Ohio Speakers describe their revitalization efforts that worked

June 24, 2011

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Two young professionals from Wilmington, Ohio, brought ideas about grassroots, green economic revitalization efforts to Martinsville on Thursday.

Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert both grew up in Wilmington, a small town consisting of about 12,000 people in Clinton County.

The area is similar to Henry County and Martinsville.

Wilmington was “very prosperous when I was growing up,” Rembert told about 15 people at a luncheon meeting at the New College Institute. He added that Wilmington became home to the headquarters of Airborne Express, an overnight shipping industry, in the 1980s.

The company employed about 7,000 people until 2003, when it merged with DHL, an international shipping company. The merger expanded the company, and the payroll grew to about 10,000 people, Rembert said.

The company “was the largest single-site employer in the state of Ohio,” he said.

However, in 2008, DHL lost its entire market share, which led it to close in Wilmington and left 10,000 employees without jobs.

“Everyone was caught off guard,” Rembert said.

During this time, Rembert and Stuckert were not living in Wilmington. Rembert was living in West Philadelphia working for a start-up public relations firm, and Stuckert was a volunteer in the Peace Corps, serving in Bolivia.

After the economic downturn struck in Wilmington, Rembert said he decided to come back “to mourn the loss of my hometown.” Stuckert returned after the Peace Corps program was evacuated from Bolivia because of political tension.

Back in their hometown, both men saw how devastated it was because of the significant unemployment. They decided to take action.

“The place that needed us more than anywhere in the world was our hometown,” Rembert said, adding that Wilmington needed fresh ideas and plans for economic development.

The two co-founded Energize Clinton County to revitalize Wilmington’s economy.

The organization blossomed after 150 people showed up at a community meeting to discuss steps to boost the local economy, Rembert said.

“We tapped into the community’s readiness for something new,” he said.

Rembert said that one of the organization’s first attempts for economic development was getting involved in green, or energy-efficient, initiatives.

“We either had to go with it (green initiatives) or be left behind,” he said, adding that it was important to get people thinking about new trends instead of trying to revitalize industry that was not coming back.

The project is known as the Wilmington Green Enterprise Zone, which provides free energy assessments to all businesses in Clinton County. The goal of the project is to ensure efficiency in commercial and residential energy use, Stuckert said.

The organization wanted businesses especially to “preserve wealth,” and in turn, strengthen the local economy by saving, Stuckert said. “You’d be surprised how many savings a community can generate” by being conscious of its energy use, he said.

The organization also began the Clinton Community Fellows Program, which is similar to the New College Institute’s summer internship program. The Fellows Program was designed to show young people that there are job opportunities in their hometowns, which could persuade them to stay in the area, Stuckert said.

He said that the youth in the program spend 30 hours with local businesses and 10 hours with nonprofit organizations. The project is also designed to “support young people to maybe open a business (of their own),” Stuckert said.

“We want to create an environment for entrepreneurs,” he said.

Buy Local First Clinton County, another program started by Energize Clinton County, is designed to attract small businesses to Wilmington and support existing businesses. The campaign began with 15 businesses and now has nearly 300 companies and a network of about 3,000 local consumers, Stuckert said.

The buy local campaign grew after an email list was compiled. It contains about 4,000 email addresses of area residents, Rembert said.

Each week, the organization emails each person a newsletter. The first week of the month, a community event calendar is sent; the second and fourth weeks of the month, a profile of a local business is sent; and on the third week of the month, a coupon book is sent out for discounts at local businesses.

“It’s the most effective thing we’ve done,” Rembert said.

The organization also launched a buy local e-commerce website, which is an online directory of the local businesses and allows consumers all over the country to buy products from Wilmington. Stuckert said that in just a few days after the website was launched, it had brought in $50,000 in sales.

Rembert said that since the project, there now are only two vacant business spots in downtown Wilmington. “It’s the lowest vacancy rate that it’s (Wilmington) had in our lifetime,” he said.

Both Rembert and Stuckert agree that the key to their organization’s success was the community’s involvement and people’s shift to more positive attitudes.

“It’s not about the job; it’s the place,” Stuckert said. He added that attracting businesses to the area creates options for people, which attracts residents.

Jennifer Doss, director of tourism with the Martinsville and Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), was impressed with the ideas that Rembert and Stuckert presented, especially their buy local campaign.

“I’d like to see some of those ideas developed in Martinsville and Henry County. ... Encouraging residents to choose to spend their money at local stores and businesses can have a positive impact on our community as a whole,” she said.

“It brings a sense of connectivity and being in our community, that we’re all in this together, and we’re supporting each other,” she added.

Doss said she also was excited to hear that the campaign sends out newsletters and features local businesses because the local EDC already has adopted that approach.

“(Their campaign approach) told me that we are on the right track,” Doss said.

Thursday’s presentation was sponsored by the New College and the Danville Regional Foundation. Rembert and Stuckert also spoke at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville on Thursday night.


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