By MORGAN MANNS
A man of many words was nearly speechless Thursday morning after city officials presented him with an award for his commitment to Fostoria.
Longtime Fostorian Gene Schalk was presented with the Donald P. Miller Award during Fostoria Economic Development Corporation’s annual meeting at St. Wendelin Parish Life Center.
“He generously gives his time to the Fostoria community,” FEDC Treasurer Ron Burns said to a crowd of more than 50 people. “Gene has made significant contributions to the community in support of economic development through leadership, financial support, local investment and related activities.”
Born and raised in Fostoria, Schalk received a bachelor’s degree in electric engineering from the University of Detroit before coming back to Fostoria and working at Fostoria Industries Inc.
He’s actively involved in a variety of community organizations and groups, such as the Greater Fostoria Community Foundation, the St. Wendelin Education Foundation, the Fostoria Rotary Club, the city of Fostoria Financial Planning and Supervision Commission and FEDC.
After presenting the award, Burns shared information on Schalk’s successful career in Fostoria and how his dedication both before and after retirement have contributed to the betterment of Fostoria’s economy.
“While Gene is quick to remind everyone at the FEDC’s monthly meetings — which he still attends, regularly — that he is retired, he’s still an integral part of the organization and his opinion is still held at its highest regard,” he said. “He’s a deeply committed leader and advocate for local economic development. We at FEDC felt it was important to honor him with this award to show our heartfelt appreciation for all that he has done and continues to do for Fostoria.”
The award, established last year when it was given to Don Miller, recognizes a community or business leader who is not an economic practitioner but plays a key leadership role in economic development within the city.
Schalk, who had a huge, grateful smile on his face from the moment he received the honor, said he couldn’t believe it was being awarded to him.
“As most of you know I usually have a lot to say but this morning I’m completely speechless,” he said. “The things I’ve done for Fostoria, I think I’ve done because I’ve primarily been a native of Fostoria. It’s where I’ve lived the majority of my life and I want to see Fostoria continue to grow and expand and be a very successful community. I truly hope that I’ve been a part in causing that to happen.
“Thank you very, very much,” he added. “I’m almost completely speechless.”
Also during the meeting, FEDC President Renee Smith noted various organizational accomplishments in 2016, which were listed in the Economic Edition 2016, a booklet of highlights from the year.
These accomplishments included but were not limited to:
• $34 million was invested locally from existing companies and new developments.
• 181 new jobs were created and 1,186 jobs were retained through local projects.
• $315,640 worth of grant monies came through the FEDC office, which has a 72 percent success rate with grants.
• A $4.25 million grant was obtained for the Seneca County Land Bank.
• In partnership with the GFCF, more than $27,000 worth of work was put into the second year of the Downtown Façade Enhancement Program, totaling more than $65,000 in downtown exterior projects.
• NOX Corp. hosted its grand opening in January of 2016. Since its inception, the company has doubled employment and added a second shift.
• Mennel Milling Inc. completed multiple projects in 2016, including bin replacements and completion of plant and new corporate offices.
• Construction on the Fostoria Learning Center also began in 2016, with an expected completion date this summer.
• Alpha Coatings and ProMedica Fostoria Community Hospital completed expansions.
• The Spec Building was completed in October of 2016 at the Industrial Park. Smith said the city has been generating “serious interest” in the location and she hopes to “stand here next year and not only have that building sold but have a business operating out of it.”
“It’s an exciting time in our office right now. The momentum is high and the possibilities are endless. It is our goal through FEDC, the chamber and community development to keep doing what we do and getting results we can all be proud of,” Smith said. “2016 was a good year for us as an organization but I want 2017 to be even better.”
Separately, Fostoria Area Chamber of Commerce Chamber/Small Business Director Sarah Stephens-Krupp presented those in attendance with a joint 5-year strategic plan for 2017-21.
The plan, which is a result of a collaboration between the chamber of commerce and the FEDC, is a “strategic road map” that provides “a set of priorities to promote a prosperous business, agricultural and educational climate,” according to Krupp.
“The chamber is meant to be a resource, a benefit to the community and our members,” she said.
The five core goals of the plan are to foster economic vitality, revitalize the community, invest in people, land use and development and organizational growth.
To better support businesses and foster economic vitality, the chamber doubled the member benefit offers and worked harder to recognize members, according to Krupp.
In an effort to revitalize the community, officials spent half of 2016 and the first portion of 2017 advocating and educating members on local and state level issues. Krupp said they will continue to do so as well as provide business seminars and resources to those interested in starting a business.
In addition, a centralized community events calendar was created to promote family-friendly tourism in town and the chamber plans to kickoff a shop small, shop local campaign.
As a way to invest in the people and promote development, the chamber is working in partnership with Fostoria City Schools and Camp Fire Northwest Ohio in developing a workforce readiness program to be implemented this fall as well as working with WSOS to utilize a rural community development grant initiative to improve entrepreneurial growth and business development within the community.
To help the organizations grow, which in turn will help foster community growth, the chamber filled the position of community development director with a familiar face: Michele Cochran, who also serves as the GFCF’s director.
Krupp said this hire, as well as the relationship between the FEDC, the chamber of commerce and the visitor’s bureau, has become a “great partnership” within the community.
“The collaboration and true partnership between the FEDC and the chamber is such a tremendous asset to our community,” she said, noting 2016 marked the first full year of the new management structure between the organizations. “The leadership in both organization is strong and is committed to moving Fostoria forward.”
In other business:
• Those in attendance heard a brief presentation from Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, on the economic development of the state.
• The FEDC board approved an income statement for the FEDC, with a total operating revenue of $181,745.66 and a total operating expense of $171,777.81 for a net revenue of $5,480.96.
• The chamber treasurer presented a statement of financial position, with a total income of $80,678.95 and total expenses of $82,025.29 for a net income of -$1,346.34.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in the past year but we still have much to do,” Krupp said. “We at the chamber are not satisfied with mediocrity. We strive to serve our members better. You are the reason that we exist and we couldn’t do it without you.
“We are excited to take on new projects and programming in 2017, which will help us achieve the key outcomes outlined in our strategic plan and ultimately make the chamber, FEDC and our community stronger.”