New economic development director sees many positives

BATAVIA, OH — Michael McNamara sees a bright future for Clermont County as he surveys the economic development landscape. McNamara joined the county on Aug. 3 as Director of Community and Economic Development. He had served as Butler County’s Development Administrator for five years. In this interview, learn about McNamara’s thoughts about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Q: How have your first weeks on the job been? What have been your top priorities? Any surprises?

McNamara: My first weeks have been great. Although it has been a whirlwind getting acclimated to a new county, everyone I have met and worked with has been very supportive and helpful. There are a lot of people who work for our County who are passionate about where they work and helping the people who rely on our services.

Q: What do you see as positives for economic development in Clermont County in the future?

McNamara: There are many positives. I have been meeting with chamber leaders, school leaders, local government officials, elected officeholders, department heads, Convention and Visitors Bureau and many others. One common thread is that people are focused and optimistic. Even in a year when COVID has changed the way we operate, people are finding creative ways to adapt.

We have great assets in the South Afton property, the former Ford plant, great educational resources and a government that is ready to do business. We also have great natural features and an incredible, rich history. All of the elements are there for success including great access to transportation, clean water and a strong workforce.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing Clermont County when it comes to economic development?

McNamara: Some of our challenges are common challenges faced by many across the nation. Clermont County has many retail spaces, and the nature of retail has been changing for years. We have reached a point of inflection in which consumers are now comfortable making online purchases for major items, daily needs and even groceries. So much can be done from the comfort of your own home. Furthermore, government restrictions, however necessary, have impacted our restaurant and movie business. These destinations are often the catalysts that create foot traffic in retail areas, and foot traffic is the lifeblood of retail. If people do not walk into your store, you won’t sell anything. So we will need to rethink how we utilize our spaces as we look to the future, and we may see shrinkage in brick-and-mortar retail offerings especially as relief funding from COVID comes to an end.

Workforce development is another challenge. This is an ongoing endeavor to make certain that we have a workforce that is not only adequate in size but also in training. We must constantly evaluate what the market needs are and work with education leaders to meet those the market requires.

Q: What attracted you to this position?

McNamara: Having operated two economic development engines in another county, a Port Authority and a Land Bank, and working in economic development for many years, the Clermont position offered an opportunity to allow me to utilize my skills to a new level. I am also excited about the level of creativity that this position allows. I enjoy community and regional collaboration, and I see many opportunities for that as we move forward. One of the most important lessons that I have learned in life is to get out of my comfort zone – to take risks and try new things. I hope that I can challenge everyone in Community and Economic Development to get out of their comfort zones and take risks as well.

Q: What are you looking forward to accomplishing as Economic Development director?

McNamara: One of my top goals is to develop strong relationships with local governments and leaders throughout Clermont County. I want to educate our leaders on how we can work together to advance our common goals. I look forward to building trust and strong relationships.

I also hope to help Clermont County approach the future of economic development in a smart way. This means being strategic and developing a plan for how we want to grow and with whom we want to grow. Clermont County has a lot to offer, and I want to elevate this county and help it achieve its potential while still maintaining a strong sense of community.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

McNamara: I enjoy spending time with my wife, Lisa, and two boys, Augustus (7) and Wallace (6). When we aren’t avoiding COVID, we like to go to the Zoo, Union Terminal, Kings Island, hiking trails, and build Lego creations. When we have a three-day weekend, we like to go to my in-laws cabin in Kentucky to unplug and unwind.  There is a secret cave nearby their cabin with a stone that is a claim marker. It reads “S. Adams 1790”. The patina of the carving is very old and established, and it is in such an out-of-the way place that is difficult to find and get to, that I have every reason to trust its authenticity. It is also placed near a natural landmark (a cave with a nearby stream) that makes it a natural spot for a 17th century claim marker.