As one of the visionaries behind Hometown Opportunity, which helps to connect businesses to great local talent in Ohio, Mercer County’s Community and Economic Development Director Jared Ebbing is proud of Mercer County’s history, its agricultural heritage, its strong work ethic, and its can-do attitude.
Prior to taking on his current role almost a decade ago, Ebbing gained considerable experience working with the county as a civil engineer, taking on planning projects including roadway development and infrastructure.
“Success just doesn’t happen; a community needs an aggressive strategic plan to be able to compete in the world today.” It would be pretty hard to try and convince a business to come to your area and invest here if you as a community are not investing in yourself. As a result, we have considerable success in being able to prove to businesses that we are fully developed and doing everything we can to reinvest in our communities via infrastructure projects and workforce development efforts.
The importance of planning
For Mercer County to remain successful and attractive to business, Ebbing and his team leave nothing to chance. Years of strategic planning for the future and investing have produced results. Mercer County has been named a Site Selection Magazine Top 20 Micropolitan for business investment four years running. In addition, Mercer County has had the lowest unemployment rate in the State of Ohio eight years running.
“Rather than worrying about a perception that there could be a limited availability of employees in the area due to a low unemployment rate, we have embraced the figure as an indication that were doing something right in the area. When potential companies looking at the region realize how much more aggressively we re-invest in our people focused on workforce retention, attraction, and training via HometownOpportunity and AMBE, they have the confidence that such an environment is the right fit for them. As more and more companies find success here, word travels pretty fast.” As a result, many new companies, such as Ferguson Enterprises, are deciding to locate operations here and call Mercer County home.
“In addition to new companies coming to Mercer County, many of our existing companies are experiencing a high level of success and growth which further illustrates the importance of community development efforts in helping existing business development.” Companies such as Pax Machine, Coldwater Machine, Totally Promotional, Crown, Cooper Farms, and the Fremont Company have expanded two, three, or even four times over the past decade. Many such success stories are homegrown manufacturers, like Celina Tent, which develop military-grade housing units for the U.S. Armed Forces as well as many other markets worldwide. With so many small to medium-size companies in the county, Mercer benefits from a wealth of diverse market segments, such as automotive suppliers, food production, advanced manufacturing and others. “There is so much diversity in the companies that we have that all are individually growing, in each of their respective fields, and that makes for a pretty nice position to be in as a County,” says Ebbing.
A virtual game-changer, Hometown Opportunity came at a time when some businesses were literally on the verge of leaving the area because they weren’t getting enough job applicants, and companies believed too many young people only wanted to live and work in larger population centers. The introduction of Hometown Opportunity changed all that. Previously, local businesses placed ads in newspapers, often not receiving even a single application; with the Hometown Opportunity website, viewed by younger applicants on Smartphones and mobile devices, companies started receiving 25 to 30 applications per day.
The success of Hometown Opportunity speaks for itself. In 2017, the website had 13,700 jobs posted, adding another 4,800 in 2018. “We’re to the point now where I think we have become synonymous with career opportunity in western Ohio. By continuing to market the platform more broadly to not just those within our own region, more and more people from other parts of the Ohio and the country will realize there are indeed great communities to live in with bountiful job opportunities from them and their families.”