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Back to the future on economic development

Sparks are flying yet again over composition of the group charged with fostering economic development in Marion County.

Marion’s mayor may not completely understand what’s being asked of city officials who have been given a chance to name representatives to the panel.

But her heart is in the right place.

It’s time to set aside rivalries between bigger towns and smaller towns and set aside fears that one town or another will hijack the committee for its own purposes.

It’s time to reclaim the 1.21 gigawatts of energy being expended on determining the committee’s composition and bylaws and redirect it at actually developing the county.

Given intra-county rivalries and the nature of both the global economy and local human and natural resources, chances of securing an impactful large business via a countywide economic development panel are incredibly remote.

Better to redesignate the panel as one in support of tourism and open up membership to any and all who are willing to devote time and effort to helping make the county a destination for day trips and weekends.

Apportioning representatives by incorporated communities will never achieve that goal.

Two of the county’s biggest tourism lures — Marion County Lake and Marion Reservoir — are unincorporated, without representation. A prime area for future tourism — Pilsen, the home parish of soon-to-be Saint Emil Kapaun — likewise is unincorporated and unrepresented.

Instead of representing municipalities, a tourism coordinating council would represent civic groups, festivals, events, services and facilities throughout the county and attempt to foster cooperation among them rather than embroil itself in nitty-gritty rivalries over which town’s industrial park gets what new business and what sort of incentives.

Coordination is needed among industrial and commercial efforts, too. But this might best be achieved by a separate advisory panel, composed of paid municipal development officers and a representative or two from the tourism council.

The price for continued argument and inaction is simply too high. Throughout all the jostling for power, huge opportunities have been squandered.

Destination restaurants and businesses that had been among the county’s primary claims to fame among travelers far and wide have closed. The quaint charm that is Marion County has increasingly given way to development that at times seems at odds with what Marion County has to offer that suburban strip malls can’t compete with.

Marion County needs to take a step back to find its future.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified Dec. 31, 2009

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