Here are the prepared notes for David Zak’s first his annual address at the State of the Vision event, which was delivered on March 9, 2023.
Good evening, everyone. It’s a privilege and honor to be here tonight.
An Impossible Task
You know, according to the National Institutes of Health, 75% of people fear public speaking more than anything else. Fortunately, I’ve never felt that way and have been writing and delivering hundreds of speeches for literally over forty years, since I was in 7th grade. I always worked hard at it and enjoyed it–not because I liked the limelight, but because I would always work to find something I was authentically interested, believed in, and wanted to share with my audience. The goal was always to connect with them and add value – to inform, delight, and/or inspire. More often than not (but not always) I was able to create a good experience for both of us. That encouraged me to do more of it.
And, as I’ve been leading economic development organizations for 19 years, I’ve also given a lot of speeches like this one – annual addresses to communities as the leader of the economic development organization. It is always a challenging task but one I always enjoyed. This year was different. It is an impossible task. I simply can’t communicate everything I want to say and express in just a couple of minutes, so I’ve resigned myself to share some of my thoughts with you.
One year, I asked my audience the big question that had preoccupied my mind for several weeks – What do you want to do before you die?, which allowed me to share important legacy is in what we do given the impermanence of life. It’s a little morbid, I grant you, but I have to admit I thought about it for this one. Our county’s namesake, Colonel William Crawford, after all, died when he was 62, only one year into retirement, and he ended up being tortured and executed along with his nephew and son-in-law. That’s an incredibly brutal way for your life to end, but it definitely makes me appreciate more the days I am alive on the earth both to enjoy and contribute.
During my annual address in the fall of 2020, I talked about the challenges of COVID and the strain it put on the economy and our organization, as well as the resilience the people and businesses showed during that unprecedented event. I thought about using this concept tonight. I thought about focusing on the impact the 30-minute I. Am. Crawford. video Dave, Gary, Erin and business leaders in the community put together two years ago, which was really the first thing that made me really want to come here. I found it incredibly refreshing how upfront and honest about the challenges of low morale, negativity, low educational attainment, workforce shortages, and declining population. And I found it incredibly inspiring how the community did something about it – creating a Crawford 20/20 vision plan, which has since been updated, establishing the Crawford Partnership when Crawford County was one of only 4 counties in the state without a dedicated economic development organization, and making the Crawford Success Center happen – helping change the destiny of community residents as well as moving our educational attainment from near the bottom to the middle of the pack. This is the passion and persistence to achieve long-term goals that psychologist Angela Duckworth calls grit, and Crawford County has it in spades. Like the consultant described in the video who said if I knew your challenges and what you’re doing about it, I would love to join you. I felt the same.
During my last annual address in Seneca County in 2022, I focused on accomplishment – we had reached the ten-year goals I set out in 2014 after eight and a half years – to call on at least 1,000 local businesses to see how we could help, sharing 1,000 stories about our projects, programs, and progress, and in the process helping to create 1,000 new jobs. We celebrated how Seneca County was consistently among the top ten micropolitans in the country for economic development, and our downtown revitalization program won more awards in a five year span than any other community in the state.
I thought about making this the focal point for tonight as well. I thought about communicating again the exciting things I see in the Crawford County economy. The fact that we have 1400 businesses generating $2.5 billion in economic activity. That if Crawford County were a company, it would rank in the Fortune 1000. If it were a country, it would have a GNP larger than that of 20 other companies in the world. That our manufacturing sector, though smaller than it was a decade ago, is twice as strong as the national average. That our healthcare employment has grown by 50 percent, and that we rank #4 in agribusiness in the state with $250M in activity. That for the first time since 1970, our population grew. Between 2019 and 2021, the Census estimates our population grew 1.2%. That we have more than 100 economic and community development projects in our pipeline, a strong sign of things to come.
And you heard Sarah talk about the fact that last week, we found out that Crawford County ranked #22 in the country for economic development out of 543 similarly sized communities. This puts us in the top 4% nationally, among the top five in Ohio, and represents our highest ranking ever.
There’s incredible momentum going on now. If you read our new Crawford Development Report we have at everyone’s place, you can’t help but get excited and inspired by the projects that are taking place throughout all of Crawford County – from Bucyrus to Galion, Crestline to New Washington, and throughout all the entire county. Please take it with you. The QR code on the back of the program also brings up a flipbook on your phone, or you can go to cpreports.org to view on your phone, tablet, or computer.
Some years, I have taken a more organizational approach, highlighting how we at the economic development organization added value and what we did to contribute to economic growth. You can find the highlights from our organization last year on page 11 of the Crawford County Development report. I won’t delve into all the details here, but I will say that three things I’m particularly proud of last year include generating 75 positive, pro-development stories in the media, meeting more than 70 times one-on-one with our public-sector partners to strengthen collaboration, and developing our own in-house salesforce.com system with the ability to manage our more than 2,000 projects, resources, properties, businesses, and contacts.
Our goals for this year include calling on 100 businesses, identifying 100 resources for those businesses, generating 75 stories in local and regional media, along with $20 million in new investment, at least 50 new jobs, and another national economic development, placing us again in the top 20%, representing the first time since 2008-09 we went back-to-back.
