEDS is a “blueprint for building a stronger, more resilient economy,” said Susan Brehm, director of the EDA’s Chicago regional office.
“Economic development is a team sport,” she said. “Collaboration is critical to ensure that a region leverages all of its assets to level up its economy.”
Federal funding opportunities
Two decades ago, the EDA provided about $1 million in seed money for construction of The Entrepreneurs’ Center, the first building on the Tech Town campus near downtown Dayton. The EDA later added $2.5 million for a second building.
“That really helped get us going in entrepreneurial activity and focus in the city of Dayton,” said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.
With a fall federal funding round approaching, Dickstein recently took Brehm and another EDA official on a tour of the city and showed them what became of that initial investment. The Entrepreneurs’ Center boomed over the years. In 2022, it partnered with the University of Dayton and moved into new quarters inside The Hub Powered by PNC Bank at the Arcade.
“This spring, I had the opportunity to visit Dayton and was thrilled with the success of The Hub at the Arcade,” Brehm said. “It gave me goosebumps to see this successful entrepreneurial resource anchored in Dayton’s historic downtown, knowing that EDA grants two decades ago had assisted in its launch.”
EDA funds economic development planning and infrastructure, Opportunity Zone projects and disaster relief. It awarded money from the two COVID-19 relief packages, the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan.
Brehm said EDA looks for locally driven state and regional projects that align with regional economic development strategies and meet other EDA criteria.
“Just last year, EDA made equity an investment priority,” Brehm said. “It is critical that as local economies across our country continue to recover from the pandemic, it is done in an inclusive, equitable way.”
She said the EDA is committed to using its resources and technical assistance to help underserved communities, with a goal of spurring economic development and creating good-paying jobs.
“For me what’s really exciting around this new CEDS and the direction we are going is EDA has now come along and talked about ‘equitable development’ and ‘inclusive development,’” Dickstein said. “They’ve included those values around active engagement for the region’s most vulnerable, for the underserved population, lower income families or seniors, racial minorities, ethnic minorities,”
In May, the EDA awarded Central State University $3.6 million for a workforce training and business development center at its west Dayton campus.
The center, scheduled to open by Sept. 15, will provide employment-related training and educational programs and promote small businesses creation and sustainability, said Morakinyo A.O. Kuti, Central State University associate provost for research.
Credit: CSU University Public Relations
Credit: CSU University Public Relations
“(It) creates an important opportunity for the university to have a transformative impact on the economic lives of underrepresented citizens in the Dayton and the Miami Valley region,” Kuti said. “The project intentionally targets historically underserved and underemployed populations to create career pathways for participants by providing training in high demand skills in growing industries.”
Those include advanced materials, advanced manufacturing, information technology and advanced data management, all of which are targeted for growth in the CEDS.
Other recent EDA funding in the region includes nearly $10 million for disaster recovery projects for the city of Dayton’s water treatment plant generators, Greene County sewer improvements and the Miami Conservancy District’s levee reconstruction in Old North Dayton, Schweikhart said.
Franzen said Springfield used EDA funding for the Prime Ohio II business park and has long used it for a small business revolving loan program.
“I think there are entrepreneurs and small business owners that have the ability to grow and scale but just don’t know how to access the resources, or are distrustful of the programs or just not knowledgeable about what programs exist,” Franzen said. “The goal of that is to make things more accessible, to increase awareness of the program, to make them more accessible and to get people who are sitting on the sidelines into the game.”
Workforce is top priority
Of the five CEDS priorities, the one focused on workforce development and talent attraction and retention is considered the most important, and it touches all the others. The issue pre-dated the COVID-19 pandemic but was exacerbated by the economic disruptions that occurred afterward.
“The CEDS lays out a very robust workforce development strategy for our region that should allow our region to compete very well in an extremely competitive talent market,” said Cassie Barlow, president of the Strategic Council for Higher Education and a member of the CEDS steering committee.
“The power of this workforce development strategy is that it helps to create equal access to everyone by addressing potential barriers as part of the strategy.”
Of stakeholders surveyed, 68% said the region’s most significant risks are the ability to attract and retain talent or workforce availability, readiness and diversity.
“The point is that we want a diverse workforce, diverse economy and we need those different skills sets,” Collins said.
Training programs funded at the federal, state and local levels have proliferated in recent years, and educators at all levels are increasingly collaborating with the business and non-profit communities to make sure people are being trained for current and future jobs.
While AES Ohio, formerly known as DP&L, is primarily in the electricity business, it also funds workforce development grants through its foundation, said Robert N. Beeler, economic development lead for AES and a member of the CEDS steering committee.
“(It’s part of) understanding what do our customers need from the workforce side and what can we do to foster that?” Beeler said.
Students in grades K-12 are exposed to career information, given assessments to measure job aptitude and interest and taught a curriculum that is more aligned with workforce needs than in the past, said Shannon Cox, superintendent of the Montgomery County Educational Service Center.
The Montgomery County Career Technology Center is in the midst of an expansion to help prepare more high schoolers for work. And colleges increasingly bolster their degree offerings with certifications and other credentials.
CEDS calls for increasing all of those efforts, lowering the cost of post-high school education and removing barriers to work by improving access to quality, affordable childcare, transportation and affordable housing.
Barlow said a plan like the CEDS is essential to economic development.
“The communities across the country who will win new business interest will be those who have the most robust plan as well as a strong execution strategy,” said Barlow, a retired Air Force colonel who was 88th Air Base Wing Commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“This is the power of the CEDS for our region. The CEDS gets our economic development agencies across the region on the same sheet of music and places our region in a position to work together to approach employers regarding the value of our region.”
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