WILMINGTON — With many residents crestfallen over the Amazon news, the top person at the Wilmington Air Park said Thursday that those trying to woo the company to place air hub operations here made “a significant and Herculean effort.”
While the Economic Network Alliance’s scheduled monthly gathering featured a panel comprised of area mayors, Clinton County Port Authority Executive Director Dan Evers’ comments at the end of their discussion dealt with Tuesday’s announcement by Amazon that it has selected the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Evers said he is extraordinarily proud that “everybody that needed to be in the [recruit Amazon] room” had been in the room, “repeatedly and frequently.”
The State of Ohio, he said, put together one of the most aggressive packages he has seen during his 30 years in the economic development field.
Evers said he asked someone from Amazon on the day of the announcement to help him and others prepare for a future, similar situation by sharing with him what could have been done differently.
The person he spoke with responded that they didn’t know whether their answer would make Evers happy or sad, but there was nothing that could have been done differently to make the air park the choice.
“ ‘Everything you did, you did well, you did right’,” the Amazon official had said, Evers related.
During his remarks, Evers addressed social media comments and local talk that Amazon had tried to purchase the air park and was told no.
“We didn’t refuse to sell the air park. Nobody asked us,” he said.
Evers added that two scenarios — if Amazon either asked that the air park be given or sold to it — were talked about internally by him and others involved in the effort to keep Amazon in Wilmington.
“We considered both scenarios, and we had an approach, a plan,” he said.
In making the pitch to Amazon, Evers said decisions were made where others questioned “you sure you want to do that?” And, he said, those courting the company would reply “sure, we got to do it” in order to avoid later regrets they had not done enough.
Going forward, there are three positive effects of the attempt to be an Amazon hub, said the Port Authority’s executive director.
One silver-lining result, he said, is that a “bunch of people” who in the past didn’t spend a lot of time in the same room together “and didn’t always pull in the same direction” did come together in the effort.
“And that’s important,” Evers added.
A second useful result is the data that were compiled in a workforce analysis, conducted specifically for the Amazon opportunity, that now can be shared with other prospects and clients, he said.
And third, millions of dollars were invested to make improvements at the air park to make it a stronger candidate when Amazon made its decision. That means it’s a better asset than before, said Evers.
The mayoral panelists covered issues, updates and some local history in their presentations. There was a theme common to the three village mayors who attended — financial difficulties.
Conversely, Wilmington Mayor John Stanforth, who spoke after the villages leaders, said Wilmingtonians “are absolutely blessed to have a 0.5 [percent] income tax pass last fall.”
He said it’s a great feeling to be able to afford to fix streets and keep an outstanding police department intact.
Blanchester Mayor John Carman said this year the village government is looking at a $134,000 deficit. That is despite cutting the town’s police department from 13 officers to seven due to a shortage of funds.
He mentioned there will be a tax levy for the village parks on the spring ballot.
“We pay for parks out of the General Fund. We can no longer support our parks [with current General Fund dollars],” the mayor said.
Carman brought up that the City of Wilmington’s successful campaign last fall to increase the municipal earnings tax was supported by a “strong committee” of local individuals who advocated for the tax increase.
Sabina Mayor Dean Hawk noted his village was once a center of manufacture for hand tools, wrenches, socket sets and screw drivers. That has changed, and the “last of the big presses was moved to Mexico in 2010,” he remarked.
He said the town’s General Fund year-end balances had peaked in 2008 and been in decline since.
Cuts have been made to the municipal payroll. When he became mayor, there were 13 full-time and two part-time employees of the village; now there are nine full-time workers and three part-time, he said.
This May, Sabina residents will vote on an additional earnings tax for which the revenue would go toward the police department.
Port William Mayor Michelle Morrison said some of the problems there are a decline of population and a decline of funding.
The village residents rely on private wells for water and private septic tanks for the sewage function.
The old septic tanks will eventually fail, she said, predicting that would cause major problems within the next 20 years.
The Village of Port William cannot afford to build public water and sewage infrastructure on its own, Morrison said.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.