5. The Crawford Way
After several days of struggling with this, I decided not to go with the legacy, challenges, accomplishment, or activity approach – even though all of them are legitimate and could be inspiring and exciting. Why? Because it’s not the most important thing I want to say. It’s not what is most meaningful to me.
The truth is that at the end of the day, the most important thing for me, the most important thought and emotion I have is gratitude, and that needs to be north star of what I say tonight.
The truth is that what matters to me most is how you, the people of Crawford County, have made me and my family feel. I agree with Maya Angelou on this: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I can honestly say that I have worked and helped achieve great results in other communities, but I haven’t felt as welcome as I do here, as appreciated as I do here, as connected as I do here – already, and it hasn’t been a year yet. You have accepted me and my family with open arms even though I’m not from here and commute, and you made me feel supported through some tough family medical issues. People here truly care about one another. I truly have a better balance and quality of life here and am able to produce great work. I am truly happy here. In Crawford County, there is not only ambition, aspiration, and accountability, there is also genuine caring, connection, and quality of life. That balance of results and relationships – that’s the Crawford Way. It may seem soft, intangible, and unimportant, but it’s what makes this place unique, what makes it special, what makes it strong, full of grit, and destined for great things.
I want to finish my speech by personally thanking people responsible for the Crawford Way, for making my experience here so positive, who have supported the Partnership, and who have been committed to pushing Crawford County forward.
The people I want to give the most honor and recognition to are my teammates. The work they put in to make tonight happen was incredible. I couldn’t be more pleased that you were able to directly witness how talented, dedicated, hard-working, and enthusiastic they are. They are truly committed to our cause, and I couldn’t ask for better people to work with. I also want to give a shout out to Jill Gantt, our adopted team member at ODJFS, who couldn’t be here tonight. I feel lucky that between us we almost have 100 years of experience. Either that means we’re really skilled or really old – or both!
Investors, Board, Executive Committee
I also want to thank our almost 40 investors, each of whom is listed on page ten of the Crawford Development Report. I also appreciate our table sponsors for this evening, as well as the organizations which helped make tonight possible – they are all listed in your program. Also on the back of the program are our current board of directors. Let me say a particular thank you to Todd Boyer, Cindy Wood, Tani Eyer, Brandy Hoepf, Doug Leuthold, and Pat Hord. Their time and service to the county and the Partnership are remarkable. To Todd, the outgoing chair and president of the board of directors, I can’t say enough. I truly respect, admire, and appreciate you. Your professionalism and dedication to are a big reason I chose to come here. To Cindy, welcome aboard as the new chair. I am excited to work with you in this new role.
Next, I want to recognize the elected officials in the room. I work more with these individuals than anyone else, and I have a deep respect for public service and the leadership these people practice day in, day out. They include Congressman Bob Latta, State Rep Riordan McClain, Rachel Ruffer from Secretary of State Frank Larose’s office. They include County Commissioners Tim Ley, Doug Weisenauer, and Larry Schmidt, as well as County Auditor Robyn Sheets. They include Mayors Jeff Reser, Tom O’Leary, Linda Horning-Pitt, and Ben Lash. They include members of their administration and members of city councils. Thank you for working with me weekly, sometimes daily, to improve your communities, your district, your state.
Next, I want to thank the private-sector businesses. You are the driving force of the economy, and through your jobs, taxes, philanthropy, and spinoff benefits you fund our public services and quality of life. You can’t be thanked enough – from the manufacturers to the healthcare providers, from the banks to the insurance companies, from retail to real estate and construction, from professional service firms to construction firms. Thank you. Please know our most important mission is to connect with you and support your growth.
As I’m rounding third base and coming home, I want to thank the many partners who are here tonight – from Bill, Chase, Mike and my friends at Regional Growth Partnership, to Audrey at North Central Electric and Amy from AEP Ohio, to Averee and Miranda at the chambers, to Lisa at the Community Foundation, to Mark at the Galion Port Authority, to Jodie Perry at the Richland Chamber, and my friends at the Richland County building department. I appreciate the many consultants in the house who support our efforts – Burgess & Niple, CT, DLZ, Gossman Group, Mannik + Smith, Montrose, Terracon, and TTL. We couldn’t do it without you either. Our many workforce development partners, from the great school districts, to Pioneer, to the ESC, to North Central State, OSU, and Heidelberg, you all play a role in our success. Thank you.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to express my deep respect and appreciation to Dave Williamson and Gary Frankhouse, as well as to the teams they assembled. I understand, as a 26-year-veteran of the profession and the lead instructor on managing economic development organizations for OEDI, how difficult, challenging, rewarding, and demanding the jobs is. It’s not a job you leave at the office; you take it with you, you live and breathe it. At some level, you’ll never leave it. So, on my own behalf and on behalf of the community, thank you for your service to the community. And, as a parting gesture, I want to thank board members from years gone by. I know, for example, that Robin Hildebrand, Joe Kleinknecht, Jim & Janet Pry, Mike Zappa, and Tom O’Leary were on the board in 2010 when the 20/20 Vision plan was created and are in the house tonight. To you and to all those who have served on our board, committees, and action teams – thank you.