A book has inspired some in Licking County to try to make changes that could help everyone in the county.

A book has inspired some in Licking County to try to make changes that could help everyone in the county.

The people involved all have read "Community Capitalism," a book in which Ron Kitchens describes how Kalamazoo, Mich., prospered in spite of economic strife.

After the Licking County Chamber of Commerce distributed 1,000 copies of the book, people were asked to get together at one of three town-hall meetings and discuss what they had learned and what they want to do.

"Everybody's talking now and working together," said Rob Klinger, Licking County's economic-development manager.

Klinger said people at the meetings talked about the community's strengths and weaknesses.

"We will address these as a community, not as individuals," he said.

The community discussed the following six aspects of the community -- place, capital, talent, infrastructure, education and culture -- and discovered many strengths in each. A list of the results compiled by the chamber follows:

Place: The county has a Midwestern feel, with a nationally recognized hospital, long bicycle trails and several attractions, such as Buckeye Lake, Dawes Arboretum, the Newark Earthworks and The Works. Downtown Newark has a nice square, anchored by the majestic courthouse. The area retains its small-town feel despite its proximity to the large metropolitan area of Columbus. Newark's proximity also is listed as a strength.

Capital: The county has the strength of local foundations and a strong local financial institutions such as Park National Bank.

Talent: The county has a skilled work force and several organizations that could help businesses thrive.

Infrastructure: State Routes 161, 37 and 16, U.S. Route 40 and Interstate 70 all run through Licking County, and the area maintains a rural, agriculture feel.

Education: The county is home to three higher-learning establishments: Ohio State University at Newark, the Central Ohio Technical College and Denison University.

Culture: The county has an entertainment venue in the Midland Theatre, which promotes cultural activities, and several museums.

Cheri Hottinger, chamber president, said those who attended the town-hall meetings and who have been working through the online forum at www.lc3network.com have identified challenges that need to be addressed.

During meetings scheduled for January, the groups are expected to discuss projects already in the works.

Hottinger said people are volunteering to start new projects that should help bolster the community.

Rick Platt, executive director of the Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority, said the port authority already is working on several projects for 2009. One is to develop a "clean room" on site that small businesses could use.

Platt said clean rooms are climate-controlled sites at which work that requires specific temperature and humidity could be done. The former Newark Air Force Base, where the port authority offices are, already houses some clean rooms that are used by new tenants like The Boeing Co. The former base houses several businesses in what is called the Central Ohio Aerospace and Technology Center.

"This is a narrower niche," Platt said of the clean rooms, but said this could help "capitalize on other benefits of the base."

The meetings are scheduled for Jan. 13, 14, 15 and 20 at the Career and Technology Education Centers (C-TEC) on Price Road.

Hottinger said people who have not read the book also are invited to attend and share ideas.

"The next step is to actually get out there and get the work done," Klinger said.

Klinger said he's volunteering to work with people who want to find ways to keep young college graduates working in town, saying he recently hosted a young man in a master's program who did an internship at Bayer Material Science in Hebron. The internship was funded through the Ohio Department of Development and helped give the student some experience and introduce him to Licking County. Bayer benefited from a student who's earning his master's degree in chemical engineering, he said.

Such initiatives are expected to help Licking County prosper in the same they they helped Kalamazoo.

Kitchens, author of "Community Capitalism," is scheduled to visit Licking County on Jan. 26 and 27.

Klinger said Kitchens will be at the Midland Theatre to discuss the local effort to improve the area.

Hottinger said anyone interested in reading "Community Capitalism" should contact the chamber, which still has about 50 free copies available. The port authority paid for the books. Call (740) 345-5141.