Forum discusses key elements in 'successful counties'

Nearly 200 people attended the Montgomery County community forum Tuesday at Sinclair Community College to hear how nine midsized counties grew population and developed wealth, faster than expected.

“This is a night that is all about moving our community forward,” Montgomery County Commissioner Deborah Lieberman said. “None of this is new. Let’s start taking action. Let’s pick a few top things and do a pilot program.”

Researchers from Wright State University and the University of Dayton identified and studied the successful counties. They found five common factors: high educational attainment, economic diversity, tax advantages compared to surrounding communities, positive attitudes/natural advantages, and a high degree of collaboration, coordination and cooperation.

All of the counties experienced population growth between 2000 and 2011, which the project team considered a measure of regional attractiveness. The growth varied from the 40.2 percent jump in population in Utah County, Utah, where entrepreneurialism is strong to a 1.9 percent increase in Onondaga N.Y., with an economy dominated by education and health care. Montgomery County experienced a 4.3 percent population loss during the same time period.

The 2011 unemployment rate in Hillsborough, NH (the measure for economic performance) ranked the lowest of the nine counties at 5.5 percent. There primary business clusters are very diverse including computer and electronic manufacturing, advanced materials, IT and telecom, fabricated materials, apparel and aerospace. Montgomery County’s 2011 unemployment rate of 9.4 percent matched that of Spokane, WA and was lower than the rate in Lane County, Ore. at 9.5 percent.

While Montgomery County’s median property values fell 5.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, the “successful counties” saw values rise as high as 45.9 percent in Hillsborough to 13.2 percent in Utah County.

“To me, the most important thing about this information is that each of the communities took a different path to success,” Amy Luttrell, president of Goodwill Easter Seals of the Miami Valley, said.

She suggested Montgomery County build on initiatives already underway, look at others factors on the list that are doable and ignore the rest.

“I think the worst thing we can do is look at these things and fly off in all directors,” Luttrell said.

Some of the success factors resonated with the crowd. Many felt education and attitude about community advantages could be improved. State Sen. Peggy Lehner R-Kettering said she would push educational attainment high on the list of priorities for Montgomery County.

“What could we do to make sure every child in Montgomery County learns to read,” Lehner said.

Former University of Dayton President Brother Ray Fitz said his biggest concern in the community centers around attitude and education. He said at least three school districts in the county had impoverished children struggling to learn to read. He questioned why the community wasn’t rallying around the issue.

“I don’t see that willingness to step up to that big challenge,” he said.

Community activist Franz Hoge felt the county shouldn’t be satisfied just following what other regions are doing.

“Let’s not play catch-up,” he said. “Let’s set bodacious goals.”

The final in the series of five forums “Our Best Ideas for Action” will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 5 at Sinclair.

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