No pressure: We’ve only been waiting 19 months

Column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net
 

Nineteen months. That’s a long time at the height of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression to be doing economic development on the fly.

Waynesboro finally took a step in the direction of again becoming a player in the development arena with the announcement last week that it was hiring Greg Hitchin away from the Syracuse, N.Y., area to fill its vacant economic-development director job.

No pressure, Greg. We just expect you to be our economic savior, and to do it quick.

His first order of business: flesh out what he knows about Waynesboro beyond what he gleaned from his vacations on the Skyline Drive.

“I’ve got to go out and meet all the stakeholders in the community, whether that be government or private sector, whatever that might be, so I can tell them who I am, and to let them know that they’re going to be an important cog as we move forward,” said Hitchin, who had served as the business-development manager in Onondaga County for the past 11 years.

“One of my challenges is to gather all of those resources, determine what our strengths and weaknesses and opportunities might be, and catalogue those into a long-term strategic plan,” Hitchin said. “I’ll be doing a lot of face-to-face meetings and a lot of research as I work to come up with that plan as quickly as I can so we can start moving on the implementation of that plan.”

Hitchin’s job in New York included responsibility for development and implementation of the economic-development marketing strategy for the Onondaga-Syracuse region, so the guy knows how to do this kind of thing.

He’s already started doing some homework in that respect, initiating conversations with economic-development folks at the regional and state level to get a feel for where Waynesboro fits in.

“The region has a lot going for it,” Hitchin said. “It’s got population growth, which is not true of every area of the United States. It’s got pretty good infrastructure in terms of transportation, with road and rail and air. All of those are critical in attracting new business. And it’s got the right spirit. That’s really important for someone from the outside looking in. What does the city feel about itself? Do we think we can roll with the time? Can we make changes if we need to in what our workforce does, what their strengths are?

“I think I saw all of those things, and a willingness to move forward, which is really important,” Hitchin said.

It’d be easy to stay in a job where you wrote the playbook, literally, for how the job is done, but I can see where you’d want to branch out and see what you might be able to do in terms of facing down a new challenge.

Welcome to Waynesboro – we’ve got plenty of challenges.

“I was looking for a community that was pointed in the right direction, where I could come in and make a contribution to that community’s success. I was very impressed with Mike (Hamp, the city manager) and Jim (Shaw, the assistant city manager) and other members of the city government that I met along the way, and really felt that I could be part of a team there. I’m really looking forward to it,” Hitchin said.


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