11-14-14 Bringing It All Back Home

You’re out there. You left Van Wert County to pursue an education, maybe get a taste of the big city. You experienced frat life and the clubs and being young and reckless. You got a job and eventually met someone, got married and had a couple of kids. And you’ve figured out that, once the party is over, every place is pretty much the same except that some places have traffic – and you’re reminded of that every day.

Now you pay outrageous fees for daycare and have to hire a babysitter to do anything in the evening. You’re not too sure about the school your kids are going to. Your house is nice but costs twice as much as it would have where you grew up. You shop at chain stores, ones that have similar outlets within thirty minutes of your old hometown. You don’t know your neighbors. You know why you left but wonder what it would take to get back.

            Your parents would like nothing more than for you to move those grandkids back. The Van Wert County Economic Development Office would like nothing more than that as well.

Here’s the demographics: In Ohio, 29.3% of the general population is between the ages of 25 and 44. In Van Wert County, the same age group accounts for 23.6%. The small difference in those numbers leads to large consequences – this is the age group that raises children. It’s what makes Van Wert High School Division III in basketball instead of the solid Division II it had always been. It also means there will be fewer kids that call this county “home” twenty years from now.

This problem, perhaps more than any other, needs attention and we’re giving it plenty.

First, we’re making it easy for employers and employees to find each other. Not just the potential workforce that is already here, but the ones that are sitting in their cars on the congested streets of Columbus or Cleveland thinking about the wide open spaces of Van Wert County. www.vanwertworks.com is a website we created where local companies post available positions and how to apply.

It’s a relatively new thing and not all of our companies are hooked in yet but they will be. Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital, which went through 400 hires to find 150 employees when it first opened, has told us that, for their current expansion, the website has already provided them a surprising number of qualified candidates both from here and from a few surrounding counties. Part of Mercer County’s success over the past decade has been a website similar to this. (Ok, we ripped the idea off from them, but they don’t mind and we ain’t too proud to copy what has worked somewhere else.)

Last year, one of our local companies needed five to eight engineers. We’re talking jobs that pay over $60k to start. They couldn’t find them. I would bet there are five to eight Van Wert County natives abroad who would like to come home to a job like that. We hope their parents will lead them to vanwertworks.com.

In the future, the indigenous population will already know about this website because of a program called “Rural by Choice”. Our ED office, with the help of some prominent local businesspeople, will be going into schools over the next few months to start planting the idea in the minds of junior high students that whatever you want to do in life, you can do it in Van Wert County. They’ll be reminded through their high school years.

As part of that program, we’re looking to keep track of the top ten percent or so of every graduating class in the county. I first heard this idea talking with Chris Roberts after taping a radio show. It may be nothing more than keeping a way to contact them on file and updating where they are and what they’re doing every year. It could be as simple as Facebook. But when an anesthesiologist is needed at the hospital, we’ll then know where to find someone that might be interested in more than just the job.

A consistent problem with CEOs and doctors brought here from out of town is that their families don’t want to live here – they want to live in Fort Wayne where there’s more to do. People who are originally from here have a different vantage point. They know that literally everything is just a few hours away on the weekends and in the meantime your kids go to good schools, it’s safe, and it’s quiet. You don’t need to sell them on Van Wert County and they have a natural inclination to invest themselves, and their resources, in it.

The hometown always has the advantage and it’s time we use that. When you’re young, maybe you can’t escape the lure of the bright lights. But once you start thinking about a family, you think of home, where you know people. When LeBron James went to Miami, he wasn’t married. Is it any wonder he came back to Akron with a wife and three kids? I know, he never really left – he always had a home there. But so do your kids, right?

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Here’s the idea in a nutshell: Ohio State Extension and Northwest State Community College partnering to establish a hybrid of an agricultural research center and a college campus at the Starr Commonwealth facility east of town.

            Last week, I quickly covered the synchronicity that could make this happen and promised some elaboration this week. To do this, I’m going to draw from some of my prior columns, so if you feel like you’ve seen some of this before, thank you for reading.

Van Wert County taxpayers finance OSU Extension more than surrounding counties. Much more. We provide $200,000 annually through a levy that is due to expire at the end of next year. That is on top of what the city pays Extension for an economic development program. If it is not renewed or replaced by the electorate in the spring or the fall, the levy financing just ends. By statute, a county’s board of commissioners has to approve an Ohio State Extension levy request before it is even presented to voters.

Our initial discussions with Extension involved trimming the levy with an understanding that 4-H, nonetheless, would receive heightened financing. There are things that could be eliminated to make this happen. There is a position at our local Extension that has been vacant for almost a year, for example, and no one has really noticed. You pay for that.

