Pictured (clockwise from top left) are Highland County economic development director Julie Bolender, Hillsboro economic development assistant Lauren Walker, Hillsboro resident Tim Koehl and Hillsboro economic development coordinator Kirby Ellison. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (clockwise from top left) are Highland County economic development director Julie Bolender, Hillsboro economic development assistant Lauren Walker, Hillsboro resident Tim Koehl and Hillsboro economic development coordinator Kirby Ellison. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro city council members and administrators heard updates, plans and suggestions regarding economic development from four different individuals during their Monday, July 12 meeting.

As outlined in a separate article, mayor Justin Harsha devoted his report to a discussion of the digital sign at the former Colony Theatre space. Brianne Abbott also did not give a traditional safety and service director’s report, as she instead invited Highland County economic development director Julie Bolender, and city economic development coordinator Kirby Ellison and her assistant Lauren Walker, to each give a report to council.

‘They’re working on not only economic development, but business retention and job creation,” Abbott told council. “I would love for them to be able to explain to you their efforts and then some of their goals for the future.”

As previously reported, Highland County Board of Commissioners, in conjunction with local municipalities and the Chamber of Commerce, announced the hiring of Bolender as county economic development director May 12. She was chosen to lead the first such department since the county discontinued funding to the previous economic development office in 2010.

Bolender spoke first, saying that she considers “Highland County like a boat — we’re all in it, and there’s a seat for everybody,” but all the municipalities involved have to “row in the same direction” in order to succeed.

“I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Mr. Harsha, Mrs. Abbott, Mrs. Ellison and Mrs. Walker, and through those meetings I have witnessed their deep desire to see Hillsboro grow and thrive,” Bolender said. “They have a vision. I look forward to that vision coming to life, and I look forward to helping in any way that I can possibly help.”

Some of those avenues discussed by Bolender include seeking and promoting grant funding; business retention and expansion; working to secure new businesses for the county’s two industrial parks; and workforce development.

One of those grants is the Workforce READi grant for Highland County, which Bolender said she’s helping Southern State Community College, OhioMeansJobs Highland County and Highland County Community Action to facilitate.

“Training and necessary work-related items are just two of the things we’re able to provide,” she said of the grant. “There’s no income guideline attached to this.”

Bolender told council that it’s “easier to retain that it is to attract” businesses, so her goal is to help local employers are “secure, safe, feel appreciated and feel supported.”

“Recently, we had an opportunity to meet with a Hillsboro-based manufacturing company,” Bolender said. “These meetings will be held on a yearly basis with each one of the manufacturers in Highland County. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the interim, if there’s an issue or if there’s a project that we can provide assistance, they will have my telephone number.”

She is also planning to implement a “manufacturing roundtable” to help local “manufacturing and distribution leaders” connect.

For workforce development, Bolender said the county must “have willing, educated, trained and capable individuals to fill those open positions” in order to attract new industries.

“I’m in the process of reaching out to the five county schools to see how we can collaborate,” she said, adding that this is a “passion” of hers.

Bolender told council she looked forward to “working with all of you” and praised the Hillsboro economic development department as well for their efforts thus far.

Harsha previously announced in September 2020 that Ellison, a longtime city grant writer and administrative assistant, accepted a new role as the city’s economic development coordinator, a new position established by the city administration. Walker, who is also the city’s code enforcement officer, was announced by Abbott as the city’s economic development assistant in October.

Walker was the next individual to address council Monday, as she promoted the city’s economic and discussed some of the department’s partners.

“Hopefully, through all these conversations, we’re going to watch Hillsboro grow, broaden the opportunities for the citizens of Hillsboro, attract new families and give someone a reason to ‘discover our Hillsboro,’” Walker said.

The economic development website uses that slogan, at www.discoverourhillsboro.org, with information on the city and various businesses and industries. Walker said the city is also partnering with CGI Communications for the production of promotional videos for the city.

Ellison gave the final presentation, discussing the city’s partnerships and efforts to help with workforce development.

“I have to say, when the mayor and safety service director late last year decided that they wanted to establish an economic development department, they set a very good tone,” she said. “There’s a lot of agencies locally that we’re trying to get to and sit down at the table to let them know what Hillsboro has to offer, because some of the economic development opportunities that Hillsboro could offer, they weren’t aware of. We’re trying to streamline some of those processes.”

Ellison added to some of what Bolender spoke about regarding the need to build the workforce.

“Job creation is usually the first thing you think of when you think of economic development, and it is very important,” Ellison said. “We want better jobs, we want more companies. But our employee base — we have a shortage right now. Anything we can do to help train employees, get employees in the jobs, is very important.”

However, Ellison said that the city has met with “potential businesses” to discuss opportunities in Hillsboro.

“Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, we will be able to share more of that information with you guys,” she said.

Another element Ellison discussed was “community development,” which she said is crucial in attracting industries to the area.

“We have to not only have the jobs and the places for people to work — we have to have the infrastructure to support those businesses and the homes for those companies and those employees so they want to live here, too,” Ellison said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve been working on promoting Hillsboro at discoverourhillsboro.org.

“One of the things I’ve heard over and over again when I’ve talked to people in economic development is they also check out our social media, our presence, what do we have to offer as a community. That’s a very big part of what we’re looking at.”

During the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, local resident Tim Koehl also suggested an opportunity for “economic development through tourism and hospitality,” as he outlined a proposal for a “walking bell trail” in Hillsboro “based on the C.S. Bell Company” and a corresponding app.

The C.S. Bell Company operated in Hillsboro for nearly a century, producing thousands of bells.

Koehl said he is already planning to work with other historic and civic organizations as well as economic development coordinators, as well as muralist Pamela Kellough, to bring this idea to fruition.

“It’s a pretty simple concept,” Koehl said of the idea, which he said is “not in set in stone.” “Visitors would come to the area using a phone app, that a lot of them are in use today for various types of trails. They come park at the Scott House, visit what we might have there, then they walk, basically up Main Street, to the Historical Society, and along the way we hope to have two murals on some of those gap-toothed walls we have right in town [on West Main Street] — two murals about the C.S. Bell company.

“Then, on the app, they’ll be able to read and get into as much detail as they want, but our objective is to get people into town, get out of their car, walk through the historic district, visit those areas, maybe stop and have lunch, complete the bell trail, and for that they would receive some type of reward.”

Koehl said there are other possible “phases” that could be implemented, including creating “a driving bell trail” for Highland County listing sites with “unique bells,” or even “a virtual global bell trail” where anyone who has the app can mark bells they encounter anywhere in the world.

“The interest is out there,” Koehl said. “We get contacted through the Historical Society from the American Bell Association in St. Louis. They want more information about C.S. Bell. So I think there’s opportunity there, so I’m floating this idea and willing to help get it done, but I can’t steer it. It takes talents that I don’t have, and the talents exist within the city and the county, our new county economic development director and our new director of tourism and the Chamber.”

For more from Monday night’s meeting, click the links below.