It is interesting to note that Steiner, who has been in regional planning and economic development for 41 years, did not use the term “retiring.” Thus there is hope he will make further contributions given he said he plans to remain in Rome, home base to the 15-county regional entity, and intends to “ determine how to reinvent myself, and see where the Good Lord guides me.”
Has Steiner really been in charge only since 2005, when the commission was still known as “Coosa Valley” instead of “Northwest Georgia”? When it basically still concentrated on assisting counties with their schemes and dreams instead of promoting the true regional approach toward an improved economic and environmental future that it now pursues?
No one is indispensable to an enterprise or community, of course. However, leadership and direction provided by a comparative handful of folks such as Steiner can make huge, huge differences. It’s more than having ideas; it is also having the energy and persistence to make them happen.
GREATER ROME has actually been blessed often in that regard though few citizens know or appreciate that it is a handful of folks in non-elected public-sector or private organizational roles who have made “progress” happen — not easy in a community and region with a considerable reputation in the past for resisting change.
Steiner has been one of those and quite as generally underappreciated as, say, City Manager John Bennett or the late Richard McCullough when he was county manager. Being good managers and dollar jugglers is expected of all in such roles; becoming the little engines that could get heavy, heavy loads of new ideas over the mountain is not.
Steiner, in what will amount to eight years, has created a “regional outlook” and the notion of 15 counties that are on the same team even if their individual batting averages may vary.
It’s an old wisdom basic to America’s success but sometimes now forgotten. It derives from what Benjamin Franklin said on signing the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
This region’s counties were all facing hanging separately until Steiner brought another viewpoint to the fore.
FOR EXAMPLE, NWGRC is the only such agency in the state to operate a Neighborhood Stabilization Program to rehabilitate foreclosed properties and make them into low- to moderate-income housing.
It helped launch the Northwest Georgia Water Resources Partnership, a coalition of public and private interests to protect and defend and better utilize regional water rights.
It was the key partner and pusher in getting federal funding for the now-emerging, Rome-based Appalachian Valley Fiber Network that will make it possible — not certain, but possible if teamwork continues — for this region to leapfrog its current doldrums status and become a race car on the information superhighway.
Steiner even got voter recognition and support — always the most difficult part of doing anything progressive — for the importance of the commission’s role by gaining special-purpose, local-option sales-tax revenues for a $1.9 million expansion/rehab of its headquarters up on Jackson Hill, thus turning aside efforts to have it relocated elsewhere.
Having neighbors look toward Rome for assistance when seeking help in doing new things is a huge aspect of this community remaining the “headquarters” and principal city of the region.
IN SEEKING a replacement for Steiner it is essential that the consortium of elected officials guiding the commission understand that what is most valuable is what he persistently has said is most important to the future of an economy and region: entrepreneurship. That means nurturing those who have new ideas and creating an environment that supports them.
As he himself put it recently in repeating on old refrain that this newspaper has itself long, long been advocating our free-enterprise system: “The true vision is finding the one person who starts it. Big industry is not bad, but I’d rather have 100 businesses that employ 10 each than one that employs 1,000.”
And, he might have added, that might even some day create thousands of jobs — as did Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and so forth.
Indeed, that’s what Steiner himself has been in his leadership for this region: An entrepreneur who has an idea, or finds one, and turns it into something that works.
It is also notable — well, at least to this newspaper that has suggest much the same thing — that Steiner said plans to spend his final months pressing for something else new: a “one-stop shop” where entrepreneurs can find all available assistance at a single location.
THIS IS QUITE similar to this newspaper’s repeated call to city/county officials to put all their regulatory/permit/inspection operations into a “one-stop” location where everything can be handled and scheduled at the same time with better speed and efficiency.
While jumping governmental hurdles may be necessary, having them in the form of a steeplechase course only investors of iron-man endurance should attempt is another matter.
It’s good that Steiner’s swan song is yet another good idea for this region to pursue. It is equally important that, in seeking a replacement, someone is found who will keep such good ideas coming and is willing to work hard to accomplish them as he has done.