Of course, Extension would prefer not to have the levy reduced. Well, in that case, perhaps instead of a smaller purpose, how about a larger one? One more befitting of such Van Wert County taxpayer largesse.

OSU likely would not be interested in the Starr on its own. It’s just too big of an investment. For the same reason, Northwest State would not be interested. Together, and with the levy and some other funding options, it’s an affordable risk.

Here’s what OSU has to gain: It’s an opportunity to place an agricultural research center in the midst of some of the state’s best land and livestock. And with the algae problem throughout the region, manifested most alarmingly in Toledo last summer and Grand Lake St. Marys for several years, this area is a prime target for state research. This was Ohio State Dean McPheron’s observation, not ours.

There is land around the Starr that could be made available for crop research. As stated last week, the Starr sold its 130 acres to the Marsh Foundation, which owns even more farmland nearby. During the Farm Focus years, the land at the main Marsh site was used for exactly the type of research Extension conducts. We learned recently that, near the end of the Farm Focus years, OSU had proposed a research center similar to what is being discussed now at the Marsh but talks never fully developed.

It should be made clear that The Marsh board has made no definite commitment to this project, but it will certainly be included in the talks. Even if the Marsh land proves unavailable, the county owns 300 acres two miles east of the Starr Campus. Other entities with the general welfare of the county in mind and with huge tracts of land could be encouraged to participate. I’m looking at you, Van Wert County Foundation.

On the educational side of things, the traditional university branch campus model has peaked and is in decline. In Van Wert County, we have no traditional college presence, but residents can go to established branches like Wright State in Celina, IPFW, or the specialized UNOH on our side of Lima. The internet options slice away at all of these. Many that go to these nearby branches or study on the web would have gone to OSU’s campus on the far side of Lima twenty years ago. OSU-Lima has shown a steady decline in enrollment over the past few decades.

For OSU, a presence in Van Wert County draws students from Paulding County, west Putnam County, and Delphos and turns its declining Lima campus into a second stop. A student can get a four-year degree in Lima in any of the following: biology, business, education, English, health sciences, history, psychology, social work, and theater. (Yep, theater.) If students tie into these programs in Van Wert to get the general education out of the way, more students funnel into the Lima campus or to the 175 majors that can be pursued in Columbus.

Which brings us to Northwest State Community College, the other major player in all of this. Recently designated as Van Wert County’s community college provider, Northwest State is now looking to invest in Van Wert. It has resources of its own but is also looking at multiple government funding options. In a partnership with OSU, that kind of funding becomes attractive to the kind of people that dispense it. Bureaucrats love other bureaucrats.

Northwest State already teaches general education courses which transfer to any state college in Ohio. The idea of taking community college gen ed courses to save a ton of money seems to have a slow gestation, however. It hasn’t caught on yet, but it will, because there is a slow train coming – the grand default on college loans. That is the next financial epidemic and it’s entirely unavoidable. When it happens, the concept of the value of college will change quickly.

A student can spend $23,000 for a freshman year at Bowling Green or that student can spend under $5,000 to get the same college credits at Northwest State. Here’s a question – What do you do with a $100,000 philosophy degree when bankruptcy is not an option? My guess is that Plato ain’t got an answer for that. What happens is that your life gets awful practical awful fast. If OSU gives its stamp of approval on Northwest State’s general education courses, the idea of affordable college close to home becomes a credible goal for our kids.

That is the expanded nutshell. There’ll be more soon.

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The first thing a stranger might see exiting US 30 east of Van Wert and turning toward the city is what appears to be our county’s college campus. To an outsider, the Starr Commonwealth presents as the Ivy League in miniature. And that’s just the part you can see from Lincoln Highway, excluding the five cottages hidden back in the woods. But not only is it not a college campus, it is also entirely empty.

The Starr quit servicing troubled youth four or five years ago, a victim of the economic collapse.  When I campaigned for commissioner, I spoke of bringing a college presence to the county. People naturally thought of the Starr – and began talking about the Starr. They talked so much that, even though I hadn’t mentioned the possibility, a member of the Starr board called me to request that I quit proposing the campus because it wasn’t for sale.

The Starr wasn’t on my radar then because it was just too big for a starter campus. There’s a certain economy to things. I had something smaller in mind – a couple rooms and a few classes at Vantage or one of the high schools and building from there. Wright State in Celina started in one room and as a branch of Ohio Northern.

With some outside-the-box thinking by one of my comrades, however, it may be time to dream big.

Bred in conversations we were having with Ohio State Extension and, to put it bluntly, from some ongoing problems we’ve had with that institution, Commissioner Lichtensteiger had an idea. Why not an agricultural research center at the Starr Campus? Ohio State Extension has five or six of these throughout the state but none near here.

