County overcame, then triumphed: Better days followed, best days ahead


Editor’s Note: The News Journal recently asked Randy Riley — who was a Clinton County Commissioner in 2008 and later served as Mayor of Wilmington — to reflect on the DHL news, from the day it happened in 2008 up to the present. Part 1 appeared yesterday. Below is Part 2 of his column.

One of the things that many of us are still very proud of is that, during this entire time, the air park never went dark. On any day, at any hour, an aircraft could have landed at the Wilmington Air Park.

We can thank our friends at the port authority and specifically the staff at Airborne for that success.

One of the major goals of the task force was to reacquire the entire air park from DHL. We wanted to get the air park back at little to no cost to the community. I thought it was an impossible goal, but Raizk pushed forward with the idea. He enlisted the help of John Limbert, President of National Bank and Trust, to spearhead that effort.

John’s a very talented negotiator, but I still thought it was an impossible quest. In one of our meetings, I even promised to kiss Davey’s bald head if he pulled off that impossible task.

As member of the task force, I was charged with leading the Outreach Committee. One of our first acts was to request prayers in all of our churches. Pastor Dean Feldmeyer, of the United Methodist Church, led a multi-denominational prayer service on the steps of the Clinton County Courthouse.

We not only wanted to win the hearts of the community and the attention of our Lord, we wanted the entire nation to know about the fix we were in. We also wanted the entire nation to know that we might be down but that we were definitely not out.

Many times during the initial phases of the DHL crisis, I remarked that Clinton County might be the tip-of-the-spear in the national recession, but we would also be like the Phoenix that would rise from the ashes of the recession — we would once more be vital, healthy and proud.

We did get the national spotlight. Reporters from around the nation descended upon Wilmington.

The “60 Minutes” crew was in town twice. Jay Leno provided a free comedy show at the Roberts Centre. Rachael Ray broadcast her show from Your Father’s Kitchen on Main Street. She also arranged for a complete remodeling of the kitchen and she left the pantry filled with fresh food. Glenn Beck broadcast his show from the Murphy Theatre.

We did everything we could to keep the media attention on our plight.

I spent time with reporters from NPR and an entire afternoon with reporters and photographers from Italy.

One day shortly after the DHL announcement, Allen Willoughby, the director of Your Father’s Kitchen, asked me to stop by. The shelves in their pantry were empty. Allen wanted to have a group prayer. We placed our hands on the empty shelves and prayed.

One afternoon a short time later, semi-trucks from Feed the Children lined up on Lincoln Street to deliver food to Your Father’s Kitchen. Miraculously, the pantry was filled. We received help from everywhere.

In one of our Outreach Committee meetings, I stated that we might want to focus on Victory Gardens like they did during World War II. Chris Burns-DiBiasio, from Wilmington College, jumped on the idea. They pushed the idea of home gardening and the Grow-Food, Grow-Hope program was brought to life. That program lives on today.

We survived the initial devastation. Then we started to recover.

Losing nearly 10,000 jobs will always be devastating to a county of 42,000. Most of the jobs were part-time, sort center jobs. Many of the employees came from outside of Clinton County.

That doesn’t lessen the impact to the individual, but we soon realized that bringing in about 2,500 full-time jobs would soften the local impact significantly.

Still, we had to take care of people until those future jobs could be brought to town.

While David Raizk, Kevin Carver, John Limbert, Mark Brooker and many, many others struggled to stop or modify the DHL/UPS deal, the Outreach Committee kept looking for ways to reduce the impact on the people living within the community.

With the help of the United Methodist Church and particularly John Lundblad, we started the Ohio Benefit Bank office in Wilmington. The OBB helped people connect with a huge number of benefits that are available to citizens in need.

It can be complicated to wind your way through the state websites, so volunteers staffed the office to help anyone who walked through the door.

The entire task force worked like a team. We kept the focus on the community and, by and large, we succeeded. After months of negotiation, John Limbert and his fellow negotiators from DHL struck a bargain to return the entire air park to the community.

There was much discussion about who would run the air park — the county, the city or the port authority. It was finally decided that the port authority was ideally positioned to operate the air park as the county economic engine.

A ceremony was held in June 2010 to officially sign the entire park over to the Clinton County Port Authority. It was a great event – celebrated by the entire community. The only downside for me was having to give Davey Raizk a big kiss on his bald head. There is a picture of that kiss floating around somewhere. Davey has an overly-gleeful look on his face.

But, it was worth it – even if he did taste like a Democrat.

As with many problems, in hindsight, there have been a few positives – some silver lining. The establishment of Energize Clinton County by Taylor Stuckert and Mark Rembert brought into focus our need for energetic young professionals in Wilmington.

In my first year as mayor, I hosted a meeting with many young professionals. We wanted to identify why they came to Wilmington and what we could do to bring more young professionals into the community.

Working with Wilmington College, Southern State Community College and Wilmington City Schools, we developed a program called Wilmington Succeeds. This program is designed to help Clinton County high school graduates afford college. The main encouragement is for them to stay in the community following graduation from college. It seems to be working.

Wilmington City Council has changed significantly in the past decade. There is more youth and diversity on the council than ever before. I believe that reflects a desire of young professionals to become strongly engaged in the process of making Wilmington a better place to live, work and raise a family.

During my State of the City address in January 2013 I predicted that 1,000 new jobs would be added in the city before the end of the year.

We exceeded that number. Businesses were once again looking to Wilmington and seeing the potential that we all knew existed.

No one person, group or organization can take credit for our rebound from the disastrous news we received in May of 2008. It was a group effort by dedicated people who love the community and recognize the potential that exists in Clinton County.

That group of people allowed Wilmington to become the Phoenix that has risen from the ashes and devastation that occurred 10 years ago.

Our best days did not happen in this community during the years leading up to 2008.

Our best days are still ahead of us.

Better days followed, best days ahead

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