The Ottumwa Courier

June 18, 2014

New director, new path

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Good ideas and goals are important. The challenge is the strategy between the idea and the reaching of the goal.

"There are times in our community’s life where we have to rally around specific issues, to rally those troops, get people moving in the right direction and embracing a common pathway," said Sharon Stroh, the new director of the Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation.

In fact, that's her own definition of community development, one of the skills she brings from her previous job in Indiana. She's originally from Bellevue, Nebraska. She acknowledges that goals are great, but community supporters must work together by first planning how they're going to reach that goal.

And Stroh does bring strategic planning experience, too, she said, as well as knowledge of how nonprofit boards are organized and ways to raise money for projects. Though she started her job full time just this week, she'd been working part time for months as she and her family transitioned from Indiana, where her two daughters were finishing the school year, to Ottumwa, Iowa.

"At the May board meeting, we discussed what my priorities should be. There are three internal, goals, including … office efficiency (paperwork), membership structure and budget."

The average Ottumwan may not notice all of those tasks as they develop. More likely to stand out to residents, however, are the external goals.

"My first three external goals are trying to get our arms wrapped around a property inventory," Stroh said. "We have to know where our property, our land is, so when someone comes knocking on our door, we can help them. The other piece we want to work on is a very solid business visitation program; we want to visit our members, and those that aren’t members. Whether they choose to be [OEDC financial] supporters or not, we have to visit our businesses, and know what ... we have around us. And what these businesses need."

She said the first job of an Economic Development agency is to "look to their own backyard" first. In fact, other officials say that's where new employment comes from in most cases: positions opening up at local businesses.

"Another one of our jobs is to make ourselves attractive to the professional site selectors," she said.

These are the "agents" of the big businesses, who scour the the state, the nation or the world looking for the right spot for their client's newest venture.

"We’re going to be working more and more closely with them as we move forward," she said.

Stroh and the EODC board wants these professional scouts to look at Ottumwa, or the region surrounding Ottumwa.

So how are her twin seventh-grade girls handling the move?

"They believe this is a grand adventure," Stroh said, "and I haven’t told them otherwise."

Follow Newman on Twitter @couriermark.