At its other agricultural research centers, Extension experiments with hybrids, pesticides, soils, rotation – all things farm. Such a center can provide certifications for fertilizer and pesticide applicators. It can be a regional center for things like 4H and provide endless opportunities in an agricultural community such as ours.

Not to say the stars (no pun intended) seem to be aligning for this, but there are several factors that elevate Thad’s idea from one great in theory to one great in practice and they are all occurring here at once. I will briefly list these factors then spend the rest of this article and next week’s trying to explain what it all means.

First and foremost, the Starr is suddenly for sale or lease. Its board sold its surrounding 130 acres of farmland at auction to the Marsh Foundation earlier this year and is ready to do something with the campus. Although the price is being held close to the vest, it has been appraised and its board is ok with me telling you that it is available, so I shouldn’t get any calls about that.

Second, the levy for OSU Extension, which has supplied it around $200,000 of county tax dollars annually for the last several years, is up for ballot renewal next year. Third, we are one of the state’s leading agricultural counties inside a region with a unique problem ripe for intensive research– algae. Fourth, there is a new Dean of Agriculture at Ohio State who is seemingly inclined toward endeavors such as this.

Fifth, the county has experience in this type of agricultural research through its Farm Focus years. Sixth, there is plenty of farmland nearby the Starr that could be made available to OSU Extension for experimentation.

Seventh, the OSU Lima campus has had a steady decline in enrollment for years (more on this next week). Eighth, and most importantly for the college component in all of this, Northwest State was designated earlier this year as the county’s community college provider.

With these factors to discuss, Stan, Thad and I went to Farm Science Review last month to meet with OSU’s new Dean of Agriculture, Bruce McPheron. Tom Stuckey, the President of Northwest State, given a prior heads up on what we were going to propose, drove from Chicago to make that meeting.

OSU saw merit in our presentation and has continued to express interest ever since. Representatives have been to visit the Starr and others are coming in a few weeks. Nothing has been discussed as far as price and long term financing, only the possibilities. Everyone involved so far sees incredible sense in all this.

The boost to the county’s number one industry is blatant. We would go from one of the leading agricultural counties in the state to, with Mercer and Putnam as regional partners, the center. The college implications are less obvious but as significant. With the presence of Ohio State, Northwest State can become something more than a normal county community college.

This is by no means a certain thing. There are a lot of moving pieces, as there are with anything of this magnitude. We are coming out with this now in hopes of generating community support and enthusiasm and maybe finding some other missing pieces that could help make this happen.

I’ve tried to sketch what is being considered here and will elaborate more next week. For those who would like to hear a general discussion about this, tune into 1220 AM Sunday morning at 8:20. If you miss that original broadcast, you can hear it after Sunday afternoon at go1220.com – click on the “Commissioner’s Corner” tab.

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10-17-14 Vote Kasich Early and Often

John Kasich is going to win re-election as Ohio’s Governor in a few weeks. If he doesn’t, it will be the biggest popular vote surprise since Barabbas. Down 22 points in some polls, his opponent all but gave up months ago and has been sending his financial support to other candidates. Nevertheless, it is imperative for conservatives to show at the polls and cast their votes for Kasich.

A narrow victory for an incumbent candidate is a warning. A landside victory is a mandate. After a narrow victory over Ted Strickland to win his first term, John Kasich started out as if he had a mandate only to quickly learn that the 49 percent that didn’t vote for him were willing to fight.

Emboldened by the fledgling Tea Party movement in 2010, Kasich took office eager to transform Ohio into an incubator for small government policy. Like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, he set about the necessary but unpleasant task of challenging the right of public unions to collective bargain. Unlike Walker, Kasich included policeman and firefighters in his challenge.

Walker has won in Wisconsin so far, if you call constant death threats and the invasion of Madison by foul-smelling beatniks winning. Kasich’s initiative, however, proved a bridge too far. Ohio voters repealed it by referendum a year into his first term. The loss slowed Kasich but didn’t stop him as he proceeded to balance the budget anyway.

Opponents may argue that he balanced said budget by cuts in funding to local government. As a member of local government, I’ll say that we’ll find a way to get by. I think the saying goes “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.” So it goes with cutting government handouts. If local voters want to fund local government more, they always have that option – and isn’t that where the option should be anyway?

Under Kasich’s leadership, Ohio’s budget was balanced while its income tax was slashed and its inheritance tax eliminated. There is no reason for wealth to flee to Florida anymore, although the wealthy cold still might. Further, the over-collection by the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation has been properly returned to employers.

