The Greater Sandusky Partnership (GSP) and the Erie County Economic Development Corporation (ECEDC)
For nearly five years, the business community in the Erie County and Sandusky region have been pursuing the creation of an integrated economic development organization to drive population and investment growth. In late 2021, the new Greater Sandusky Partnership (GSP) was launched and affiliated immediately with the Erie County Chamber of Commerce to serve as the conduit for an aligned approach. Today, that vision was realized by the simultaneous votes of both the GSP and ECEDC Boards to unify their existing activities into one parent organization, the GSP. This new structure will allow GSP to focus on creating, driving and sustaining public-private partnerships of scale to overcome nearly fifty years of population decline by improving quality of life and creating a more economically competitive region. At the same time, ECEDC will complement this strategy through its focus on the economic vitality of the region and by playing to a decades-long track record of success in regional business attraction, retention, and expansion.
Building on the momentum of the merger announcement, GSP is proud to announce that Eric Wobser, former Sandusky City Manager, is returning to Erie County as the CEO of GSP, starting in August. Wobser will work on behalf of the GSP Board and all affiliate members to develop and implement a strategic vision for the economic advancement of Erie County and the greater Sandusky region. This work will benefit from Wobser’s experience collaborating with community leaders on behalf of the Sandusky City Commission to develop and successfully implement Sandusky’s Bicentennial Vision Plan.
Duff Milkie, Chairman of GSP, has been a staunch advocate of creating a unified economic development organization in the area for over five years, in part to enhance the role the private sector could play in the region. “This has been a shared vision of many of us for years, and finally realizing the potential of a unified business community working hand in hand with our governmental partners is very exciting” Milkie said. The City of Sandusky, Erie County, and Shores and Islands, Ohio are already providing funding support to GSP. He continued, “I think that several years from now, the region will look back at this integration of like-minded organizations as a game changing moment that will truly begin to optimize our full potential as a region.”
A unified GSP/ECEDC will place programs including Firelands Forward (workforce development), RISE (entrepreneurship), Minority Business Empowerment Team, Erie County Port Authority (public financing), the Erie County Chamber of Commerce (advocacy and membership services) and Destination Sandusky (marketing and community programming) all under an aligned, comprehensive vision for improving the economic competitiveness of the region.
GSP will maintain the passion and advocacy of scores of business leaders through an advisory structure and all affiliated partners will share representation on the GSP Board. The Erie Chamber of Commerce and GSP have been effectively utilizing this model for nearly 18 months. GSP will be the parent governance unit overseeing the entire structure and Wobser will report directly to the GSP Board of about twenty-five diverse business leaders.
ECEDC Board President, Andy Kurtz, will serve on the new GSP Board and also chair the new ECEDC advisory group. Kurtz said that the formal relationship required “careful due diligence on the part of ECEDC board members and Executive Director Abbey Bemis to ensure that the ECEDC mission would be enhanced by the new alignment and result in positive outcomes for the entire Erie County region, as well as for our partners in Huron and Ottawa counties. The ECEDC Board is confident that our alignment with the GSP, with Eric Wobser at the helm, is a real win for our organizations and for the region.”
Eric Wobser, GSP’s new CEO, will return to Erie County from Cleveland, where he has served for the past seven months as Transition Director and Chief of Staff to newly elected Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne. Wobser stated that “It has been a tremendous honor to help Chris build his team and I know the future of Cuyahoga County is bright. The past several months have reminded me that the Sandusky region is home and this new role at GSP provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to build on our recent success and to work with partners to further position our region as the greatest destination on the Great Lakes.” Wobser, in addition to serving as CEO of GSP, will remain on the Destination Cleveland Board of Directors and continue to advise Ronayne on issues related to waterfront collaboration and downtown transformation, providing an opportunity to deepen connections and collaboration along the Lake Erie shoreline.
Dick Brady, President of the Sandusky City Commission was elated by the announcement. “This is great news not just for Sandusky, but for all of Erie County. Our city benefited from Eric’s leadership for the past eight years and now the entire region will benefit as GSP’s impact on the community expands. Eric Wobser’s passion for economic development coupled with his ability to connect with a variety of stakeholders will have catalytic impact on our entire community.”
Pat Shenigo, an Erie County Commissioner agreed and said, “The future is bright for businesses and entrepreneurs in Erie County, and I look forward to working with a unified entity to strengthen economic development across our communities.”
For several years, the region has been looking for a new approach to growing its economy and population. Studying other approaches in Cleveland, Traverse City Michigan and other regions clearly showed that eliminating organizational overlap and duplicative funding and missions, could better utilize private leadership especially in smaller areas. A national, objective study conducted in 2021 confirmed the value of creating an integrated one stop shop in Erie County and the Greater Sandusky Region.
The outcome of today’s decisions will result in the creation of a well-researched strategic decade-long plan with the right metrics to annually measure its success and make corrections or amplification, noted GSP’s Chief Strategy Advisor, Joe Roman, “The plan will incorporate effective good current programs and fill the obvious missing gaps like meeting the affordable and market rate housing shortages throughout the area. Building off the community’s welcoming spirit Becoming a more welcoming place for all people and taking better advantage of already existing immigrant in-migration recruitment efforts for a seasonal workforce is an advantage “we need to exponentially expand”, said Roman.
GSP also believes that creating a new marking platform, Destination Sandusky, had to be at the top of its list and it now exists on behalf of the region. “How can we grow if we only sell our hospitality wares to visitors who then go home and never stop to think about us in a 360-degree way”, said Lee Alexakos, who chairs Destination Sandusky and is on GSP’s Board. “We need to take advantage of the Shores and Islands foundation and sell the Greater Sandusky region as a much greater year-round asset to new residents and investors who will be permanent additions” she said.
GSP will quickly strive to locate all the staff people currently driving the combined activities into one place as it looks for a permanent home. “We will be ready, day one to make an impact, since a lot of work has already been done to stand up GSP in this role” Wobser said.
Additional information and history about GSP and/or its partners can be obtained by calling, Joe Roman, Chief Strategy Advisor,216-337-0732