VAN WERT - In a spirit of celebration and anticipation, the Van Wert County Economic Development Group held its annual awards dinner Thursday night at Willow Bend Country Club. More than 150 people jammed the room to honor three award winners and to hear from the director of the Ohio Department of Development, Christiane Schmenk.
Larry Unverferth, left, accepts the Enterprise of the Year Award for Unverferth Manufacturing from outgoing Van Wert County Economic Development President Greg Berquist.
The first award winner of the evening was Charles Koch, a local attorney who was given special recognition for his volunteer work putting together land contracts for the more-than 1,500-acre Van Wert Super Site just northeast of Van Wert.
“I grew up in the area and my wife and I have made the commitment to leave this community better than when we first came here. Anything we can do to make that happen, I’m just happy to do it,” Koch told the crowd.
The two regularly-scheduled awards were next on the agenda. The first, the Enterprise Award, is given to a company who makes a substantial commitment in the county and provides new jobs. The winner was Unverferth Manufacturing located just outside of Delphos. The company is now a world leader in the manufacturing and marketing of tillage equipment, agricultural vehicles, pole sprayers, and hay and manure handling equipment.
Larry Unverferth accepted the award.
“I just want to thank the County of Van Wert and the City of Delphos. We are happy to receive this award because we have an excellent, excellent workforce, and without them this would not be possible,” he stated.
In 2011, Unverferth doubled
the size of its manufacturing plant by adding 205,000-square-foot. The company employs more than 100 workers and also has a plant in Kalida as well as one in Shell Rock, Iowa.
The final award of the event was a bit of a surprise, especially to the recipient. The Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Darlene Myers who has worked in the Economic Development Office since May of 2001.
Community Improvement Corporation President Jon Rhoades described the award presentation as being a little bit different than usual.
“Our volunteer is someone who has taken on responsibilities that we really weren’t expecting,” he explained. “We have basically a person doing two jobs. We would like to honor that person who is doing that second job, which is basically running our [Economic Development] office.”
Myers was rewarded with a standing ovation. She has been the only person in the Van Wert County Economic Development office for much of the year. Former director Nancy Bowen left in February to take another position with Ohio State University Extension, and Sarah Smith served as director for only a short period, leaving Myers as the only person to take care of many details.
“It has definitely been a challenging year, and there have been several people who have come to my rescue,” Myers related. “The main challenges have been to manage my time so I could get to all those things that need to be done. Also, I lack some knowledge as far as what an economic development director does, so it has been wonderful to have the mayor, the county commissioners, and so many other individuals to step in, Jon Rhoades with the CIC to help me with those kinds of things so we don’t let anything fall through the cracks. But yet it’s tough for me to take it all on by myself.”
Schmenk, the guest speaker for the evening shared with the audience the new direction being taken by the state in the field of economic development. The department itself is changing its name next month to the Development Services Agency to more accurately reflect its new role. Schmenk stated that instead of the state dictating how things should be done, the new emphasis is on local ideas and local expertise with the agency becoming a helping force rather than a driving force.
She also complimented the county’s efforts at economic development, saying “You all have your act together. I think you have for a while. We at the state, I think, are now getting our act together, and together we’re going to go great places.”
Also speaking Thursday night were Van Wert County Commissioner Thad Lichtensteiger and Van Wert Mayor Don Farmer who each highlighted several major improvements in the county and a few that could become reality in the near future.
Capping off the evening was the passing of the gavel from the president of the Economic Development Group for the past 18 months, Greg Berquist, to new president Denise Frey.