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County economic development group votes to dissolve

Organization has ‘emotional evening’ Tuesday night

The board of directors of Hamilton County SEED, doing business as Hamilton Hometowns Economic Development has voted to dissolve the organization, effective Nov. 15.

Hamilton County SEED, which stands for “support and enrich economic development,” was incorporated in 1988 and included all communities in the county. Over the years, many communities chose to part with SEED and form community-specific economic development groups, eventually leaving Stratford, Stanhope, Jewell and Ellsworth as the only SEED communities. About 10 years ago, the organization rebranded, becoming Hamilton County SEED Doing Business as Hamilton Hometowns Economic Development, or SEED/HHED.

The organization’s board of directors met for its regular monthly meeting at the Stanhope Community Building on Tuesday evening.

Hamilton County Supervisor Rick Young, District 3, is the chairman of the non-profit private corporation. He said Tuesday night’s meeting was an “emotional evening.”

SEED/HHED’s origins date back to the farm crisis of the late 1980s.

“When the farm crisis hit, it was just devastation,” Young said. “It was unbelievable.”

“There was a bond created amongst every community, every city in the county,” he said. “And they got together and said ‘We’re going to do something and we’re going to fight to save this county and our main streets and our businesses,’ so they created Hamilton County SEED.”

Young said that SEED was one of the first county-wide economic development groups in the state, and over the years it’s been primarily funded by tax dollars.

Young cited low participation from organization members as a main reason for the group’s ending. In the past 12 months, only one of the group’s monthly meetings had an official quorum of voting members.

“It was extremely painful for me,” Young said of the meeting on bringing the organization to a close. “I had to play the hardcore person to run the meeting and to address this issue.”

The meeting was a “lengthly discussion” of two hours with lots of input and lots of passion, he said.

“There was a lot of frustration for many reasons,” the chairman said. “But in the end, the majority of the board members and the supervisors voted by majority to dissolve.”

Young specified that while the majority of the members voted in favor of the dissolution and there were no votes against it, there were still some board members who abstained from voting on the matter.

Once the organization officially dissolves on Nov. 15, the group’s remaining assets, totaling approximately $80,000, will be dispersed among the four member communities. Young looked back at 10 years’ worth of fees and dues paid by the communities and decided to divide the remaining assets according to the percentage of the group’s total funding each community contributed. For example, Stratford contributed 6.64 percent of SEED/HHED’s operating costs over the past decade, so 6.64 percent of the remaining assets will go to the Stratford community. Stanhope will receive 3.01 percent, Jewell 9.26 percent and Ellsworth 4.72 percent.

According to the organization’s original bylaws, that money cannot go back to the cities or back into the city our county general funds.

“By the original bylaws, that money has to go to a charitable organization to support the same development missions throughout communities,” Young said.

So the 23.64 percent supplied by the communities will go to community-specific economic development groups.

The other 76.37 percent was contributed by the county and rural unincorporated areas of Hamilton County, so that part of the assets will go to a fund to be managed by the Enhance Hamilton County Foundation, which will have a board comprised of two members each from Stratford, Stanhope, Jewell, Ellsworth, and the norther two tiers and southern two tiers of townships.

Young said there were tears during the meeting to vote on dissolving the group.

“It was a tough thing to do, but we just realized that the support just had not been there,” he said.

Going forward, Young and other economic development leaders in the county aren’t done with Hamilton County. They are working on creating a new organization that will replace SEED/HHED and will hopefully attract more engagement from community members.

“We have sought direction from many, many people throughout the county,” Young said. “We’re taking input from everybody.”

He said they’re at least a month out before they’re ready to present anything to the community, but they’re working hard.

“This has always been my lifelong passion,” Young said. “In the 80s, anybody that was here was affected by it. My family was affected by the 80s in an extremely, terribly bad way and my wife and I decided we are never going to have this community go through this again and we’ll fight to do everything we can do to do that.”

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