MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners on Thursday unanimously appropriated $100,000 in 2021 for the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development.
Calling it in an investment in business attraction, retention and expansion, commissioners said the funding demonstrates the county's commitment to economic growth.
"It's fun and cute for elected officials to say, 'Oh, we need to bring more jobs into the area.' I think this is a way of saying we are serious," Commissioner Tony Vero said. "I think by and large most (county) residents would be pleased with such an expenditure."
The funds will likely flow through Richland Community Development Group (RCDG), which became part of the Chamber in 2017.
Jodie Perry, President and CEO of Richland Area Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development, said the Richland County Foundation has provided "seed funding" to aid economic development through the organization, but that contract ends at the end of 2021.
The county will use half of its $200,000 rebate from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, expected to arrive in early February.
Perry said the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development provides services to the entire county, handling about 100 calls a year related to potential new business, local business retention and business expansion.
In addition, the Chamber assists in workforce development, partly funded by $60,000 annually through the county's Job & Family Services offices.
"We have done a lot internally to get our finances in order," Perry said, including the launch of a "modest" Chamber endowment for RCDG efforts.
Commissioner Darrell Banks said the board of commissioners is "very impressed" with the organization's economic development efforts.
Perry told commissioners the additional funds in 2021 will allow the organization to more aggressively seek out new business through improved communication.
"Retention and expansion is the defense," she said, "working with the employers we have already to make sure they are healthy and active. (Business) attraction is the offense that is going out and trying to bring additional business into the community."
She said the county gets leads through the state, but would like to expand its own efforts.
"I really like that idea because nobody knows the community assets better than we do," Commissioner Cliff Mears said. "So rather than waiting for it to filter down from the state, (it's a good idea) to be aggressive and proactive and showing people the attractive assets we have to offer."
Vero said more economic development is on the way with the proposed Main Street Improvement Project in downtown Mansfield, a resumption of the county's branding effort slowed by COVID-19 in 2020, the West End Neighborhood Plan and the Shelby Main Street Revitalization Plan.
"Now that the vaccine is getting out there and we kind of return to some normalcy, I think the next two to four years are going to be big with these projects coming together," Vero said.
Vero said it's possible funding for the Chamber could become permanent through the usage of the county's share of online sales taxes or some other method.
Perry promised regular reports to commissioners on the Chamber's economic development efforts.
Also on Thursday, after an executive session, commissioners approved a three-year contract with AFSCME Local 1295, representing JFS employees. The contract, retroactive to Oct. 1, provides annual pay increases of 50 cents per hour to the 46 members of the bargaining unit.
Commissioners approved pay increases for JFS supervisory staff members on Jan. 7. JFS, funded through state and federal sources, receives no county general funds.
Commissioners also authorized the county engineer's office to accept bids to replace the Snake Road Bridge in the northern half of the county.