WILMINGTON — It’s clear from talking to him that David Hockaday cares deeply for Wilmington, the community that he moved to and which has been home to him and his family for decades.
When he was young, his dad was working in Wilmington and would complain about having to drive outside of Clinton County to get beer for his employees. Hockaday asked “Wilmington – where’s that?”
Little did he know he’d move to Wilmington and begin a storied career of public service with 29 years on Wilmington council as a member and a president, 13 years as a Clinton County Probate and Juvenile Court administrator and, most recently, four years on the Clinton County Port Authority, including time as chair.
He also has experience in manufacturing and international sales, including as upper-level management, and he served on the Clinton County Regional Planning Commission, a city planning commission and the redevelopment group created when DHL left.
The port owns and manages the Wilmington Air Park. At the end of this month, Hockaday’s term on the port expires.
Wilmington Mayor Randy Riley said Hockaday’s commitment to Wilmington “is unparalleled” and complimented him for that commitment, his service and his love for the community.
Former Wilmington Mayor David Raizk, who once ran against Hockaday for president of council, said he leaned on Hockaday as a special advisor while he was mayor.
“David is an extremely dedicated person, gets information, makes sure it’s correct and he loves to play devil’s advocate, which is a good thing,” Raizk said. “He’s been a tremendous public servant. … I’m sorry to see him go, but I also appreciate that he can relax now.”
Hockaday’s public service career began when he spoke to Wilmington Council in support of providing common uniforms, weapons and ammo for city police. Later, he supported an earnings tax, asking council how they’d pay for services without the additional revenue.
He was actually considering running for school board but decided instead to serve on city council, the beginning of almost three decades of service. After, the Clinton County commissioners appointed Hockaday to the port.
That tenure began with “tense” negotiations with ATSG, the airpark’s primary tenant, concerning the JUMP hangar, a large hangar that has an overhead crane in the building.
“I thought I was just going to be going to a meeting once a month for a couple hours, listening and giving some guidance,” Hockaday said. He was there 10 to 15 hours per week during the JUMP hangar negotiations, which he believed was already finished.
Hockaday recalled being at an open house of Gov. John Kasich’s and saw several ATSG, state and local officials who he says agreed they had reached an agreement on the JUMP hangar.
“And two weeks later, I come on the port and the first meeting I go to (I hear), ‘No, ATSG is not agreeing to the financing,’” Hockaday said. “We had to find a way to raise $500,000,” to which the city, county and Wilmington Community Improvement Corporation contributed.
According to Hockaday, it was a stressful time for everyone. The negotiations went on and on, misinformation spread and the port was blamed, unfairly, according to him, for the stall. He faults red tape, tough negotiations, regulation variances and redoing paperwork as the project changed.
During his tenure on the port’s board, the port hired a fiscal officer and began to keep financial records fitting of a government entity. According to Hockaday in the port’s first several years it was classified as “unauditable,” meaning records were so badly kept that auditors couldn’t independently verify that money was spent properly.
Hockaday said there is still work to do on that front.
“One of the biggest things we have to do is itemize our assets – who owns what,” he said. “That will be the long-term nemesis of getting everything in compliance. We’re working on it. It’s a couple hundred thousand dollar expense.”
The next objective was to find a revenue stream.
The port’s collection of rent wasn’t enough, so it scrapped metal left behind by DHL and got unoccupied buildings exempt from real estate taxes.
Hockaday said scrapping metal kept the port solvent during what he calls its “survival mode.”
The port doesn’t receive financial assistance from other government entities, except for grants, nor does it levy taxes. The property tax exemption reduces tax revenue for Clinton County, Wilmington and schools. Hockaday said the port has tried to help schools with the reductions.
Hockaday believes now the port is financially stable and thinks the new board and director are better positioned to focus on development.
“We, as a combined group, have moved the port to a place where it can maintain and resolve itself and grow, so it’s a much more positive look in the future than when I first went on,” he said
“Today, we have money in the bank and all of our old debts paid,” Hockaday also said. “If everything works out the way we forecast it with the increase in employment, we’ll have a positive cash flow and we’ll have enough money in the bank that unless there’s a catastrophic event that’ll last us 15 or 20 years.”
The port now has almost no debt, he said, except about $1 million on 400 acres of leased farmland around the airpark, which he believes could be recouped, if needed, by selling the land.
“I think the airpark, the port authority, we’re starting to see more and more activity,” he said. “We think we have a really great opportunity with UAVs and UASs with the Air Force Research Lab,” a strong position to become a recognized UAV test center and other clients talking with the port.
Employment too has increased since DHL left.
“We’ve gone from 400 to 700 jobs that were out there that really never went away,” he said. Now, employment is projected to reach 1,200 by the end of the month and, if two more clients in negotiations commit, could reach 1,350 by the end of the year.
He also points out that it took 35 years to get the airpark to exceed 8,000 jobs.
Hockaday, who says Wilmington was once one voted the greatest, small community in the nation, says in many ways, small businesses have struggled and regressed to when he moved to Wilmington.
He hopes to see continued economic growth at the airpark and throughout the county, fewer regulations for small, family-owned businesses so they can thrive, people consider skilled labor careers as well as college degrees and more social consciousness on the part of large businesses.
But as for himself, Hockaday, who is in his 70’s, isn’t sure what to do next, but his doctor and his wife have told him he has to stay busy.
He does have a small farm to attend, wood to chop for winter, travelling to do and a retirement to enjoy.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.