? This was a year when local economics was a common theme in many of our top stories.
We?ll remember 2014 for a variety of reasons, but the local economy seemed to be what we talked about most. Following is our list of the Top 10 news stories for the year, based on short-term and long-term impact. Whether the events were perceived as helpful or harmful ultimately is up to you to decide.
1. Mystery business. Few people were actually surprised when Wal-Mart announced in mid-Septem?ber it would be opening a neighborhood market in Hillsboro, ending months of speculation. More than an economic-development concern, the issue opened a debate about community loyalty, challenged the leadership of city government and, in a strange and unprecedented way, united the Hillsboro and Marion business communities. A brave new world lies ahead.
2. Weather. A perennial topic, this year we learned the term ?polar vortex? and the effect of deep cold and little moisture on a wheat crop. When warmer temperatures and decent rain finally arrived, farmers? prayers were answered in the form of a near-record fall harvest.
3. Business losses. Hillsboro absorbed an economic hit with the closing of three cornerstone businesses: Quick Flick/Radio Shack after 28 years, Alco after a 20-year run and Heartland Foods as of today, less than a year after acquiring the business run by the Vogt family for 98 years. If you?re discouraged by the closings, keep in mind that two of them were the direct result of corporate bigwigs (Verizon, Alco), not local management practices.
4. Business gains. Corporate America offered better news for Marion in 2014. First, a group of local partners launched a Subway franchise. As the year wound down, it appears a Dollar General store may become reality in 2015. The relatively recent hirings of City Administrator Roger Holter and Economic Development Director Terry Jones seem to have made a positive impact in the process.
5. Sharing spirit. Beyond the generosity generated through annual events such as the Relay for Life and Toy Run, we were struck by the number of stories and photos we ran in 2014 featuring local families, organizations, churches and businesses involved in projects and fund?raisers in support neighbors and strangers alike?whether to address physical challenges or the impact of poverty. Even in our mixed economy, our communities are rich in generosity and caring.
6. Tabor College fine arts center. Word of a $1 million grant from the Mabee Foundation in early Decem?ber put the college close enough to its fundraising goals to announce groundbreaking and completion dates for the construction of a new $9 million fine arts center. The building is the cornerstone of the college?s three-year, $16.2 million Signature Campaign, which also includes operational costs. Good news for people of faith as well as those who lacked it: A 30-year vision is within reach.
7. Hillsboro Elementary School playground. What makes this story special is that a group of parents is spearheading the challenge to raise $185,000 to replace an embarrassingly deficient playground at HES. The cause has caught the imagination?and opened the pocketbooks?of the USD 410 community in an inspiring way. It?s quite possible students will be in the swing of things by the start of the 2015-16 school year.
8. Unusual election. The effort to fill the 1st District seat on the Marion County Board of Commissioners was one for the history books. After the incumbent announced on the filing deadline day he would not seek election, leaving no one to fill the void, four residents eventually jumped in as write-ins or petitioners. Election night provided a one vote win by Craig Dodd, which turned into a one-vote win for Lori Lalouette-Crawford after the election results were canvassed by county commissioners. An ensuing recount requested and paid for by Dodd increased the final margin of his opponent?s victory to three votes. Lesson: Every vote really does count.
9. School funding challenges. Once again, our districts had to find ways to do more with less?in some case much less. USD 410 identified more than $408,000 in cuts involving staff and non-staff budgets. Later, district patrons approved a plan to generate about $150,000 in ?new funding? through a change in the local option budget formula. Additional cuts are likely in 2015 as the state?s recently re-elected governor holds firm to his tax-cut policies. Perhaps students aren?t the only generation needing to learning basic maths skills.
10. Success in sports. At both the high school and college levels, numerous local teams and athletes?too many to list in this space?reached the highest level of competition in their respective spheres. For our high schools, it was state competition; for Tabor College, it was the small-college national stage. But don?t take our word for it. Check out our ?Year in Review? article on Page 6.
May we all reach our highest level of performance in the year ahead. ?DR