Economic Forecast - Biz Breakfast another success
By Matt Echelberry
On March 13, business leaders as well as the current city leaders and candidates for the upcoming Special Election gathered for the annual Economic Development Update and Business Forecast Breakfast. Presented by the Galion-Crestline Area Chamber of Commerce, the event was held at Free Methodist Christian Life Center to a big turnout.
Many representatives of the local businesses spoke that morning, including Dawn Ratliff from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Geyer’s Super Market President Rick Geyer, E-Crane President Mark Osborn and A-1 Printing President Dan Price.
Jeff McClain, state representative for the 82nd District, also attended the event. He gave an update on the biannual budget, which he said was “ambitious and earth-shaking.” McClain serves as Vice-Chair of the Finance Committee, which will pass the budget by April 18 before it moves to the floor of the House and Senate.
He said there are three very divisive issues regarding the budget; the two he discussed were school funding and Medicaid expansion. The finance formula for schools that the Governor proposed is currently being adjusted. According to McClain, legislators are trying to reward the schools and teachers that are doing a good job. With Medicaid, they are looking into what other states are doing. He said the changes will primarily help with mental health and the uninsured.
Changes with the sales tax has also been a problem. The Governor’s intention was to expand the tax base, but the committee realized that it was not completely thought through—McClain said it would have been a job killer. They are now working through some serious issues.
McClain also explained that a bill for turnpike bonds will be passed soon, in which $1.5 billion will be used for ODOT projects, to get them completed sooner. According to McClain, 90 percent of the funds must be spent within 75 miles of the turnpike, which includes State Route 30.
“This is all designed to protect businesses. When businesses do well, you hire people. When people get hired, their families do better…That’s really our focus,” McClain stated.
Lastly, he briefly discussed a pilot project for opiate addiction rehabilitation. The Governor vetoed the original proposal last year, but a revised plan will be put back on the table. McClain said the pilot (if approved) is to happen in our counties, including Crawford. Vivitrol, a non-addictive injection with no street value, will be used for the treatment.
Audience members clapped loudly at that point.
After McClain’s updates, Craig Miley, owner of Craig Miley Realty & Auction, addressed the audience. He began with an observation that there is a lack of moral obligation in repaying debts in society today, citing it as a primary reason why the foreclosure rate on homes is so high. He reported that 25 percent of Ohio homeowners are “underwater” on their mortgages.
Miley reported that the foreclosure rate in this area starting to stabilize and interest rates are low. His business has contracted 18 listings since February. “It is a myth that there are too many vacant homes in Galion. We need listings now,” Miley said.
He also commended Annie Carter for her testimony in front of the House Committee on Government Finance. He said he agreed that the government makes it too easy for people to stay home, and encouraged people to demand more from elected officials.
As it happened, Annie Carter, president of Carter Machine Company, also spoke. Referring to her testimony, she said that like many employers, Carter Machine struggles to hire and maintain quality employees. However, according to her Crawford County has a high unemployment rate. She added that the government has made it “an option to work, not a necessity.”
“Despite what anybody says, there are jobs here. We need willing workers,” Carter stated.
Dr. Kathy Jenney, superintendent of Galion City Schools, shared the One-to-One Technology Program with the audience. “Share” is used literally: A student-made video was shown that demonstrated how technology is being used in the classroom by both students and teachers. The video is on the school website (www.galionschools.org).
Jenney explained that all devices being used for the program were purchased through grant funds that could not be used for general operations. Also, she briefly mentioned the income tax levy that will be on the May ballot. “The Board decided to ask for the levy because the district relies mostly on state funding, with 70 percent from the state and a 30 percent local share…We want to maintain local control.”
Jerry Morasko, president and CEO of Avita Health Systems, said the healthcare industry is struggling across the state, but Avita has been doing well. Currently the largest employer in the county, Morasko said Avita continues to grow—the company added 10 additional service providers last year, with three more ready to join this summer.
Avita is set to focus on the patient experience now by expanding and enhancing programs overall, competing in this market and maintaining local control. “We want to make Avita all it can be for the patients,” Morasko concluded.
Todd Bailey, director of business development for MedFlight, explained to the audience that MedFlight looked at several counties for locating a new base, but decided on Galion because of Morasko and the impressive work of Avita Health Systems.
He recounted a story about a seven-year-old Galion boy who had an accident last winter. He fell two stories and should not have survived, but Galion Hospital staff “did a phenomenal job in keeping him alive.”
MedFlight then transported him to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. “The patient survived because of the commitment of the entire team. It’s an A to Z process,” he commented. Bailey invites anyone interested in a tour of the base to stop by and meet the crew, who are on standby 24–7.
Dave Williamson, executive director of the Crawford Education and Economic Development Partnership, spoke briefly as well. He said the combining of the Galion and Crestline Chambers is a great thing and a powerful statement. He felt the organization will achieve more.
Williamson said other local organizations, such as United Way, are consolidating as well. “Alignment is key…We’re rethinking how we work together,” he commented.
He briefly updated the crowd on what Crawford: 20/20 Vision is doing, explaining that its numerous initiatives have seeped into wellness, workforce participation and transportation (in addition to its four core areas of business success, workforce preparation, quality of life and public safety).
This April, Vision update meetings are to be held, similar to the meetings from 2010. Further details to be announced.