Qualified candidates meet with community members in open interviews
Four qualified candidates sat before community members last Thursday to discuss their backgrounds and answer questions.
Each of the Wayne Area Economic Development (WAED) director candidates received a 30 minute time slot at The Majestic Theatre in a rotation that included tours of town and an executive interview in front of the WAED board.
The candidates were given two questions that they could prepare for but the rest of the time would be taken by community questions. Former director Wes Blecke was on hand to moderate the interviews.
Garry Delano Clark Jr. kicked things off at 10 a.m. giving a brief synopsis of his experiences before answering Blecke's first two questions.
"I think there's a combination of opportunities because of the location of Wayne to other communities. I think there is an opportunity for regionalism here. Wayne has the capacity and foundation to transform."
That transformation he spoke of was focused on becoming the hub for the area, pushing toward being a regional center and pooling resources from other communities to make things happen in the area.
Clark spoke on a youth program he had a hand in setting up called Bright Lights to help retain youth in the community and was asked to further expand on the program.
The program, set up in his time at a county position, asked for four students from each of the school districts in that county to participate in a "shark tank"-like business pitch concept. From start to finish, the students were given real-world business experience including pitching the ideas to investors and presenting to an audience and receiving financial support.
Among other things, Clark discussed how the growth of Wayne would affect the area towns like Laurel and Wakefield, so if Wayne grows, those towns will also see a benefit from that. He stated that proximity was more important than a "turf war."
He also discussed building a strong relationship with Wayne State College and building upon the manufacturing capabilities in Wayne.
After Clark, an area native interviewed. Luke Virgil, Laurel's current economic development director, spoke of how Wayne has been a measuring stick to compare to.
"Wayne has always been the 'big brother' to Laurel," Virgil said. "I've watched Wayne. I've seen its challenges and its successes."
Virgil underlined the stability the community has between its major institutions. He named education, financial, government and healthcare entities, calling them the "anchors" of the community. Virgil also discussed Wayne's progressive attitude and entrepreneurial spirit.
"Every town is proud of something they have and you build on those anchor institutions to create a hub."
He discussed opportunities Wayne has, including the property that once housed Pacific Coast Feather Company, stating that such thing as a solar farm or an advanced manufacturing company have the ability to utilize that large piece of property.
Virgil discussed how there is a necessary level of trust between business owners and the director's position. He highlighted that last year Laurel saw 13 grand openings throughout the year and while the work of many was done heavily in 2015 and that he wasn't directly involved in each one, it was still an impressive feat to see that many new businesses open doors in such a relatively short time span.
Virgil stressed the importance of planning, stating that Laurel was moving forward to planning a community center thanks to a grant secured specifically for planning such large projects.
When asked about the biggest concern he has regarding economic development, Virgil answered with the volatility of ag commodities, commenting on the yo-yo affect the ag community deals with as prices rise and fall during each year and overall year-to-year.
The third candidate was Max Kathol, who touched on the importance of business retention including succession planning.
Kathol has served a number of communities, including Kearney in his career and in doing so had a considerable amount of experience in numerous situations, he told the audience.
One of those situations was handling a changing demographic and also how to push to make a city's main street or down town area a destination.
He discussed the demographic changing throughout the state, stating there is no short term plan to integrate other cultures into communities and continued with saying that any incoming demographic is looking for the same high quality of life as any other is.
Kathol also highlighted keeping a strong relationship between the city and Wayne State, and recalled an event he had helped plan to combine the destination downtown and college relationship in a previous location.
A street fair of sorts, the event offered vendors and business booths as well as a street dance to welcome new and returning college students to town.
Businesses would have the opportunity to hand out applications for open positions and vendors could sell their goods, everything from college apparel to massage gift certificates. The event, he claimed, would work well in Wayne.
He stressed the importance of thinking local first and also to define Wayne. His slogan of 'Where's Wayne? What's Wayne? Why Wayne' was what he would like to see marketed in the community and further out to the region, but answering those questions would have to come first.
Rounding out the four candidates was Mark Buschkamp, the economic development director in Cherokee, Iowa.
Buschkamp, a WSC graduate, has previously served as both a city administrator and in economic development and had done his research on Wayne prior to the interviews.
His compiled data told him something that Wayne, like many other communities, is facing: a slowly declining population and lack of workforce.
He highlighted the need for skilled labor workers, not just Bachelor degree holders, in a community and said it starts at a junior and senior high school level. He discussed how students should be shown all options for career paths and also for entrepreneurship, and that it would be fostered throughout the community.
Buschkamp also discussed business retention, but he focused on how having a place that people want to live is necessary for a business to be successful.
House inspections and nuisance properties deteriorate the quality of the town, and it's easier in college towns for that to happen, but Buschkamp warned not to let slum lords hold rentals.
"It doesn't make friends but people want their town to look good," he said of nuisance properties.
He had ideas on hosting small business workshops, educating on all facets of business from customer service to accounting, stating that the position requires helping the existing businesses in town to be successful.
Buschkamp touched on needing to address affordable housing in town and when asked, he said that his plan would be to work fairly closely with the city, meeting once a month or quarterly.
A decision regarding the position will be made by the board at an upcoming meeting.