Around the Miami Valley
3:57 pm
Tue December 9, 2008

Going Green May Reinvent Wilmington's Future

In the southwest Ohio town of Wilmington, residents there are feeling the country's struggling economy more than most. International shipping company DHL is reducing its domestic operations and laying off over 8000 jobs at the Wilmington Hub. But it's not all doom and gloom for the community, where another vision for the future is beginning to gain traction. Two recent college graduates have formed an initiative to redevelop Wilmington into the nation's first "green enterprise zone", creating a new industry and more jobs . For a traditionally conservative Ohio town, the impending economic disaster could be responsible for a more successful, and eco-friendly, tomorrow.

"You just need to take it one day at a time"

Taylor Stuckert grew up in the small Ohio town. Despite the DHL layoffs, he sees great potential for Wilmington.

"The whole idea of this was founded upon Wilmington not being the poster child of disaster, but the poster child of the future success," says Stuckert, "When are we going to identify a point, even a geographical point, even a point in time, in which we turn this economy around? When do we say, this is the time to stop?"

Both Stuckert, and his associate and friend, Mark Rembert, saw this as one of the main reasons they needed to create Energize Clinton County, an initiative to reinvent Wilmington by creating a green economy. Their proposal addresses everything from greening their own community, to building green business partnerships and promoting green enterprises.

It's a daunting task, and there's little time. DHL will discontinue its domestic operations January 30th, laying off jobs and creating a potentially devastating ripple effect across the community and Ohio's southwest region. Mark Rembert says, that the urgency of the situation is exactly why their plans are coming at the right moment.

"In the coming months, Wilmington is just going to be another town which is facing an incredible economic crisis. There's a lot of need in this country. You just need to take it one day at a time and I think that's one of the assets of working in a community like this that it's very easy to say, 'let's take one more step for Wilmington'," says Rembert.

"The silver lining of a very dark cloud"

Their efforts aren't going unnoticed. At their first community meeting, the small municipal hall was filled with nearly 100 people, including some from surrounding counties. George Karrayanis drove over an hour to be in attendance.

"It's the silver lining of a very dark cloud. Now they have a chance instead of [asking] 'what employer is going to be here to give me a job?', they can decide their future. They can define the future of this community," says Karrayanis.

Defining a green economy can prove challenging, though. Energize Clinton County has had to focus on how to differentiate the classification of green businesses. Then comes the very important question of funding. The organization has identified available money to support the initial phases of their proposal, but will be looking to the state and federal government to invest.

Ohio may be already poised to lend a hand. Last spring, Governor Strickland passed legislation earmarking 150 million dollars in Advanced and Renewable energy. Brewster Rhodes is the Governor's Regional Director for SW Ohio. He sees the potential opportunity for the state to partner with grassroots organizations like Energize Clinton County.

"One of the things that Ohio intends to be is the parts supplies and manufacturing supplies center, like we are for the automotive industry for the renewable and advanced energy industry. If you make them here, you have to ship them other places, so is there a role for this airpark to be the central logistics and distribution point for renewable energy manufacturing components for the rest of the country?" says Rhodes.

It's ideas like that that Energize Clinton County is hoping to hear and that was the point of their first meeting, to share ideas and solidify community participation.

"Did you hear that Barack Obama just won the election?" asks Troy resident John Schlachter,"I think we can take on anything."

For some, there's a shared sense that the new administration makes a newer and greener vision for the future possible. But it's not about partisan politics. That's another hurdle for the organization to overcome: selling the concept of a green economy to a relatively conservative community.

But Wilmington resident Joy Brubaker says it's possible,"I think when you're put in a corner and see something happening, I think people get a little more energized. It tends to be a slow moving, traditional community, so to see this many people turn out, shows a lot of enthusiasm for doing something."

City Council member Rob Jaehnig believes that going green may be what saves this town. He bristles at the negative portrayal Wilmington has been getting so far.

"A lot of people, unfortunately, have written Wilmington off and I hear the terms ghost town and so forth already, yet we can't just sit at home and ponder our poor situation. We have to pick ourselves up and put our boots back on and get ourselves out there and fight the good fight," says Jaehnig.

For many residents in Wilmington, a positive outlook may be another asset that they have to help them on their way.