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In many ways, the Marion County Industrial Foundation is a mystery. For decades, a collection of local business leaders and public officials have met regularly to help design an economic development strategy for our community.
Nevertheless, what the foundation does has been unclear to many of us. The foundation provides oversight over the Marion County Economic Development Office, but unlike the Lebanon City Council or the Marion County Fiscal Court, the industrial foundation is not considered a public agency, at least, not in the eyes of the law.
On a practical level, the foundation has a profound impact on our county and it certainly influences decisions made by local government agencies. Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw, Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly and State Sen. Jimmy Higdon are members of the foundation board. No doubt, this is helpful in coordinating a unified strategy across state and local governments regarding local priorities.
This approach has its benefits. The foundation has played an undeniable role in recruiting new businesses and industry to Marion County, and that has brought thousands of jobs as well. That's not to say we agree with every idea suggested by the foundation, but it's unlikely people will ever be 100 percent in agreement.
Regardless, because of the influence the foundation has on our community, the Enterprise approached Marion County Economic Development Director Tom Lund about the possibility of attending the foundation's retreat this past Friday, with hopes of attending monthly foundation meetings as well. A few days after our initial conversation, we met with Lund again and he said the foundation board was OK with the newspaper being there.
They did have some concerns about publicity regarding specific matters and specific business recruiting efforts, which we understood. The foundation even held an "executive session," during which the Enterprise reporter stepped out of the room, similar to executive sessions for government bodies.
Much of what was discussed in front of the reporter will be incorporated into the economic development office's annual report, a public document that will be presented to the city and the county in the near future.
But the discussion also gave some insight into what kinds of projects the foundation is pursuing, and that will have implications for the Lebanon City Council, the Marion County Fiscal Court and possibly Marion County Public Schools. Recruiting a food processing plant is a priority, as is finding another industry to locate along the Marion County Veterans Memorial Highway. Technical education will continue to be a point of emphasis, and that will likely lead to a longer conversation with the Marion County Board of Education in the near future.
Whether or not the law regards the foundation as a public agency, we think most people would agree that it serves a public purpose. We are also encouraged and hopeful that last week's retreat will be the start of a new relationship to help the public better understand the foundation's role in our community.