Gardner city council in a retreat meeting at the Johnson County Airport Commission board room on Feb. 15. Council heard a presentation from Hal Johnson, chief development officer for NAI Earle Furman, on the topic of economic development. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz

Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
Gardner city council attended a retreat on Feb. 15 in the Johnson County Airport Commission board room at New Century Airfield. The retreat had been rescheduled from January; typically the annual event provides an opportunity for council to step back from day to day business and instead spend extended time on concentrated discussion, dialog, and strategic thinking about specific issues.
The focus of this retreat was economic development.
The four hour meeting consisted of a presentation from a economic development professional and workshop activities. Lee Moore was absent.
Gardner staff has begun putting together a two year budget and plan for economic development activity.
Cheryl Harrison-Lee, city administrator, introduced the speaker, Hal Johnson, chief development officer for NAI Earle Furman. Johnson was named the National Rural Economic Developers Association Economic Developer of the Year in 2003 and South Carolina Economic Development Association’s Economic Developer of the Year in 2013.
While introducing Johnson, Harrison-Lee said that staff was committed to developing strategic economic growth plans.
“How do we become more tactical in really moving forward economic development, and what are our priorities?” said Harrison-Lee.
Johnson said economic development includes improving quality of life and was a collaboration of government, business and citizens.
“If economic development is truly your priority in this community, then you’re already starting off right,” Johnson said. “The question is, do you have the courage as leaders to make the investment that it takes?”

He advised the group that hard choices would always arise, and there would always be critics.
“It amazes me that since social media came out we’ve got all these heroes out there, that aren’t willing to come sit one minute in our shoes and do the work, or run for a position, yet they’re so willing to tear us apart as leaders,” he said.
Later he added, “The beauty of our country is that we have the ability to have choice. We have the ability to say what we want to say. We’ve got to get beyond the point where we say things to tear other people down. We’ve got to get to the point where we understand that we’ve got to make choices sometimes that are hard.”
Johnson said there were two choices when faced with difficult decisions. “We can be the ostrich, stick our head in the ground …, or we can come together as a team. And that’s what we are, a unified team. You guys are working together in the effort of taking this community to the next level,” he said.
Johnson shared many detailed recollections of the stress and challenges associated with the successful economic development project he led in South Carolina. It has been a huge success, but he said it wasn’t easy.
Johnson told the group to embrace the proximity of Gardner to distributions centers (BNSF Intermodal and New Century). He said Gardner was fortunate to be “sitting on top of it.”
He described several examples of other USA cities benefiting from nearby activity that is not in their city limits.
“Just because it’s not in your backyard doesn’t mean you don’t sell the hell out of it,” he said.
Johnson also talked about the necessity of incentives needed to compete and the importance of setting goals and presenting a unified message.