In my view, there is no one who has done as much to advance the economic prospects of our region as Roy Church, who is retiring after 30 years as president of Lorain County Community College.
Of course, our various business organizations and The Fund for our Economic Future also have done much, but Church stands out as a unique individual who pioneered the essential incremental steps that, one by one, have helped build new and successful enterprises and add momentum to our economy.
The fact is that economies grow in small steps that incrementally build the capacity of communities and regions to add new jobs and create prosperity and an increased standard of living. Yes, the occasional large initiative also counts, but the weighting of such investments generally pales by comparison to the cumulative impact brought about by smaller entrepreneurial ventures.
Our region has experienced many phases of “creative destruction” in which industrial innovation and business competition has led to upheavals in our economy, the loss of jobs and periods of considerable uncertainty.
And it always has been the case that the resiliency we have demonstrated has come about slowly and incrementally, as we ourselves have found ways to harness the talents of individuals and organizations to build new economic opportunity from our legacy assets.
Indeed, economies grow by creating new jobs at the leading edge at the same time as they destroy older jobs at the trailing edge. Much as our political leaders may wish, those jobs being destroyed cannot be saved because they are obsolete and noncompetitive. That is something that Church clearly understood.
He championed institutions such as Lorain County Community College and The University of Akron to help catalyze that new growth by giving individuals the new skills needed to compete for the jobs now being created. And he understood that new business opportunities require the kind of new knowledge that R&D creates and which becomes the basis for entrepreneurial innovation.
Church championed and seeded many initiatives that now form a core of business and entrepreneurial resources that have served, and will continue to serve, Lorain County and Northeast Ohio well.
The Innovation Fund is a new model for philanthropic, educational and entrepreneurial interests to come together. It enabled, through an IRS private letter ruling, for philanthropic donations to be tax deductible provided that their use to help support new entrepreneurial ventures would be accompanied by educational opportunities for students interested in learning about new business creation.
To me, Church has been a true kindred spirit, and someone I have admired and valued as a friend and colleague. The college he served so well is creating a leadership institute to be named in his and his wife’s honor and I am confident that his legacy will continue well beyond his impending retirement. But what I hope for the most is that he will choose to remain engaged in our collective effort to advance the economic prospects of our region. ●
Luis M. Proenza is President Emeritus at the University of Akron and a Distinguished Fellow at the Council on Competitiveness in Washington, D.C.