Invest in our community by supporting levies

Since I became president and CEO of Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. in 2014, I have not written an op-ed for The Advertiser-Tribune. This is something I want to start doing a few times a year, as a way of keeping readers and residents, workers and visitors of Tiffin and Seneca County informed about what is going on in economic, community and downtown development. and as well as giving an opinion on issues of critical importance to our community. I have chosen my first one to tell you why I support the Tiffin city road and bridge levy and the Seneca County mental health levy and to ask you to support them, too.

The last few years have been a period of incredible economic progress and momentum. Hundreds of projects have been announced, creating more than 1,300 new jobs with almost $400 million of new investment. Every year since 2013, we have ranked in the top 10 percent nationally for economic development and twice in the top 10 out of more than 500 similarly-sized micropolitans.

In the last three months alone, we’ve seen American Fine Sinter announce a $20 million expansion, OCECO announce a $2.5 million acquisition and expansion, investors announce $2.5 million in new retail development at Tiffin Mall and West Market Street, and the city of Tiffin and Sandusky-Seneca-Tiffin Port Authority announce a combined $3.2 million in road and rail improvements. The downtown is flourishing, the universities and schools are growing, and our industrial and retail districts are vibrant.

This does not happen by accident, and there are no guarantees it will continue.

It takes careful planning and smart strategy. It takes strong and committed local leadership. It takes innovative and competitive businesses. It takes dedicated and effective educational, health care and social support services. And it takes an informed and active community that is prepared and willing to invest in itself – in its infrastructure and in its people. I believe we have all of this. And I believe the levies are needed to keep the ball rolling by providing much needed resources to improve the quality of our roads and the mental health of our people.

This isn’t just my opinion. For more than 30 years, Area Development magazine has surveyed corporate decision-makers and asked them to rank a long list of factors in choosing where to expand or locate their next facility. This year, to the surprise of no one, infrastructure quality ranked first and quality of life made the top 10. The levies enhance both.

Within the last 30 days, I have spoken to developers who visited this community and said the first thing they look at is the roads, as a barometer to quickly assess its health and potential. Also within the last 30 days, I have spoken with several companies who identify workforce development as their No. 1 issue and how mental health and drug issues are one major cause preventing them from being able to hire the people they need. The levies seek to address both these concerns.

Specifically with respect to roadwork, Tiffin has about 89 miles of roadway, as well as 11 bridges within city limits, all of which require a significant amount of upkeep. At current funding levels, however, a Tiffin street will only be repaired once every 40 years. We will also need resources to replace the bridge on Ella Street within the next five years, a $4 million to 6 million expense.

Also, the state of Ohio will not pay for any road and bridge construction, repair or maintenance for state routes or US 224 within city limits. Without new funding, we will fall significantly behind cities such as Findlay, Bucyrus, Upper Sandusky, Mansfield and Norwalk. We will be at a competitive disadvantage.

For these reasons, a 0.25-percent road and bridge levy has been placed on the November ballot to supplement the road and bridge repair fund. If passed, the city would be able to pave three times the amount of streets that it has been able to pave per year over the last three years, and the funding would go solely toward bridge and road replacement and repair. It will help keep us moving forward.

There are also definitive links between mental health and economic productivity. In April of last year, Forbes magazine published an article about a new World Health Organization study. In concluded that in the U.S., it costs the economy about $105 billion each year in lost productivity and nearly $200 billion each year in lost earnings.

Also, about 30 percent of total disability costs are due to mental disorders. The study also showed that every dollar invested in treating mental health disorders leads to a return of $4 in terms of the ability to work and thus contribute to the economy. The mental health levy is a good investment.

It’s no wonder the World Bank Group and World Health Organization are establishing mental health as an “economic development priority.” Mental health is not only an ethical issue but also an economic one.

In our community, the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties provides the services that work on these issues. Without a replacement levy, many services could be discontinued: in-school counseling, 24/7 emergency crisis services, individual and group therapy, education and training for law enforcement and first responders, suicide prevention services, mental health and trauma services at juvenile detention centers, the youth mentoring program, and loss and grief support programs. To continue these, a replacement for the current levy will be on the November ballot.

As a Tiffin and Seneca County resident, I want nice streets and bridges. I want education, prevention and treatment for people with mental health disorders. I think the levies are important. But as the head of economic development for Tiffin and Seneca County, I think they are more than that – they are essential to our future economic prosperity. So, please vote yes with me on Nov. 7.