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03.01.2015 - Leininger Hired as Holmes County Economic Development Director
By CHRISTINE L. PRATT Staff Writer Published: March 1, 2015 4:00AM

MILLERSBURG -- The search for a new leader has come to fruition for members of the Holmes County Economic Development Council.

After reviewing 15 applications and interviewing three candidates, the council agreed to offer the job to local attorney Mark Leininger. He will assume the position March 9.

Leininger, who has worked at the Critchfield, Critchfield and Johnston law firm since 1996 and supplemented his education with a 2014 master's degree in education, replaces Tom Wilke, who left the post Jan. 5.

While Leininger said the job wasn't initially on his radar, he realized how well it fit into his background. "I can use my background in law, understanding how businesses operate, and that makes sense."

Additionally, when looking at industry issues and barriers, he said, "it clicked that, with my training in education and school counseling, it presents an opportunity to collaborate with folks at the career centers and high schools to find ways to address the work force issues."

He said the job emerged as a "really good fit for me."

"As a property owner and longtime resident of Holmes County, I am excited to pursue an opportunity to help foster the continued growth and prosperity of the area," Leininger wrote, in applying for the job. "Having grown up in the county, I have firsthand knowledge of the unique character and composition of the community -- an understanding of the subtle differences in local customs, cultures and values held by the residents of the various regions of the county."

Eighteen years of practicing law, he said, has helped him acquire "a well-developed combination of local business and legal knowledge."

All of those factors were considered by the council, said council President Arnold Oliver, noting there was "some desire to find somebody who was highly qualified with some local connections."

Leininger will step right into Wilke's shoes, with one exception. A partnership with the Holmes County Agricultural Society, which contracted for a share of Wilke's time to help with the Harvest Ridge and fairgrounds relocation project, is no longer part of the job, according to Oliver.

To help overcome the lost financial contribution from the fair board, the Holmes County commissioners agreed to up the county's funding from $17,000 to $35,000 annually, according to Oliver, who said in exchange, the council has agreed to convert the commissioners' single seat on the council from an ex officio to voting member.

Leininger, who will continue to help with the Harvest Ridge project through the council, also will be charged with building and growing relationships with businesses, helping them to solve problems and expand, when desired.

Leininger also will be in charge of monitoring the county's enterprise zones, a revolving loan fund and working with employers to tackle issues related to Holmes County's historically low unemployment rate, said Oliver.

Additionally, he said, "Every new executive director will want to place his own stamp on the position, and create opportunities, and I'm sure that Mark will be doing that."

To that end, Holmes County Job & Family Services Director Dan Jackson, who also sits on the ED council, said, "I think that the economic development position is critical for Holmes County to continue to help small businesses grow and expand.

"I'm hopeful that someone with Mark's experience and background in Holmes County will help to take the economic development council to the next level, being much more recognizable to businesses and elected officials and the state agencies they will work with to get the incentives they need to expand local businesses in Holmes County."

Leininger said he's "looking forward to the opportunity to increase our visibility in the community and to expand services," while continuing "the work that's been taking place."

Oliver said the council also was impressed with Leininger's drive to pursue a degree in education and feel, along with the law license, which Leininger will maintain, will benefit the council. While the council will be his No. 1 priority, Leininger said he will continue to be associated with Critchfield, noting it will provide "good synergy" because of the contacts the firm has with the local business community.

"We're super excited. We think we have a well-respected local attorney who is interested in a new venture," said Oliver. "We think we're lucky to have him as an executive director, and we're ready to get to work."

Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or cpratt@the-daily-record.com. She's @drnewsgirl on Twitter.

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