All of this makes Ohio more attractive for business and investment. A criticism of Kasich is that all the jobs being created during his administration are in the big cities. Well, that may be so far. But the things he has accomplished and the things a landside election mandate will allow are critical to counties like ours that border Indiana, a right-to-work state with private insurance for worker’s compensation. Why is Honda in Indiana and not here? Math.

Kasich hasn’t been a conservative robot – he has sometimes let common sense trump bravado. His base questioned his Medicaid expansion. But some perspective: By passing enabling legislation as Ohio did, the expansion can be easily undone after the initial commitment. If the referendum process would have been used to expand Medicaid, as it was used to protect public unions, it would have been a much more difficult thing to undo as Obamacare falls apart over time.

Perhaps more questionable to diehard conservatives lately is the allowance of Common Core education into our state. This has led to a protest-vote campaign against Kasich this fall. I sympathize with those who wish to purge the party of collaborators and RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) – the Democrats didn’t create a $17 trillion debt by themselves. But I would urge some measure of trust for Kasich, who, otherwise, has made the fights he was elected to make in his first term. I would further urge the opponents of Common Core to mimic the public unions and use the referendum process. (Stop by for my signature if you do.)

This election needs to be a mandate, not only for the sake of Ohio, but for the sake of Van Wert County. Ohio needs right-to-work legislation, privatization of worker’s compensation insurance, and elimination of the income tax. Seven states have no income tax – all seven are in the top ten of Forbes magazine’s “Most Business Friendly States.”

Kasich will win the election – that’s not the point. If the conservative base wants second term accomplishments, it needs to be a landslide.

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10-3-14 A Public Servant Retires

A few questions on how things are done at the county level: What is the procedure for annexation? How is a mutual agreement for ditch maintenance initiated? What steps are necessary to discipline a county employee? How are construction projects advertised for bidding? How is government property sold or auctioned? What is the first step of the tax abatement process?

In the Van Wert County Commissioners’ Office, all of these questions and several others funnel into one ultimate question – How do we handle that, Larry?

Larry Clouse, the Commissioners’ clerk for the last thirty-five years, will put in his last two days on Monday and Tuesday next week. He has forty-one years total in county government, working also as a clerk in the Engineer’s office.

For those of us who work predominantly in the private sector, hearing a government employee refer to his or herself as a public servant sometimes has the same effect as fingernails meeting chalkboard. The phrase implies that the person would do the job without the associated pay and benefits.

But anyone who has worked with him over the years would apply the tag “public servant” to Larry Clouse. He has, for three-and-a-half decades, by all eyewitness accounts, given bureaucracy a good name. If federal and state government employees would conduct themselves as Clouse has all these years, you might find yourself happy to pay your taxes.

When one possesses particular knowledge and is the only one in government who does, human nature tends to make one arrogant. I won’t go into a string of adjectives to describe Larry for those that don’t know him, but I will say that anything that is the polar opposite of arrogant would be apt.

You might say, “But Commissioner Wolfrum, you have been Larry’s boss the last year and a half. Of course he would seem accommodating to you.” Oh, dear reader, I was once not a commissioner or even anybody in particular.

About fifteen years ago, I was a twenty-something that thought it would be fun to publish an independent newspaper. I called it “The Whig” and put it out weekly and did most of the writing under different pseudonyms. A certain paper publisher got his start in the paper business writing for that weekly rag under his own pseudonym, but I won’t out Kirk here.

At that time, the Commissioners’ office was dealing with moving the probate court, waste water on Richey Road, and a few other issues that had me visiting their office regularly. I didn’t know Larry before that time.

But I remember being surprised when I learned where he actually worked because he had, in every one of my dealings with him, went so far out of his way to supply me with useful information for my stories– even after I disagreed with the Commissioners of that time in a few of my articles and even though I had few subscribers.

He never wanted quoted himself and still refuses to be involved in politics (which may be how he’s survived about a dozen different groups of commissioners – I told him it was ironic that this last board turned out to be the best – in classic Clouse fashion, he didn’t agree, but he didn’t disagree, so . . .) Even this week Stan and I had to drag him in to do the radio program that will air Sunday morning on WERT.  He is the rare government employee that actually cares more that government functions correctly than who is in charge or who takes credit for it.

And the last thing he wants is any acknowledgment, so we’re going to try to give him some. If you worked with Larry or just knew him over the last forty years, there will be a reception at our office from noon to two on Tuesday, October 7, his last day (and birthday).

You better stop and see him then, because you may not be able to find him again after that. He’ll be somewhere in America or Canada probably, but other than which direction he’s going to head initially, I don’t think there’s a plan. Isn’t that what we’re all working for? To understate, Larry Clouse has earned it.

