GREENVILLE — The Darke County Chamber of Commerce (CoC) Ground Hog Day Breakfast wasn’t much of a breakfast this year. In light of following COVID-19 safety protocols, the chamber hosted its 14th annual event via Zoom on Friday afternoon. In spite of this, the “breakfast” was still able to encompass the spirit of past events.
The panel of guest speakers included Sharen Geier, President of Dayton Realty, Jeff Kniese, President and CEO of Greenville Federal, Kent James, President and CEO of Greenville National Bank, and Todd Durham, Vice President and Trust Officer of Park National Bank. The meeting was moderated by Peggy Emerson, President of the Darke County CoC, and John Warner, President and CEO of the Brethren Retirement Community and Chairman of the Board of the Darke County CoC. Also in attendance were State Rep. Susan Manchester and Ben Thealer, District Director for Congressman Warren Davidson.
The meeting began with the introduction of a new Darke County Dave by Darke County Commissioner Matt Aultman. Dave, a piglet and master of the local economy, thankfully predicted a bright economic future for Darke County in 2021.
Peggy Emerson reminded all in attendance of the CoC’s upcoming agribusiness event on Mar. 19. The guest speaker for this event will be Dr. Cathann Kress, Vice President and Dean of the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State.
Following introductions, the rest of the event was reserved for questions directed to each of the panelists. A large portion of the questions were focused on local economic development as we enter, hopefully, the final stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. All panelists expressed optimism about the Darke Co. economy as we head deeper into 2021.
Jeff Kniese categorized the local economy as “steady,” and noted that local job opportunities are plentiful. He also stated that Darke County has been very fortunate to have not experienced as significant of a downturn as other areas of the county have throughout the pandemic.
Todd Durham said he thinks of the local economy as “durable.” He noted that the hardest hit industries, nationally, have been related to hospitality, but fortunately, Darke County’s largest employers (Whirlpool, Midmark, and GTI) are not directly tied into these industries. This isn’t to say, Durham cautioned, that Darke County industries haven’t faced hardship during this time, and stated they should continue to remain alert. The larger Darke County economy has weathered the storm very well, and he concluded that he remains very optimistic about the future.
Kent James stated that recent low interest rates have had a very positive impact on the local economy, and that stimulus packages have provided a great deal of liquidity in the banking system, which is also a positive development. He said that, based on his data, most banks are extremely flush with cash, but, to the detriment of the banks, loan demand has been low. He concluded by noting that improving rural broadband internet should be a top priority.
As interest rates relate to the real estate market, Sharon Geier stated that, according to information from the Federal Reserve, she doesn’t see the low interest rates shifting anytime soon. She stated that low interest rates, obviously, attract buyers, so the real estate market has been sailing relatively smoothly in recent months.
When asked about the Kitchen Aid closing in downtown Greenville, Durham and other panelists stated that it has been difficult to tell the impact that this will have on retail foot traffic in the area. Retail foot traffic in general has been down, due to COVID-19, so the impacts have been, so far, not entirely noticeable. Durham stated that the Kitchen Aid location, 423 South Broadway, is a wonderful place for a business, and hopes that a new business will move in soon.
“I think there’s an opportunity there. The space is in a tremendous location and I hate seeing open windows, but I think another business could capitalize on this and what I think is the new retail and business model — to provide an experience to the consumer. A lot of businesses in the downtown Greenville area are already capitalizing on this experience, and I think downtown is a great space to capitalize on the unique boutique-type and service oriented opportunities in Greenville,” concluded Durham.
The other panelists largely concurred with Durham’s observations of downtown Greenville.
The meeting concluded with Warner thanking all of the panelists and guests in attendance. He then led the group in prayer and dismissed the meeting.
The Darke County Chamber of Commerce is located at 130 Martz Street, Suit 5, in Greenville. For more information, contact the CoC by phone at 937-548-2102.