Bragging about the Grand Lake area and heralding its successes can improve economics and the overall quality of life in local communities.
That was the message delivered by local McDonald's owner Jeff Monfort to more than 100 community leaders gathered Friday for the second annual Wright State University-Lake Campus Regional Summit.
"We need to be proud aloud so when the 'image terrorists' come … we can talk about our assets," he told the crowd.
Monfort was the keynote speaker for the half-day event themed "Past, Present and Future: Improving the Quality of Life in West Central Ohio." He suggested sharing "I stories" – testimonials from people like himself who've found success by utilizing what the area has to offer.
Years ago he was told Ohio wasn't the place to live, he said. In 1981, he moved his family to Montana – "God's country" – but 14 years later returned to "God's county," he said.
"Everything we needed was right here," he added.
Monfort and his family now operate four successful restaurants in the Mercer and Auglaize county area.
Holding a door hinge in his hand, he noted that "little hinges swing big doors." He said small businesses can grow by using innovation, such as today's technology, and by reinvesting. As an example, he announced a major remodeling project next month at the McDonald's in St. Marys and another next year at the Wapakoneta facility.
"You have to reinvest to stay in the game," he said.
He explained how reinvesting involves ensuring a future workforce. Many of his teenage employees feel the local area has little to offer them, he said. His own story debunks that myth.
"I started behind the counter at 16, now I own the counter," he said.
Most kids welcome career guidance and are serious about their futures, he said.
"Contrary to what you might think, they do more than eat and text," he said with a smile.
School superintendent Matt Miller brought a dozen students and a trio of teachers to the summit to showcase the technology used by the district to educate tomorrow's workforce. The students demonstrated via an interactive Smart Board and spoke about mobile learning devices and notebooks – tools they use on a daily basis. The crowd also viewed a video presentation created by high school students.
Julie Miller, Western Ohio Educational Foundation development officer at WSU-Lake Campus, and Nancy Bowen, a field specialist in community economics for OSU Extension, also took the podium to discuss ways to connect with the community.
The women encouraged sharing resources, building support systems and taking risks.
"We need to act and think like entrepreneurs," Miller said.
State Senator Keith Faber, R-Celina, awarded the WOEF board with a proclamation recognizing their 50 years of existence. The nonprofit organization provides education opportunities to area residents through scholarships and other resources.
Susan Pittman, vice president of the local College Community Arts Council, also was a guest speaker. She discussed the agency's 41-year history, past programs and upcoming events.