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            A month ago, Commissioner Lichtensteiger and I were having a conversation about how to breathe new life into the Van Wert County Republican Party. It would seem that in a county leaning nearly 80% to the right, any production under the Republican banner should be generating several times the interest and attendance of those cozy lunches of recent gatherings past.

Some proposed changes we kicked around included more inclusive meeting times and venues. Lunch meetings, for example, have the effect of eliminating most working people. And since most non-union working people tend to be conservative, that’s one big chunk of potential Republicans that can’t assemble.

And if the working middle class could assemble, they might not feel comfortable doing so at a country club – not everyone likes pretensions intermingled with their politics. It would serve Republicans well to divest themselves of that image of the Party of the Wealthy anyway. Personally, I’d rather the Party meet at the Junior Fair Building in the evening.

But first and foremost, we agreed that what the Republican Party here vitally needs is a dynamic speaker or two. On that front, I had one person on my wish list – U.S. Representative Jim Jordan. The Congressman from Urbana represents the neighboring 4th District, which includes Lima.

Commissioner Lichtensteiger has a gift for making such things happen. He thought Jordan was a great idea and had the Congressman’s people contacted within days. Jordan happened to be in Mercer County for a breakfast on Friday, August 22 and Thad arranged his arrival in Van Wert later that day at 11:30 A.M. for lunch. (I know what I just said about lunches, but you have to take what you can get when someone’s willing to come outside of his district to speak.)

Suddenly, we had a rising star, perhaps the rising conservative star, in the Republican Party coming to town.  The venue was moved to the Wassenberg Art Center in hopes of accommodating what we hope to be a large crowd.

For those who don’t watch FoxNews or are unfamiliar with Jim Jordan’s career, he is currently leading the investigation into the IRS scandal – the scandal without a smidgeon of corruption but with six simultaneous and unrelated hard drive crashes. Had it not been for Jordan and California Congressman Darrell Issa, the whole matter might have been dropped when Lois Lerner took the Fifth.

The IRS hearings aren’t just political grandstanding for Jordan, and I’ll tell you how I know that. Back in 2011, John Boehner cut a deal with President Obama to raise the debt ceiling. Jordan led the conservative opposition to the deal. In that same year, because Ohio was losing population, it was scheduled to lose a congressional district. Boehner’s camp made the threat that if Jordan didn’t drop his opposition to the debt ceiling increase, his congressional district would be eliminated.

Such redistricting not only would have ended Jordan’s term in the House, it likely would have ended his political career. Jordan didn’t back down – but eventually Boehner did (on the redistricting anyway, not the debt ceiling.) Now, there are credible calls in the party for Jordan to run for Speaker of the House and oust Boehner.

Last month, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation named Jordan as the most fiscally responsible of Ohio’s Congressman, noting that Jordan had supported over $183 billion in net budget cuts. The Tea Party momentum stalled in 2012 because of a host of weak candidates spouting off on social issues. Jordan has the intelligence, influence and track record to reignite enthusiasm for what the Tea Party originally stood for – the concept of limited government.

Because this will be a lunch gathering, tickets need to be sold to help estimate the crowd. The cost is $8 and that includes the lunch to be served by Gibson’s Barnyard Barbecue. McDonald’s isn’t a whole lot cheaper than that for a meal anymore and, in further comparison, at this lunch, the speaking you hear will be that of one of the leading politicians of our times, not of an angry young mother yelling at her kids to “Knock it off!”

The County Central Committee will be selling tickets, but if you don’t know who those people are, email a request to vanwertconservative@yahoo.com with your address and phone number and I’ll make sure you have access to tickets. Tickets will also be available at the Commissioner’s Office. Of course, you can always just show the day of the event but that can’t guarantee your food or seat.

For everyone who wants to do something to support the notion of limited government, this is the chance, and all you have to do is show up. Take an hour off work if you have to – I’ll get you a validation card if that will help with the boss. The bigger the turnout we can generate here, the bigger the story it is and the more it impacts the movement Jim Jordan, more than any other Ohio politician, has come to represent.

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The County recently discontinued the Microenterprise Loan Fund by converting it into a Revolving Loan Fund. The reason for this involves the default rate of the prior and the possibilities provided the County through the latter.

There are now two Van Wert Revolving Loan Funds, the old one, which remains managed by the City of Van Wert, and the new one managed by the County Economic Development (ED) Office. There’s no real drawback in having two funds. There is, however, some large upside in what we have planned for the County’s Fund and a model available from one of our neighbors to demonstrate its potential.

