Group seeks to grow investments in Clark County agricultural assets

Elected officials and business leaders in Clark County are in the process of identifying the county’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to agriculture with the hopes of ushering in new investments.

Clark County Commission President Melanie Flax Wilt is spearheading the effort that is looking at how varying sectors in the agricultural industry can better work together. The goal is to capitalize on preexisting agricultural assets to eventually grow the industry, which is already one of the largest in the county.

“You will find farmers and industry folks who call Clark County their home who are state and national leaders in the food and agribusiness industry,” Wilt said. “We should be taking advantage of that expertise in order to better market ourselves as a great place to do business.”

The idea to create a working group that focuses on agriculture and food production in the county is a result of a recent trip to Germany, Wilt said. The commissioner was one of three delegates from Clark County that traveled to that nation in June to discuss future investment opportunities in agriculture.

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Germany is in the process of expanding its agricultural interest in America, the News-Sun reported.

“It is important to clarify what we need to do. That includes examining all the resources and connections that already exist in Clark County in this industry,” Wilt said. “It has been somewhat disconnected up to this point.”

The group seeks to gather the input from institutions and businesses such as Clark State, the OSU Extension in Clark County, Gordon Food Service as well as farmers and other leaders in agriculture.

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“One thing that we are ahead of the curb on, is developing the next generation workforce for (the food and agriculture industries). You hear about workforce challenges in many different industries and sectors. We have something here in Clark County that is unique,” Wilt said of the Global Impact Stem Academy in Springfield, with a curriculum focused on agriculture and food processing.

A group of German officials visited the academy in April to discuss agriculture workforce trends in Clark County.

The German coalition visiting Springfield included members of the German American Chamber of Commence Midwest and other heads of German food-related organizations.

“There is a lot of innovation happening in our vocational programs within the county as well,” Wilt said. “Something that is a huge selling point for industry, is they want to go where the workforce is.”

Horton Hobbs, the vice-president of economic development for the Chamber of Greater Springfield, said agriculture has historically been one of the county’s core strengths. He said the county is home to a large farming base sits on top of an aquifer. He added that the county is also a transportation hub.

The group has met twice since August and plan to meet again in November, Wilt said. She said the conversations have been mostly involved around the county’s strengths in food and agribusiness.

“One of the reasons that I am calling it a working group, is because it’s not a task force with a specific end goal in mind,” Wilt said. “Instead it is more of a group that needs to research and identify opportunities. Then from there maybe it can involve into something different over time.”

The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering agriculture and other businesses in Clark and Champaign Counties.

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