Executive Director Monthly Column

February 2021 E-News Executive Director Update: By Erika Willitzer

                                 Intentionally Homegrown

I remember years ago, I was meeting with a fellow economic developer and I asked: “How many companies have you recruited to your county in the last two years?” This economic developer looked at me and said NONE, very proudly. I was completely confused. Why would she be proud of that? She then giggled and said something I’ll never forget. She said we haven’t recruited any new companies to our community, but we have grown 1000 new jobs in the last two years. If there was ever a time to do a “mic drop”, it would have been then.

So here’s what happened there? This community had intentionally targeted growing their existing businesses and that’s exactly what we’d like to do in Defiance County, too.

Our office is in the process of developing a “Homegrown” program which is grounded in the premise to bring new economic prosperity by focusing on our existing community.

We plan to look into our supply chain to identify supporting suppliers and potential gaps. As many of you know, a better supply chain leads to better business within a company. So why wouldn’t we be doing the same thing for our county, as a whole too?

In our Homegrown program, we’re looking at creating tools business owners need. Some items discussed so far, are as follows:

  • Data analytics for new markets or trends 
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 
  • GIS Mapping which can identify a company’s footprint, potential new customer base, competition bases, etc. 
  • E-Commerce consultations to launch products online

The ability to assist innovative companies is the key driver to growing our local economy. This approach aids existing businesses in growing by providing detailed information they need to address how they plan to grow strategically. 

One of Defiance County’s manufacturing companies has agile leadership at its core. Company leaders had anticipated that COVID-19 could disrupt their business, so prior to all the shutdowns, they hired an e-commerce expert and launched a good portion of their products on eBay and Amazon. What happened, is what I see as happening to others who take this same approach. Instead of laying off employees, they ended up hiring over 30 new employees and DURING A PANDEMIC!

We have a good start of what this program could offer or look like, but how would we ever know the true needs without asking business leaders/owners. Maybe there are other stories like above, where leaders could offer guidance -lessons learned.

Our backbone of economic development isn’t in the backbone, it actually lies right in the hearts of business leaders. If we are going to make a “Homegrown Program” work, we’ll need to depend on leaders championing the cause. One way you can help is by taking a quick survey. It will take less than 2 minutes. (Click Here) OR fill out below. Your feedback will help bring life to this program and at the same time bring sustainability to our county for the future.  Before too long, we’ll be the ones… Dropping the Mic!


January 2021 E-News Executive Director Update: By Erika Willitzer

Who’s Ready to Play Some Ball

Executive Director Erika Willitzer

The first newsletter of 2021 brings with it a “Goodbye” and a ”Hello”. Jerry Hayes has officially retired from the Executor Director position he held for over 21 years. I have had quite a few people say, “So you’re the new Jerry.”  I always responded by saying…”Yes, that is me.” But if I am being honest. I am not. I do not have the 20 plus years Mr. Hayes had in Defiance County. He definitely left an imprint on the communities he served. He is an asset, we will definitely miss, but as Jerry told me, he’s retiring from the position, not the community. We are so happy for Jerry, knowing he will get more time to spend on his farm, and most importantly with this family.

While I have not been integrated into the Defiance County community for over 20 plus years. What I do have is a passion to build upon the great organization already in existence. I promise to work like crazy to make sure I can pull economic development projects together, always with the county’s best interest at heart.

If you do not know me, I have been doing economic and community development for almost 10 years. I was not looking to be in the economic development world; it found me. I have a degree in communications and was in the media industry for many years when the grind of being a news anchor/news reporter weighed on me. My husband Bill and I decided that we really needed a change of pace for our family. So, from there, I became the Executive Director at the Paulding Chamber of Commerce, which eventually led me to doing economic development for Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative. While at the co-op, I was able to lead several initiatives, one of my favorites was the creation of the Paulding County Vision Board, and the implementation of a countywide comprehensive plan. It was an honor to see how all the small communities came together in the county to truly collaborate on several projects.

Economic development is not easy. It is quite complex. It is often whittled down to “jobs created or retained”. But it is so much more than that today.  Economic development is about revitalized downtowns,  housing, transportation, broadband access, workforce development, entrepreneurship, and more.

To balance all these different elements, I believe we need to have an all-encompassing approach. Our office will always emphasize on assisting  industrial and commercial companies, but if we don’t pay attention to what’s happening in other sectors, we may miss the mark. For example, I’ve seen firsthand in another community, where a developer wanted to locate a facility, but once they physically saw that the housing and quality of life wasn’t up to their standards, they passed on the location.

So how do you balance all the different pieces of the puzzle, so you don’t miss out on opportunities? It comes down to partnerships and measuring those pieces. To help put it into perspective, the movie “Moneyball” is the best example. If you are not familiar with the true story plot line, the story focuses on the Oakland Athletics, a second-tier baseball team with a small budget. Athletics General Manager, Billy Beane played by actor Brad Pitt, realized a good team need not be about star players. Instead of individuals, it was about the whole team’s ability to win. And that meant looking more closely at why teams win. Beane concluded that it meant getting on base. And that meant walking was as valuable as hitting. It meant recognizing the small stuff that most people ignored. While most thought he was crazy, his plan worked, and his wins racked up. Now, his model is used throughout the Major Leagues.

This same method can be used in economic development too, but it will mean collaboration on a county-wide scale. And it will mean measuring -tracking our county’s data *not* on a regular basis, but a DAILY BASIS!  So, I ask the question…Who’s ready to play some ball?