Recollections of 10 years ago — the summer of 2008 — hearken some uncertain days for Wilmington and Clinton County.
When DHL announced its intention to pull out of Wilmington — and take with it 10,000 jobs — our community was thrust into the national spotlight. It became the face for the national economic recession.
CBS 60 Minutes and other news crews converged upon Wilmington, as did 2008 presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, along with Gov. Ted Strickland, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and other politicians from the state and national levels.
Then WC President Dan DiBiasio was among the local community leaders who, in summer 2008, called for a cooperative effort in dealing with the economic calamity and moving forward together.
He said that, “By bringing together groups that do not always work effectively together, for example, labor and management, Republicans and Democrats, city and county officials, and primary, secondary and post-secondary educators, it is far more likely that the whole of this effort will be greater than the sum of its parts.”
DiBiasio committed the resources of the College to “all who may benefit from them.” WC quickly became the venue for meetings of the task force set up to determine the best way forward. That summer and fall 2008, with the November elections in clear sight, presidential candidates and other government officials were part of a steady stream of visitors who came to campus to address the DHL pullout and economic downturn.
Wilmington College was far from immune to the effect of losing the county’s largest employer. Many families with employment connections to the Air Park were faced with the new financial challenges of having a child in college. WC’s emerging work-study program with ABX Air — which made a WC education more affordable for 60 students — was terminated upon DHL’s departure.
“The economic threat to our country and region is real, but the final outcome remains unclear,” DiBiasio said.
“What is very clear, however, are the lessons we have already learned about the power of true partnership and the strength of effective community engagement,” he added. “We will continue to vigorously apply those lessons.”
Indeed, the College reached out to the community in significant ways. One of the most prominent was the establishment of its Grow Food, Grow Hope Community Gardens initiative, which used local agricultural resources to address community needs resulting from the economic crisis. Its central purpose was to increase the capacity of our citizens to provide food for their families. Toward that end, the Community Gardens Project created a network of area food producers who helped supply food to those in need and to local markets.
The wide-ranging Grow Food, Grow Hope initiative not only helped paint a more optimistic picture for those in need but also garnered high profile publicity that not only shined a light on the plight of an area adversely impacted by massive job loss, but also portrayed a resilient, forward-thinking community.
Major feature stories on the gardens appeared in Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati newspapers, radio and TV, as well as such national media NBC News, People magazine and an Associated Press story that reached around the world. Nearly 10 years later, the community gardens remain a part of summers at Wilmington College.
Also, a resilient community has come a long way since 2008 and so has Wilmington College.
Jim Reynolds, who succeeded DiBiasio as president in summer 2011, led the institution’s largest, concurrent, building program since the 1960s with the renovation/expansion project that became the Center for the Sciences and Agriculture and the construction of the Center for Sport Sciences, a unique public/private partnership. Gifts secured as part of WC’s successfully concluded $21.2 million Leave Your Mark fundraising campaign funded much of the building boom.
The College also is becoming well known for its hands-on learning and leadership development opportunities in that, while working closely with a caring faculty and staff, students often realize life-transforming experiences.
As agriculture is a major employer and economic force in Clinton County, agriculture has become the College’s largest academic area with 25 percent of the main campus enrollment studying agri-business, agronomy, agricultural communications, animal science or the area of plant, environmental and soil. A minor in sustainability focuses on the social, political and environmental considerations regarding food production and the College’s newest academic concentration deals with food policy and agricultural advocacy.
The sport sciences area is approaching agriculture in popularity, as its flagship component, athletic training, remains a marque program with expectations of soon hosting a Master of Science In Athletic Training course of study. Also, several college ranking organizations have selected WC’s sport management major as among the best in the nation, while the newer area of exercise science is gaining traction and coaching is WC’s largest minor.
Wilmington College continues to be an educational and cultural pillar in the community. Its College-Community Summer Theatre is a recognized gem producing popular musicals starring local talent for, as of this summer, 46 years. The community continues to enjoy attending Music Dept. concerts and WC Theatre’s three student productions during the academic year, while Harcum Gallery hosts five exhibits annually, including ones featuring local artists. The Meriam R. Hare Quaker Heritage Center and Peace Resource Center regularly feature compelling exhibits and the College’s Issues & Artists Series, Food Symposium/Earth Day, Westheimer Peace Symposium, MLK observance and Black History Month/Women’s History Month celebrations provide the community with many venues for entertainment, enlightenment and cultural appreciation.
The College also fields 18 intercollegiate sports, including equestrian, all of which are available for public viewing.
Finally, the presence of a small college has a great impact on Wilmington and Clinton County’s economy to the tune of $46.5 million.
A study conducted by the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center found Wilmington College to be a major economic driver when considering its hand in 745 jobs in the county, as well as the institution’s operations, student spending and capital expenditures.
The research, which focused on the 2015-16 academic year, indicated a $46.5 million impact in the county largely through direct expenditures and the purchases of its employees and students.
“Wilmington College is embedded in the local community and economy of Clinton County,” the study proclaimed. “While the College’s main function is to educate its students, it directly and indirectly supports the local economy through purchases, as well as its ability to retain students and workers, who then expend money in the county.”
President Jim Reynolds said the study aptly illustrates the wide-ranging multiplier effect WC contributes in the local community.
“The College has long been — and correctly so — perceived as a beacon for higher education and cultural opportunities in Wilmington, Clinton County and southwest Ohio, but this study especially accentuates its role as an economic pillar,” Reynolds said.