Candidate for Collier economic development job says listening, community engagement key

William Bradley

William Bradley

The public will have the opportunity to meet the three economic development director finalists during a Naples Area Board of Realtors’ sponsored meet and greet. That event will be held at 8 a.m. Friday, Dec. 7, at HB’s on the Gulf, 851 Gulf Shore Blvd. N.

When Wilson Brands announced it was closing its pork processing plant in Logansport, Ind., Bill Bradley knew the situation was dire.

The plant employed 1,300 people in the small northern Indiana town where Bradley was the president of the Logansport-Cass County Economic Development Foundation.

"We had to come up with viable solutions," he said. "Chrysler wasn't going to need a building with a blood drain."

Building on the building's meat industry roots, Bradley, with the help of community members, approached three companies: IBP, Tyson and Thorn Apple Valley to see if they had interest in investing in the community. IBP did and the plant now employs more than 1,800 people.

"It was the community working together so well that made it happen," he said.

It is the economic development project that sticks with him years later, he said. And it is of the experiences Bradley, 55, hopes to bring to Collier County should he be hired as the director of the county's new Office of Business and Economic Development.

Bradley is one of three candidates interviewing for the job Friday. He currently works as the executive director of the Jay County Development Corp. in Portland, Ind.

"He does a pretty decent job for us," said Bob Vance, a member of the Jay County Council and a member of the development corporation's board of directors. "We're doing very well. Out unemployment rate is down considerably. It's well below other areas in (the state)."

Jay County's unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in October, 75th lowest out of Indiana's 92 counties.

Bradley became involved in economic development through an internship with the Greater Muncie Chamber of Commerce when he was a graduate student at Ball State University in the late 1980s. It was, he said, the beginning of economic development in the state of Indiana.

"I loved it," he said. "I loved the exhilaration of the projects. I love working with people in both the public sector and the private sector."

Bradley said he is looking to come to Florida in part to "get out of the fraternity house," and because Florida is an enticing place for economic development.

"There is a strong desire for economic development in Florida," he said. "And for many years, counties have been struggling to bring development."

Bradley said his job as director would be to be a good listener.

"You have to listen to people in the community, their hopes and aspirations," he said. "Then you develop a road map or strategy for where you want to go in the next three to five years. ... Creating relationships with people in the county is extremely important."

He is the only candidate being interviewed without Florida experience, but Bradley is not worried about the learning curve.

"I have 25 years of experience. From a program standpoint, you can learn as you go along," he said. "The incentives that we have in Indiana — for training, for relocation — they are similar to incentives in Florida."

Bradley also knows something about working for an organization trying to get on it's feet. In his 25 year career, he has worked at three startup organizations.

Ami Huffman, director of Jay County Community Development, said Bradley is a team leader, but also a team player.

"He's great to work with. He's very flexible," said Huffman, whose office is under the Jay County Economic Development umbrella. "He's very good at facilitating through projects. He steps back and looks at situations for both sides."

Huffman said Bradley operates with the philosophy that economic and community development go hand in hand.

"Growth has to come from both areas," she said.

In his spare time, Bradley said he is an avid reader who prefers biographies and books about historical events. He is very involved in the Emmaus Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, where he lives. He has a beagle named Lucy and is an avid Purdue University Boilermakers fan.

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