There are multiple reasons why Mercer County continually has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state while having one of the healthiest population growth rates – no boon, no bust, just steady. But perhaps the biggest is what it has been able to do with its Revolving Loan Fund. More on that success below.

First, the concept. There are multifarious grant and funding sources to keep straight in the County’s strategic plan. I’m going to give the simple version of how we’re arranging it and how this new Revolving Loan is central to it. If you’re the kind that can delve into numbers, agencies, and mind-numbing specifics, contact the County ED Office – Sarah is much like you.

The Revolving Loan program itself works this way: Let’s say a business needs $100,000 for a piece of equipment. A county can apply for a grant from the state to make that loan. The borrowing company then makes payments on the loan straight into the lending county’s Revolving Loan Fund, not back to the state. As the county receives the money back, it can lend it out again. The loan, as the name would suggest, revolves.

But Revolving Loan Funds can also be used to supplement other projects, like infrastructure and revitalization. On our immediate horizon are two projects for which we have submitted grant requests: $300,000 for Ohio City’s storm sewer and $300,000 for the City of Van Wert’s downtown. While we don’t currently have a business requesting the $93,000 in the County’s new Revolving Loan Fund, we can utilize that money in these projects.

Using the Revolving Loan money in this way not only increases funding for each of those projects, but because it appears that the County is investing more of its own money to expand the scope of work, each of the $300,000 applications become more attractive to a grant committee. We find out next month if we win either of these grants.

Worried about spending all the Revolving Loan Fund money? Don’t be. That’s exactly what the state wants done. If we’ve depleted our fund and there is a new request from a business, the County can apply for a new Revolving Loan grant. The state gets the money pipelined from the federal government – it just needs a good reason to dole it out.

Organizing and perfecting this process is where Mercer County, under the direction of Jared Ebbing, has been borderline genius. It has made over $12,000,000 in loans over the last two decades, creating over 1,600 jobs. With administrative fees and loan repayments, the Mercer County ED office now has $35,000 in revenue – monthly. The Revolving Loan Fund managed by OSU Extension on behalf of the City of Van Wert, in contrast, has made $3,000,000 in loans and created 200 jobs in that same period.

There are three prime goals in creating this new Revolving Loan and our general strategic plan. First, and foremost, we want to create a climate for steady growth. Unemployment figures came out this week and they were, as usual, misleading. Although our unemployment rate went up, there were 300 more people working. As long as more people here are working every month at good jobs, that’s healthy growth no matter the labor force participation denominator.

Second, we would like the economic development office to become more than self-financing with grant administrative fees so taxpayers don’t foot the bill with local dollars. We’ve been able to finance most of the work in our new office so far through grants. By learning to do things that consultants have been previously paid to do for us, we’re well on our way.

Third, we want development available to all businesses and the entire county. Ridgeview Hospital will be adding another 150 jobs in the coming months – that makes three hundred in a year and a half with even more possibly coming. One shouldn’t discount what can be done utilizing the strength of an entire county as Mercer does. Using Revolving Loan money to help build infrastructure will loom large in this.

The Mega-Site is one idea – maybe 2,000 jobs overnight but with the drawback of the county being dependent on one large employer. Another idea is to gain 2,000 jobs slowly over the next decade with diverse employers – possibly with even some of our brightest kids staying home to begin new enterprises. What is detailed above is how such things are done – at least how it has already been done one county to the south.

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Believe it or not, I had this week’s column outlined in my head before the Malaysian jet was shot down over the Ukraine this week. I happened to be reading Ronald Reagan’s autobiography last weekend and was ready to write about the different approaches to leadership Reagan took as compared to those of the current President.

In my house, FoxNews is usually on somewhere in the background. (Yes, I know I’m getting my news with a conservative bias – I trust myself to filter it.) I came home Thursday night to footage of the speech Reagan delivered in 1983 following the Russian downing of a Korean passenger plane. Megyn Kelly was contrasting that with President Obama’s response to the current disaster, where he hinted at tragedy before telling some jokes and heading off to a fund-raiser, not to be heard from again that night. Other Fox personalities also noted the contrast.

Well, it wasn’t the example I was going to use, but it’s exactly on point with what I had been planning to write. I just missed the chance to be prophetic.

The topic: leadership and politics. Our current President is intensely interested in one and seemingly annoyed at the obligations of the other – I’ll let the reader pick which so as not to be labeled a racist. (Be careful how you choose reader, very careful.)

This isn’t about ideology. FDR was every bit as good at accomplishing his goals as Reagan was at accomplishing his.  Knowing what to do intuitively, being able to convince others to come along, and having the resolve to move forward despite bad polls – that’s the subject here. Reagan made hugely unpopular decisions in his time but carried them through until they proved right.

