Shannon Hamons was recently hired as the director of economic development, building and zoning for the City of Harrison. Chamber board members asked him to answer these questions about his role and plans for growth and development. He will be our guest speaker at the 2016 Annual Membership Dinner.
The role of economic developer is relatively new in the City of Harrison, and you are only the second person to serve in this capacity. How does your department help existing—small and large—businesses in the area?
Shannon Hamons: One of the most important activities an economic development (ED) department can undertake is a ‘Business Retention & Expansion’ program. This can be done in a formal way through dissemination and collection of surveys to business leaders. The purpose is to find out any issues they may have and help them get resolved in a timely manner. Also, it is very important to keep informal, constant contact with large and small business owners, operators, and managers just by dropping in on them to say hi, frequent phone calls, or sharing information with them by email or other social media. Developing a one-on-one relationship with them encourages them to contact the city and share important information BEFORE they consider expanding, contracting or leaving. When we find out their issues, we would strive to solve locally or get other organizations involved to provide financial assistance or other expertise. These other organizations include REDI Cincinnati, HCDC and the State of Ohio. Basically, our ED department serves as a business ombudsman – someone to serve as their voice within local government.
Now that you are employed by the City, you will work with zoning commissioners, state, regional and city planners, and a variety of other agencies. How in particular do you see yourself expanding and finding a beneficial relationship with the Chamber?
SH: One of the most important relationships I can maintain will be with the Chamber. I have always served in an ex-officio capacity on Chambers for each community where I worked. It is important to interface with the Chamber because members will often be aware of situations in the community that are sometimes not readily apparent to ED or city staff – and issues that some businesses may be reluctant to share with the city. The Chamber can be a conduit of information between those businesses and the city. My goal is to work with the Chamber board to develop programs and services that may be beneficial to our local companies.
You told Chamber board members that “downtown Harrison” was vital. How can we be more inclusive of all of the Harrison area businesses and the good they bring to the Greater Harrison area?
SH: I do believe that having a healthy downtown area is vital for a community. A downtown often serves as a community’s ‘living room’ where families and individuals gather for social events and celebrations. A strong downtown creates a ‘feel’ or ‘identity’ for a community and is often one of the aspects that are readily remembered by visitors. However, other business areas are also vital to a quality community. It is important to stress equal balance between other shopping areas and the downtown. No single area is more important than the other, but our downtown, like many in small towns, has been somewhat neglected in recent years. It is now time to bring it up to the level of other areas of the town. That will help us create a buzz, get noticed within the region and attract other businesses that could locate in other areas of the city.
How do you balance growth with the desire of many to retain a quiet, rural community?
SH: Growth and change will occur whether desired or not. It is up to us to manage the change in the ways we believe will best suit our residents’ demands. One way to ensure that growth is managed responsibly is to adhere to a quality comprehensive plan. The city will be undertaking a process to produce a new comprehensive plan with the help of many residents, business leaders and government officials. We will also be assisted with outside consultants to ensure many aspects of residential, retail, industrial, office and rural/parkland perspectives are considered.
How do you envision Harrison in 25 years?
SH: It appears that Harrison may grow from its current approximate 13,000 residents to between 20,000 or so over the next couple decades. I envision more commercial development along I-74 and more moderate to upscale housing near the city’s current boundary edges. I also believe that there will be significant employment growth in the City/Township Joint Economic Development District and that area could grow to include one to several new, significantly large employers.
What can business owners do to be involved or have a say in the future of our community?
SH: Business leaders need to become Chamber members and stay involved in Chamber programs. The ED department is interested in helping the Chamber get its message out and helping to create programs that provide added value to members. Also, I think the Chamber should have a local government committee member attend city council meetings and maybe even give a five-minute monthly update about Chamber events and activities. I think that I will also suggest to the Mayor that we have a business highlighted at council meetings each month where the owner/manager can come and give a five-minute presentation about their operation. That information would then be shared with the entire community. As I mentioned before, the city will include business leaders in the upcoming comprehensive plan effort – which is crucial.
Why did you want to work and live in Harrison?
SH: When looking to move back to Ohio, I was looking for a community that was a small town (similar to where I grew up) poised for steady, well-thought out growth – which Harrison is. I was also impressed by the new mayoral and council leadership that has a ‘can-do’ attitude and desire to be inclusive and build bridges with other organizations. The mayor and council members I interviewed with seemed willing to try new things while still being considerate of resident viewpoints. There is challenge here, but meeting those challenges collectively will be very rewarding professionally. I believe it is important for any ED director to live where they work and I am looking forward to making Harrison my home and being a good neighbor that is ingrained in the fabric of the community.
Please tell us about some the projects you accomplished while working in economic development in Texas.
SH: While in Southlake, Texas I managed a tourism staff that created a new marketing campaign. That campaign led to increased traffic, retail sales and sales tax collection (cities collect sales tax in Texas). I also managed several economic development project negotiations. One led to the city’s first ever, multi-story (6) Class-A office building (160,000 square feet). The $65 million office project is expected to house nearly 1,000 new employees when complete this fall. Another agreement led to the approval of an $85 million, 250-room Westin hotel that is currently ready for construction. I also assisted with an agreement with TD Ameritade for the relocation of a regional office of 300,000 square-feet and 1,500 employees.
Our community is not exempt from the toll drug addiction has taken across the region. Do you see this as a challenge to our workforce and our collective health and safety, and how do we combat this?
SH: This is definitely a safety and health issue for our region and country as a whole. Even in Texas I had many employers tell me that they could not find enough workers that could even pass a drug test. Needless to say, the heroin epidemic in Ohio creates family and personal issues that are stressing our social services to the maximum. Petty and violent crime rates are impacted by those who are looking for any way possible to support their habits. It is imperative that residents and businesses work with our local law enforcement officials to report suspected drug and crime activity. In fact, the Harrison Police Department just announced its “Citizen Observer” campaign where residents can sign up for free alerts of any crime activity that is occurring in the city. Residents can also make anonymous reports to the police about any suspected activity they see. The Chamber could share this program info with its membership so businesses too can participate. Anyone can sign up for alerts or report suspected crimes by going to www.citizenobserver.com or calling the non-emergency police number at 513-367-3715.