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?