As Union County's top economic development official, Eric Phillips plays a key role in attracting and retaining local businesses. For the next year, he will use his knowledge to benefit a wider audience as chairman of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
In addition to naming him as chairman, the association of local governments gave Phillips its William H. Anderson Excellence in Public Service Award during the group's annual State of the Region luncheon April 17. The award, named for a longtime MORPC board member, recognizes a current or former member who demonstrates outstanding leadership, a vision for the community and region, and a commitment to the organization.
In recognition of the honors, Marysville Mayor John Gore presented Phillips with a commendation on behalf of the city and Union County Commissioners at the April 24 City Council meeting.
"I am very humbled, honored and surprised to receive that award," said Phillips, executive director of the Union County Economic Development Partnership and CEO of the Union County Chamber of Commerce. "It is definitely an honor to receive that from the other board members. It was a surprise."
Phillips said he doesn't like to do anything halfway. When he commits to a project, he's "all in."
"My mom always said when I was growing up, I always came back the wettest and dirtiest. I was always the most-involved kid," he said. "If I'm going to do something, I want to do it right. That's important to me."
Phillips, 47, grew up on a farm in Lucasville and went to college to be a teacher like his mother and sister. But once he got a taste of teaching, he realized his passion fell elsewhere. He graduated from Muskingum College in 1989 with a bachelor's degree in history and political science.
"I thought about law school but was always interested in public service," Phillips said.
He went to graduate school at Ohio State University, where he received master's degrees in city and regional planning as well as public policy and management.
"I had no idea what city manager planning was because I grew up on a farm. I had no idea what zoning was. When they said 'zoning officer' I said, 'What is that?' " Phillips said.
After an internship with the city of Granville, he landed a full-time job with Gahanna right after graduation.
Phillips has been working with Union County and Marysville since February 2001. He now wears many different hats.
"As far as regional collaboration, I serve a couple functions. I serve as the city representative on MORPC," he said.
Phillips has been a MORPC board member since 2004 and was asked by his commission peers to be on the 12-person executive committee.
"I was on that a couple of years, and then they asked me to be on the leadership of MORPC," he said. He served as secretary and vice chairman before being named chairman.
Phillips also serves as secretary of the board of directors of Columbus 2020, an economic development organization that works to boost the 11-county region.
Phillips said he enjoys all of his jobs and loves to see collaboration between businesses, government and organizations.
"Creating investments in our community is so important to the future," he said. "I've been in a community that wasn't growing. It's much more fun when you are growing."
While Phillips loves growth, he stressed it must be done in an intelligent way.
"We want to preserve our farmland. But we also want to see the growth continue to happen. I think being involved in MORPC and Columbus 2020 allows that because we can see the bigger picture," he said.
"We live not only in a blessed place from the business perspective, but we have innovative leaders that are working together to better service the citizens," he said. "It's a great place, and we have great leaders from the mayor to the commissioners and all the staff that works hard.
"I'm honored to serve Union County and Marysville."