Reagan won the Cold War and he saved millions of lives in the way he did it. It wasn’t like the killing of Osama Bin Laden where the President had no more to do with it than saying “Go!”  The whole strategy of bringing down the evil empire came from Reagan and his staff. It was innovative but it was also political dynamite – very easy to criticize in the short-term. Early on, Reagan took a bath in the polls.

In retrospect, the decline of the Soviet Union might seem to have been inevitable. In 1981, nothing seemed inevitable. After four years of appeasement under Jimmy Carter, we were well behind the Soviets in the arms race and everyone on both sides was scared feces-less.  But Reagan noticed how globally stretched on credit the Soviets were (similar to where we are now). If America utilized its superior economy to outspend the Russians in arms, the Soviet Union could very well collapse trying to keep up.

The Left screamed for arms reduction, as if the Soviets were ready to agree to such a thing. They labeled Reagan a warmonger for the dramatic increase in military spending. It would have been politically expedient to change course, but Reagan didn’t. Eventually, the Soviet Union did collapse, unable to financially maintain the grip on its empire. We won the most critical war this world has known so far without firing a shot.

Reagan dealt with his enemies decisively, but he was just as decisive in handling friends. The Iran-Contra affair involved Israel selling arms to a moderate element in Iran that was helping to negotiate the release of hostages held by terrorists. When Oliver North illegally diverted some of the money from the sales to support the Contras opposing communism in Central America, a scandal ensued.

What did Reagan do? He immediately appointed a special prosecutor, knowing that it would be the end of his National Security Advisor John Poindexter, who knew of the transfers. Any appearance of impropriety in government beyond the few bad actors was promptly eliminated. You could trust the Reagan government.

Reagan’s famous tax cuts that led to a decade of prosperity were passed through a Democratic Congress. In contrast, President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act without one Republican vote, creating the bitterest bi-partisanship in this country’s history. He now refuses to work with Congress at all – it’s too difficult.

The President refuses to hold friends accountable, prohibiting some from answering questions about the IRS and Benghazi and allowing others to arrogantly ignore requests for information. He changes course on tough political questions – like he did a few weeks ago on immigration – when his big donors disagree with him.

His international strategy is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. What will be our response to the jet downing? What can our allies or enemies expect from us? Who are our allies and our enemies anymore? What is our long-term strategy with Iraq, Iran, Israel and Russia? Is there one? Even if it’s non-intervention, why isn’t that clear?

With Reagan, you knew where he stood on an issue as soon as you asked him. When air traffic controllers went on strike, they were fired. Air traffic controllers didn’t go on strike anymore. When IRS agents illegally targeted conservatives, Obama was outraged. What happened next? Nothing. Not one person held accountable.

That old footage of Reagan has to make the staunchest liberal long for the days when the country’s leader exuded commitment and strength. Whatever this leader has been exuding for five and a half years, it doesn’t resemble either of those two things.

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In the Commissioners’ office, we hear complaints daily about this or that government office. We also hear complaints daily from this or that government office. If you are looking for a job where you are constantly bombarded with praise and good news, this ain’t it.

One of the few government-sponsored programs – maybe the only one – with virtually universal support is 4-H. (And by saying that, I am guaranteed messages on my phone by Tuesday telling me what’s horrible about 4-H.)

4-H is Ohio State Extension’s premier program. Largely identified by its livestock shows, it also promotes youth studies in computers, cooking, public speaking – something for just about everyone who wants to be involved in learning outside the classroom.

OSU Extension promotes our local 4-H through its agricultural offices out at the Fairgrounds. This office is taxpayer supported through a levy that generates about $200,000 annually. Extension’s economic development office has separate funding.

Extension recently approached us about putting this levy on the ballot for renewal – it is up at the end of next year. County Commissioners, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code, have to approve the levy before it can be voted up or down by the electorate, meaning we have the only opportunity to request specific changes. You will get a simple yes or no option in the voting booth.

Outside of 4-H, there are other Extension programs supported by this levy. Before putting it up for renewal, we have some questions about the programs that aren’t 4-H.

My fellow Commissioners are from the agricultural community. They polled a small sampling of people only to discover what we already suspected- that Extension’s role as disseminator of information to the farming community has diminished with the rise of technology. The role of the Extension Agent has been largely replaced by Google and various local reps from within the ag industry.

4-H is still viewed as the indispensable Extension program. With this in mind, we have requested that the levy be redesigned to strengthen 4-H locally and perhaps cut unnecessary programs. It is also a concern that since we finance Extension more than our neighbors, that Van Wert County taxpayers are being burdened with providing services to the entire region while other counties skate.

