Vantage Career Center Superintendent Staci Kaufman (left) accepts the Workforce Partner Award from Van Wert County Economic Development Director Cindy Leis at Thursday evening’s Van Wert County Economic Development Dinner. (Times Bulletin/Lindsay McCoy)
Vantage Career Center Superintendent Staci Kaufman (left) accepts the Workforce Partner Award from Van Wert County Economic Development Director Cindy Leis at Thursday evening’s Van Wert County Economic Development Dinner. (Times Bulletin/Lindsay McCoy)

BY LINDSAY MCCOY
Times Bulletin News Writer
lmccoy@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - Willow Bend Country Club hosted the 2013 Van Wert County Economic Development Annual Dinner Thursday evening thanks to sponsors Van Wert Hospital, Central Insurance Companies, and Citizens National Bank. 135 people were in attendance to support those working in economic development and to see the four awards presented, including the Volunteer of the Year Award, which was presented to Denise Frey.

"I am speechless," said Frey after receiving the award. "You don't do it for the recognition. I was born and raised here and raised my family here. You do it to give back to your community." Frey has worked hard within the Van Wert community to become vice president at First Financial and also serves on the Business Retention and Expansion Program board, participates and teaches in the Enterprise System, and has been treasurer of the Convoy Community Foundation. In recent years, she has also dedicated a large amount of her time to the Economic Advisory Group, including serving as president this past year.

This year's economic development dinner also included a new community award, the Outstanding Workforce Partner Award. This award went to Vantage Career Center and was accepted by Vantage Superintendent Staci Kaufman. Earlier this year, Vantage Career Center held a grand opening after a $35 million renovation and expansion project.

Economic Development Director Cindy Leis noted that the community should be very appreciative of Vantage's continued dedication to the development of the Van Wert workforce. Leis said she has continually heard comments that Van Wert needs more skilled workers that will soon need to fill the spots of the 22 million baby-boomers expected to retire in the next ten years, and Vantage has worked to provide Van Wert's students with valuable education and trades.

"It takes people in all walks of life to make a community succeed," said Leis.

Commissioner Thad Lichtenstieger remarked that agriculture is a major part of the Van Wert economic community is farming as the county makes up over 250,000 total acres of tillable farmland. Other recent accomplishments inside the community that provide jobs to its residents include the Van Wert Super Site, Vantage Career Center's renovation and expansion, the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, and many other growing businesses. In the last 12 months, over 400 new jobs have been created by these and other local businesses, according to Leis.

Other awards of the night went to Jim Miller of Miller Precision for Small Enterprise of the Year Award. Large Enterprise of the Year Award went to Jack Ruhe of Toledo Molding and Die.

Guests also listened to a presentation by keynote speaker, Paul Zito, who is the vice president of International Development Regional Growth Partnership and Jobs Ohio Northwest Region. Zito spoke of the importance of everyone working together within a community towards one ultimate goal. He commended Van Wert County for being willing to put on a united effort.

"Let the outreach begin," said Van Wert County Business Outreach Coordinator Sarah Smith. "There are a lot of no's, but there are also a lot of successes. The future of Van Wert County is very exciting."

With another year of economic development completed and a new underway, the night's dinner was concluded with Staci Kaufman being named the new president of the Van Wert County Economic Development Advisory Group.