An Interview with Margie Hall
Executive Director, Lincoln County Economic Development Council
1. What does an economic developer do in a county that has only 10,000 people spread out over 2,230 square miles, 75% of which is in agricultural production?
The EDC is the only economic development resource in the county so we wear many hats. We wrote the county’s economic development strategy and we administer and maintain it. We probably do more community development than an urban EDC, working with our communities on downtown revitalization, historic preservation and issues with absentee property owners. We work closely with our mayors and are fortunate to have strong support from them and from our county government. In fact, Lincoln County provides one half of our budget, which is the difference between the 1.5 FTE and .5 FTE. That’s huge.
When it comes to job creation, we are more focused on business retention and expansion because we simply don’t have the workforce to recruit large business. We focus on our strengths. We maximize agriculture by adding value and we maximize tourism by administering the county’s lodging tax revenue.
2. What is your biggest challenge and how are you trying to overcome it?
If you ask the EDC, we’d probably say sustaining existing and new businesses; floodways that restrict development in commercial districts; issues with regional water use and control; the cost of government regulation; and communication.
Having said that, we actually asked our citizens that question a couple years ago, and they told us youth outmigration. That was an eye opener. We now put more emphasis on connecting students and local industry and we started a Global Entrepreneurship Week business plan challenge for students where the planned business can be brick and mortar or virtual, but it has to be located here. It doesn’t help that Lincoln County has no post-high school educational options, a challenge we are working on through broadband planning and higher-education partnerships.
3. What are your top three priorities?
We have a new USDA-Inspected livestock processing plant going through its first fall cattle harvest right now and a manufacturer of paper USB drives that is preparing for expansion. There is work being done to sustain our historic downtowns and we have some brownfields along Hwy. 2 that we are working to clean up and get back into use. And now that school is back in session, we will be talking up the business plan challenge and planning for our first local-only career fair.
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