Rules of the Road

The purpose of this blog is to share with you my thoughts on issues pertaining to Oil City and Venango County and to foster discussion.

However, that requires some basic rules. Personal attacks, inappropriate language and venom-filled postings will not be tolerated. Comments will be screened, and if necessary edited, before posting.

Disagreement and a variety of opinions are encouraged, but I ask that it always be in a respectful, positive manner. So fire away, but do so cleanly

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Of identity, marketing and economic development

A recent comment on this blog challenged me and other members of council to find a way to focus on economic development. The challenge has not escaped us.

Right now there is no entity that’s sole focus is on the marketing, promotion and economic development of Oil City.

All of us on council have commented on this in numerous conversations over the past eight months I’ve been on council. It is something Lee Mehlburger noted a week ago in his call for developing a marketing strategy.

True, city government has a role to play, but certainly that is not its sole function or purpose. Traditionally, marketing, promotion and related economic development have been undertaken by partners in the private sector (often nonprofits established for that purpose) and allied quasi public agencies, such as industrial development authorities.

Oil City’s Community Development Corporation merged into the Oil Region Alliance with the formation of that agency. The CDC served as the primary economic development agency working to bring businesses and jobs to the downtown, renovate buildings for new uses and attract developers.

I’ve been told by the former leadership of the CDC that there were several reasons they agreed to merge into the ORA. Foremost was the idea that the ORA would provide the strength of many and enable it to be more successful. (The original vision was that all the economic development groups in the county would join the ORA. That did not happen.)

Some former leaders of the CDC also frankly said there were concerns about the CDC’s long-term financial viability and whether it would have sufficient funding to do what would be necessary to continue its mission.

The Oil City Chamber of Commerce, whose focus, promotion and marketing was geared primarily to Oil City, became the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce, with a wider view and interest. I believe that was the right move for the chamber and the region. The chamber continues to promote the city – continued management of the Oil Heritage Festival is just one example – and works diligently in hopes the community prospers. Chamber Executive Director Susan Williams and her staff deserve nothing but praise and thanks for all they do.

Still, the Venango Area Chamber cannot like its predecessor put nearly all its emphasis on Oil City alone, nor should it. Its role has changed.

As supportive as I am of the regional approach to economic development and promotion, I also firmly believe we need some entity that’s only concern is Oil City. An organization that can promote what we have in the city; our events, our arts program, our festivals, our businesses and downtown. An organization that’s sole purpose is to grow and attract businesses and residents to Oil City.

The Franklin Industrial and Commercial Development Authority declined to merge into the ORA. The Franklin Chamber of Commerce declined to merge into the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce. I believe Franklin has benefited by having organizations that’s purpose remains solely the one community. One example is the very nice tourism brochure for Franklin put out by its chamber.

Oil City has some very active and involved groups – Take Pride in Oil City, the neighborhood associations and the north side and south side business associations. Perhaps someday they can become the primary promoters of the city.

We need to do something. As it is, Oil City is lost in the whole. We have no identity.

I’m not sure where city government fits in this. I do know we don’t have the money to do much, or the staff.

So share your ideas of how we go about growing or creating entities that partner with city government to market and promote Oil City and take the lead in the non-government side of economic development.