WILMINGTON — Clinton County’s new economic development director said Monday that for some communities having suitable and sufficient housing can be a key component for economic expansion.
When Clinton County Economic Development Director Jennifer Ekey was formally introduced to the county commissioners, she was accompanied by Clinton County Port Authority Executive Director Dan Evers. Ekey is filling a new position on the Port Authority staff.
She comes to Clinton County from the City of Middletown, where since 2016 she served as that city’s economic development director.
Ekey said they recognized that Middletown’s housing stock was not attracting the kind of families and workers that could fill the open positions in that city.
There were an estimated 800 to 1,000 available jobs there, she said, with many of them at medical facilities, in light manufacturing, as well as some commercial “back-end” (that is, behind-the-scenes operations).
They did “some pretty creative things in terms of busing” to address the open positions, said Ekey.
And a deep dive in terms of housing stock demonstrated the city of almost 48,000 residents didn’t have the kind of housing suited to people who were growing their family.
There were enough starter houses with two bedrooms, built in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, with a lot of character, Ekey said.
But if the family needed a house with three or four bedrooms, then there was a shortage.
“So we spent a lot of time with our master plan in working with residential builders to start talking about that — having that conversation about how we wish to grow and we felt that residential was a key component,” she said.
In Middletown, having residential development was, in effect, a form of economic development, added Ekey.
Clinton County Commissioner Mike McCarty prompted the discussion about housing, remarking that it is a huge need in Clinton County “on many levels.”
McCarty also brought up what he said is another aspect of economic development that needs to become stronger locally: workforce development.
“We have the jobs. We need to be able to connect new students with [those jobs],” said McCarty.
Ekey responded that the connection between workforce development and economic development is stronger than ever, at least during the 25 years she’s been in the field.
“Now, it’s hand in hand, arm in arm. You don’t have one without the other,” the county’s economic development director said.
Ekey added, “There are so many, so many, well-paying and sustainable jobs with technical certificates and two-year degrees.”
Clinton County Commissioner Brenda K. Woods asked whether Ekey, in her plan to meet a lot of people as she settles into her new job, would include the villages and townships. Ekey said they are included.
Meeting people is part of seeking “to get her head around all of this,” she had said earlier in the appointment with commissioners.
Ekey told commissioners she wants to learn what their vision and mission are, and is willing to meet with them individually.
In the past, her economic development jobs have all centered upon one city, she said — Hamilton, Harrison, and Middletown.
One thing that intrigues and excites her about her new position is its focus on the entire county.
In talking about her background, Ekey said she grew up in Cincinnati and hasn’t strayed too far from home since then. She said she jokes she has a 40-mile radius, having lived in southwest Ohio all her life.
Ekey told commissioners she loves the southwest Ohio region, her family lives there, and she’s not planning to leave it.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.