City manager says Hamilton can be a premier Midwestern city

Joshua Smith has been at the city’s helm for past 5 years

A report card for Joshua Smith:

“He has been visionary, fearless, and relentless in executing the city’s strategic plan that is just now starting to bear fruit. He is truly a courageous leader who has been a tremendous partner to the Y in many respects, particularly in our collaborative partnership at the BTW Community Center. While City Council deserves a lot of credit for their vision and for constructing a very sound strategic plan, it would not be worth the paper it is written on if not for Joshua’s and his team’s courageous execution of their plan over the past five years.”

— Woody Fitton, CEO YMCA

“I think he has brought great energy to the city. I think he has done a pretty good job of attempting to diversify our workforce. I especially like the way he continues to challenge his team and his willingness to groom new leaders.”

— City Councilman Archie Johnson

“From a professional perspective Joshua Smith and his team at the city have been incredibly supportive of the Fitton Center as we look to re-engage with the greater Hamilton community. He has a shown a genuine commitment to all of the Arts in Hamilton and has seen it as a valued indicator of social and economic development in this city.

On a personal note, I came to Hamilton the first time 15 years ago, but have only been resident here now for two. I have been amazed at the positive change and development in Hamilton, so much so that my wife and I decided this is where we wanted to raise our family and be engaged in this community whole-heartedly. I would congratulate Joshua and his team and wish them continued success.”

— Ian MacKenzie-Thurley, executive director of the Fitton Center

“He’s a passionate and driven leader who has worked tirelessly to make Hamilton better. I believe that many of the successes Hamilton is now enjoying are a direct result of his steadfast leadership. I appreciate that he has given me his full support and the resources I need to keep our city safe.”

— Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit

“From our very first meeting, it was apparent to me that Joshua fully understands the speed of business. He understands the importance of making decisions in a way that can help businesses in our community grow and thrive. Because of that he has accomplished many remarkable things during his tenure here in Hamilton. We are extremely fortunate to have Joshua as our city manager.”

— Jeff Thurman, president and CEO of Community First Solutions

“He has a true passion for the city of Hamilton that is second to none. I think his performance is outstanding and speaks for itself. (just look at the transformation of Downtown) We went through some rough years and quite frankly the future wasn’t all that pretty but we have turned the corner and he deserves a great deal of the credit. I think that in this particular case having someone from the outside come in, a fresh set of eyes if you will, has been huge.”

— Hamilton Director of Public Safety J. Scott Scrimizzi

“His leadership in his first five years has resulted in the development of the RiversEdge park, the purchase of the Smart Paper facility now under re-development planning, the East High Street Corridor project, downtown revitalization, the CORE fund, and the Parks Conservancy. His understanding of the private sector and public-private partnerships has resulted in the creation of over 2,500 new jobs coming to Hamilton in the last three years. After 100 years of discussion, South Hamilton Crossing will start construction in 2016. There is still much work ahead for our city, but I fully anticipate that Mr. Smith’s creativity will lead us into the future.”

— Hamilton Vice-Mayor Rob Wile

” In my opinion, Joshua is a visionary, energetic and innovative city manager. He listens carefully and displays those effective leadership characteristics while understanding a city’s many challenges. In addition, Joshua values partnerships and has a keen eye toward economic development and communication with all citizens while tackling his quest to move Hamilton forward. His performance is nothing short of extraordinary.”

— Councilwoman Kathleen Klink

The past five years have been a bit of a roller coaster ride for Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith to say the least.

His first two years on the job were “particularly brutal,” he says, with losing what was left of the city’s two paper mills, coupled with significant cuts to General Fund revenue by the state. But in the past two years, this Butler County city of more than 62,000 has stabilized its budget and had new life injected into its local economy by attracting new employers that are creating thousands of new jobs.

Smith, who marked his fifth annivesary with the city of Hamilton this past week, credited City Council for creating a plan and staying the course.

“But we have lots of hard work ahead of us,” he said.

Smith, who was compensated $206,850 in 2014, is in charge of more than 600 employees and a $350 million budget. During his tenure, the city has seen a net of 3,064 new jobs created since 2013, and $176.5 million in total corporate investment since 2010, including $65 million invested in the downtown core.

A recent survey of city residents found many of them wanted to see improvement in the areas of overall economic health, downtown vibrancy, public transportation, code enforcement and street repair. Outside of the survey, a wish list of more manufacturing jobs, help for small businesses and more dialogue with EMS make the discussion boards and coffee shop discussions.

Smith sat down last week with the Journal-News to discuss his last five years at the helm.

Q: What are some areas that you would like to see improvement in?

A: There are many areas that need attention/improvement. Streets, parks, amenities for our youth and seniors, better/convenient retail for all of our neighborhoods, more police officers to patrol, additional blight/nuisance abatement resources, better collaboration with our educational partners to name just a few.

Q: Talk about the team that has surrounded you?

A: We are very blessed to have some incredibly dedicated and bright people who work for the city of Hamilton. Director of Public Safety Scott Scrimizzi is a life-long resident of Hamilton and is an all-star in the public safety arena. Tom Vanderhorst spent 15 years in Springfield, Ohio in their finance department, which has many similarities to Hamilton and has aided him to better understand our challenges. Tim Werdmann was an Assistant Law Director in Hamilton for 8 years before his current role as a deputy city manager. His experience working with civil service and labor has been a tremendous help. Jody Gunderson worked in Iowa and Minnesota as an economic development director and brought many years of experience, passion and best practices with him. Brandon Saurber, another life-long resident of Hamilton, has done a tremendous job helping shape City Council's strategic plan and has worked to build understanding of it through the organization. Adam Helms has taken two liabilities in our golf courses and has turned them into assets. His tireless work with our Summer Concert Series has opened Hamilton up to a larger audience and has allowed us to showcase what is great about our community. All-in-all, I believe our entire workforce is strong and it does not go unnoticed that we have such a strong commitment from our workers when it comes to their civic involvement.

Q: Where is Hamilton going in the future?

A: There is no reason that Hamilton can't be a premier city of our size in the Midwest. Education is key in that equation. I am excited about Tony Orr and the direction he is pushing the Hamilton City School District. Badin has a great leader in Brian Pendergest, and they are doing truly great things. If we can educate children who can thrive in a technologically-advanced economy, we can continue to attract new jobs because we will have a workforce that is desirable. Generating green energy is important because it differentiates us from almost every other city in the Midwest. What really makes us different is we can provide non-carbon emitting power at market rate prices…or better. You will certainly see a strong focus of strengthening our neighborhoods in the next few years and continuing to work on our primary corridors.

Q: Results of the recently completed city survey showed promise. Do you feel residents are happy with the quality of life in Hamilton?

A: No. My take-away was we made incremental progress in the past four years, but we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

Q: With all of the development and growth along I-75, can small businesses survive in Hamilton?

A: Absolutely. Hamilton is a unique community with many assets. If we take care of the items listed in the "Areas of Improvement" answer (of the survey), the rest will take care of itself.

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