If there is a perceived need for other Extension programs besides 4-H, we haven’t heard it yet – feel free to contact us. As of now, it’s our inclination to request that the 4-H program be more heavily funded and the others less so. Much less so, perhaps.

If we were to put the same levy up for renewal, that would be handing $200,000 to OSU Extension to spend as it sees fit. It has been a focus of our office to make sure that if an outside agency is receiving local funding it has accountability to local taxpayers. Common sense, you say? That simple premise has led to exhaustive objection.

But we are at a point where we can turn a corner with Extension generally. A new regional director started last month, Cynthia Torppa. In our few communications with her, she seems committed to tailor all branches of OSU Extension to the needs of our community. This is in contrast of the past regional director who seemed determined to tailor all our needs to fit the goals of Extension.

A key to good fiscal conservatism is cutting unnecessary programs when you don’t have to. The levy as is doesn’t cost the individual taxpayer a big pile of cash, but it costs the county as a whole one such pile. If the levy is halved, $100,000 is immediately put back into the hands of Van Wert County taxpayers. If we can work with Extension on such a levy that still strengthens 4-H, then that’s what we intend to give to voters instead of a mindless renewal.

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Why would you trade 1 tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants less than 1 mile away?” – Mather Byles’ quote from colonial times used in the movie “The Patriot”

Despite popular misconception, America was never meant to be a democracy. A pure democracy, also known as mob rule, rivals a dictatorship in its lack of protections for its citizens. We were meant to be a constitutional republic.

It is noteworthy that our first national document is titled “The Declaration of Independence” and not “The Declaration of Separation” or even ”The Declaration of Revolution”. We started by declaring ourselves independent, stating that we were born free, able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as we individually saw fit – and we meant to keep it that way.

238 years later, the Progressive movement, after a century’s incubation, has manufactured the consent of the mob into the greatest force of anti-independence our republic has known – a stronger force of subjugation than King George ever sent. After all, the British taxes we rebelled against were trivial compared to the rates we pay today. He may have had his redcoats, but even in his madness, George never dreamt punitive schemes that could rival the EPA or the IRS.

The Progressive mob, with free cell phones in one hand and a ballot in the other, re-elected a blatantly failed president. It does not care if its policies have disastrous long-term effects – maintaining independence is not its goal, not even in its top ten. It only cares that some people have more and others have less. Its only guiding metric is that hazy subjective target of fairness. And nothing short of total surrender will satisfy its demands, as was demonstrated in its response to two Supreme Court decisions last week.

In one case, Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations were found able to refuse to insure what are basically abortion drugs. Hobby Lobby still must insure 16 other birth control options. Progressives claim this extremely limited ruling to be part of the conservative “War on Women”, even though half of the fertilized eggs killed by the pills would eventually turn into women. Pretended outrage ensued.

The other case found that a few home health care providers in Illinois don’t have to join a union. What about the indentured servitude of all employees forced to pay union dues contra the freedom of association guaranteed in the First Amendment? If you want to see what a real fight against public unions looks like, read Scott Walker’s book “Unintimidated.” This ruling was laughably limited but again, pretended outrage ensued.

These decisions were hailed as victories for conservatives. If these are what constitute conservative victories, then the mob has already won. These rulings are worse than nothing at all because they pretend to be something and only serve to rally the mob.

The Constitution is no longer the safeguard against the mob that it was intended to be. Conservative justices, in their reluctance to overturn precedent, will never reinstate its protections. They struggle to declare even the obvious, as they did last week, in the face of the Progressive media storms. Liberal justices only await the discovery of the next loophole to expand government. Brother, it’s a rigged game.

Americans generally don’t know what the rest of the world does – that independence is not the natural state of things, tyranny is. And, ironically, after all this time, the biggest threat to American independence is its incredible success, a success so great it has created the luxury of apathy. Even a $17 trillion debt fails to intimidate in the face of the inescapable inertia created through our past liberty.

Our independence is a Catch-22. Those who appreciate the freedom for which our founders fought tend toward just wanting to be left alone. That spells trouble for organized movements, as the Tea Party discovered when it was hijacked by some poor candidates and a few unapologetic racists. Freedom needs a guiding force.

We all live better than King George did 238 years ago – even the poor have cars, electricity, microwaves, and in-door plumbing. The ultimate goal of the Progressive mob is that we forget that independence, not entitlement, is why this is so – and they are advancing. As thousands of illegals flow across the border, at what point does this mob reach critical mass? At what point does apathy deserve tyranny? Nothing says this has to last forever – Rome and Britain each once had inescapable inertia as well.

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