Celebrating the PCDP: 'It's all about people'


From The Register-Herald, Jan. 20, 2022 -- During its annual investor celebration in December, the Preble County Development Partnership welcomed back a key person in the creation of the public-private economic development entity to share some history of the PCDP, which recently celebrated its first decade in existence. The Preble County Development Partnership Inc. (PCDP) was formed in 2010 to address important growth and development issues and to assist in the creation of jobs and opportunities for everyone in Preble County.


PCDP Chair Justin Sommer introduced Southern Ohio Chamber Alliance Executive Director Matt Appezeller during the Dec. 14 event.


Appenzeller was executive director of the Preble County Chamber of Commerce when the effort to create the PCDP was launched over a decade ago. Appenzeller spoke briefly of the process and the outcome, emphasizing the economic development agency’s work is “all about people.”


“I’m deeply humbled to be back to just kind of tell people how we got started with this,” Appenzeller said. “I feel like from time to time when I come back, I feel like the like tribal elder that comes back,” he said.

“Brenda (Latanza, PCDP Economic Development Director) is doing a great job. And we can talk about all of these things like business retention, and a long list of stuff. But at the end of the day, what we’re really talking about is improving the lives of people,” he continued.


He credits former Bullen Ultrasonics General Manager Joanne Beineke with the initial push. “She always said, ‘you know, the people in this county deserve better,’ and she just repeatedly was saying it, and was very motivated,” Appenzeller said.


“I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to make sure that I was living up to her standards. She really pushed us to do that. The second reason I bring that up is that when I was out and about visiting business owners and trying to ask for chamber memberships, there was a lot of frustration among business owners about the lack of a plan for economic development within the county.”


Research led to the discovery of Work Ready Community programs being done in states like Oklahoma and Georgia. “This would be a really cool idea if we ever get this off the ground,” Appenzeller said the thought was. “And, you know, it’s one of those things that, ‘okay, this is one of Matt’s crazy ideas’ so we printed it out, we put it in a file somewhere, and we’re going to forget about it. But those discussions with Joanne about Work Ready Communities actually started this whole thing.”


Appenzeller said in 2009, he went to a chamber conference among his peers and one of the breakout groups was a firm which did fundraising for communities for forming an Economic Development Foundation. The group was later brought into some meetings with the Preble County Chamber’s board of directors.


“After several board meetings and some discussions, the Chamber announced that we were going to start an economic development foundation, so to speak, or a foundation for economic development,” Appenzeller sad. “I have the actual article from The Register-Herald, dated July 2009.”


“At that time, what we need to do was a feasibility study and see if we could do it. So, the feasibility study cost is $35,000.


“We were $35,000 short,” Appenzeller continued.


With the help of several dedicated business people in the community, the $35,000 was raised quickly. And the feasibility study began. “They interviewed 55 business owners and elected leaders throughout the county and there was a consensus that yes, we should do something. What form it should take we don’t know,” he said.


“Some of you guys have already heard my joke, ‘2010 is the longest three years of my life,’” Appenzeller said.

“So we did a campaign and you know, we set a pretty lofty goal for ourselves. I think the goal was only like $900,000,” he quipped.


“Workforce development and economic development go hand in hand, right? Well, if you look at the stats, you look at the census. Preble County is exceeding the state average in high school graduates, we’re doing better. But then when you look at college graduates, we were less than half of both the state and national numbers. Well, that’s a problem in terms of economic development, because for site selectors, one of the primary things they look at when they look at the area’s workforce is ‘what’s the education attainment?’ They look at that. So clearly, it was a problem that we had to address.”


“You have to say to yourself, well, that’s not happening because other people are smarter than me. Right? No. It’s happening because kids are graduating. They’re leaving to go to college, and they’re not coming back. Why are they not coming back? Economic opportunity. That’s a pretty simple answer,” Appenzeller continued.

“So we said okay, we’re going to form this organization that does these four things: business retention — we got to keep what we’ve got. Recruit new businesses. Really focus on workforce development. And then we’re going to market ourselves really well.


“Brenda mentioned that Preble County is being talked about at both the state and national level,” Appenzeller said “And that is so good for me to hear, because back then we weren’t even talking about ourselves.”

Appenzeller went on to describe other things the committee worked on in creating the PCDP.

“I’m going to wrap this up this way,” he said. “I began this by saying this is about people. We set that goal for $900,000. And, at the end of it, we had $1.4 million in both cash and in-kind contributions. Just the most amazing thing that I’d done at that point. Just unbelievable how everybody came together and did it. But this is about people, like I said. You know, every organization has to ask itself, ‘Why do we exist?’ ‘How do we make people’s lives better?’”


Appenzeller shared a letter from a Preble County resident thanking him for help in resolving an issue, and emphasized the good things done as the PCDP was created.


He closed where he began. “Thanks for having me,” he reiterated. But this is just all about people.”


(Original article and photos by Eddie Mowen Jr.)

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