A new study of the Marion community has generated a plan to distinguish Marion and its economic development potential. The recently completed study was commissioned by Marion’s economic development organization, CAN DO!, funded by Marion Community Foundation, and conducted by the public relations firm of FrazierHeiby. The results were revealed to key stakeholders this week.
Since May, FrazierHeiby has conducted executive interviews and online surveys of more than 80 community leaders from all facets of Marion, as well as reviewed numerous past studies. The research component of the project culminated in recommendations for both economic development and community development programs.
“We took a deep dive and spent several months evaluating Marion’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats,” said Bryan Haviland, President and CEO of FrazierHeiby. “We were looking for what makes Marion unique and compelling.”
FrazierHeiby’s research identified Marion’s educational resources as one of the community’s “towering strengths.” According to Haviland, Marion’s educational resources have every component in place to create custom training programs in response to business needs. He cited programs in the area high schools, Tri-Rivers and RAMTEC, Ohio State Marion, and Marion Technical College.
“This complete configuration and cooperation among the schools, higher education, and employers is unique and valuable,” said Haviland, “Our recommendation is to position Marion as a workforce development capital. This claim capitalizes on Marion’s educational innovations and manufacturing heritage.”
Among the strengths identified by FrazierHeiby are Marion’s unique higher education corridor, innovative programs for workforce development, quality options for job training, and a healthy mix of leaders desiring success.
“I challenge anyone to show me another community our size that has all of the educational and workforce development resources that Marion has,” said Dean Jacob, President and CEO of Marion Community Foundation. “We have it all, from Rushmore to RAMTEC to Ohio State and Marion Tech. And, each of these organizations are introducing cutting edge programs.”
Jacob cited several examples, including Rushmore Academy’s jobs program, Harding High School’s Simulated Workplace and JROTC, RAMTEC’s advanced robotics, MTC’s Pathways to Success, and Ohio State Marion’s new science and engineering building and degree programs.
“Having the pieces in place to develop a workforce for specific needs, as was done recently by Tri-Rivers’ welding program for Union Tank Car, is a tremendously powerful asset for a community to have for business attraction,” said CAN DO! Director Gus Comstock. “Workforce development is a critical issue facing employers, especially those making expansion and site selection decisions.”
“Columbus 2020 is a major player in economic development and business attraction for central Ohio,” said Haviland. “Marion’s involvement with 2020 is an advantage that it can leverage further.” He emphasized that developing a workforce for new manufacturing technologies is critical to Marion’s future success.
The next steps are up to Marion’s leadership, said Haviland, whose firm, as part of the research project, provided an action plan and timetable to rollout their recommendations. CAN DO! will take a leadership role in the economic development marketing and acknowledges that they will seek a collaborative effort with numerous Marion organizations to ensure that the project moves forward effectively.
Ken Lengieza, who has served as Director of the Marion Regional Planning Commission since 1981, said he was impressed with the presentation. “I’ve sat through a lot of these types of presentations on how to promote Marion,” he said. “This is the first one with real substance. It’s based on real strengths unique to Marion. It’s more than a catchy phrase, it’s a real plan and includes the second and third tier steps needed to get everyone involved and carry it out.”
FrazierHeiby also recommended a community pride campaign, which flows from the economic development focus, called “MarionMade.”
“MarionMade will be a communications platform showcasing Marion’s people, products, and positive assets that are ‘made’ in Marion,” said Haviland. “The campaign is designed to educate people in and outside of Marion about all the reasons Marion has to be proud. It’s about positive image building.”
As a Marion native, Haviland, who is also a graduate of Harding High School, with family still living in Marion, has a vested interest in seeing the community succeed. His firm was selected for the Marion project because of its experience with economic development communications.
The community pride campaign, which also comes with an action plan for implementation, would also be a group effort and could involve many local organizations. Marion Community Foundation plans to lead this collaboration.