Hometown Opportunity looking to expand

Auglaize County economic development directors, working in collaboration with Mercer County economic development officials, are looking for ways to expand their services.

Hometown Opportunity, which started as a website, HometownOpportunity.com, in the fall, seeks to pair job hunters — no matter where they may be — with county and area employers.

Driven by Mercer County Economic Development Director Jared Ebbing, the idea is to help local businesses find the employees they need and encourage residents from here to stay here or to come back and develop not just a job, but a career. Finding skilled workers to fill job vacancies in the two counties has at times been a struggle, claimed economic development directors from communities throughout both counties as they met Tuesday with the Auglaize County commissioners.

“A true private-public partnership takes down the red tape,” Ebbing said. “It’s what we should be doing anyway, cooperating between companies and government.”

While Mercer County is off to a good start using the collaboration, Ebbing said things have been slower in Auglaize County.

He said the key is getting people to use it and then discuss ways to make it better.

With the success to date of the venture, organizers are now looking at ways to offer even more through Hometown Opportunity and looking for funding to support them in that endeavor, largely with $100,000 in funding for the creation of an outreach coordinator position. The cost could be shared between both counties and local companies.

Ebbing said the person picked to fill the slot would serve as a contact for companies and those looking for more information, as well as to get information about Hometown Opportunity out to the public.

“To me, we are just connecting the dots instead of the gap getting bigger,” Ebbing said. “It helps us do our job better.”

Given Hometown Opportunity’s success without any major marketing efforts, Ebbing expected school banners, restaurant placemats, bar coasters, brochures and commercials, all sponsored by local businesses, to help amplify its success. An outreach coordinator could bring it all together.

“I think the cost is worth the investment,” Ebbing said. “I think we have got something good going but I want to sustain it and make it better.”

Wapakoneta Area Economic Development Council Executive Director Greg Myers stressed the importance of the collaborative effort and supporting their work.

“It’s pretty significant to the long-term success of Auglaize County,” Myers said of Hometown Opportunity efforts.

After the meeting, Auglaize County Commissioner Don Regula said he thought it was a great idea and something he was excited about.

While the Auglaize County commissioners have not made any financial contributions to date to Hometown Opportunity, Regula said they have talked about it being the next step.

“The comments I heard from the other commissioners today, I don’t see it being a problem,” Regula said. “Economic development is very, very important. We have to sell ourselves. Nobody else is going to do it for us.”