Erika Willitzer, director of the Defiance County Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) — the latest speaker at the Defiance Area Chamber of Commerce’s First Friday luncheon — began her professional career in a very different profession.
Speaking to Defiance’s VFW Post, Willitzer explained how she came to the position while reviewing tools of the trade used to attract businesses to Defiance County or help grow those already there.
Growing up, she explained, Willitzer dreamed of being a disc jockey, realizing that hope after studying journalism and continuing as a producer, presenter and reporter.
For a short time, she also worked at WMEE radio station, Fort Wayne. Eventually, Willitzer got the chance to work with his radio hero Charly Butcher at WOWO in Fort Wayne. While working with Butcher, Willitzer interviewed Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, U.S. Congressman Mike Pence, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, and Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr.
“What I really gained from interviewing, like Governor Mitch Daniels and then Congressman Mike Pence, was the fact that they always told me that you can do something positive in your own backyard. -court.”
This message “resonated” with Willitzer, even as she began to cover more crime news.
“I should go knock on the door of the parents who just lost someone who was shot,” she said.
The last story she covered, Willitzer said, was a quadrupedal murder and suicide. She resigned and found a new job with the Paulding Chamber of Commerce, which was her “openness to community development, economic development”.
While there, Willitzer worked on a project to build a park out of an abandoned gas station in downtown Paulding. Subsequently, she was recruited to work with the local utility in economic development. She said she was trained on how to work with global companies and learned the “tools to close great deals”.
Wanting to do more “hands-on” work, Willitzer said she came to Defiance County just over a year ago.
“A CIC is a non-profit cooperation,” said Willitzer, who explained that his agency is funded equally by public and private funds.
She noted “a tremendous amount of success” in 2021, but also some losses.
For example: “We were trying to land a $300 million project, and I set up the incentives from a local perspective.” While that effort wasn’t successful, she learned something, noting that even though Defiance came in second, “the reason they kept hanging on to Defiance was because we were so aggressive. That’s how you win business, you’re aggressive on the incentive.”
Future plans, Willitzer continued, include obtaining 501(c)(3) status for CIC’s new “in-house” program to receive grants that could help local businesses with targeted marketing through data.
Some of the other programs offered by the CIC are:
• School-to-work transition programs: Tinora High School strives to have a program where students go to school in the morning and then go to work at the Maysville Engineering Company (MEC) for training . The CIC intends to establish this in other districts.
• Human Resources (HR) roundtables: HR managers met and discussed what worked.
• Marketing with social media ads: featured stories on blogs, articles and a video series called “working it”.
• Enterprise Zone Schemes: These are run by county commissioners and provide tax relief for businesses.
• Community Reinvestment Zones (CRA): revitalization of zones over $5,000 in remodeling where tax relief may be granted. Defiance has five ARCs.
• Revolving Loan Funds: Defiance County has four, which are used for gap funding.
• Financing by tax increase: these tax incentive programs allow the installation of infrastructures for new companies with new real estate taxes redirected to pay the cost.
• job creation incentives: a check is given to an expanding or new business — “no strings attached” — as an incentive in exchange for promised job growth.
• Ohio Means Jobs: The state provides training cost assistance through this entity, up to $1,000 per trained employee with a cap of $200,000 per company.
• JobsOhio: This entity provides grants to state enterprises.
• inclusion grants: for women or other people in another cultural enterprise.
• Institute of Economic and Community Development: this could provide potential ideas for start-ups.
• the leasing port authority (CLPA): companies can sign a lease with the CLPA, receive their building materials exempt from tax, and at the end of the lease the company receives the building.
• Block grants for community development.