WARSAW — After serving the Kosciusko County Economic Development Corporation for the last nine years George Robertson prepares to retire at the end of the year. His successor will start in mid-September so there is a transition time. “Then I’ll (continue) to battle cancer and do more work with Scouts,” he said.
As one who has a compulsion for leaving a place in better shape than he found it, Robertson has helped do that in Kosciusko County. When he came in 2010, there were 33,000 employees and the unemployment rate was double digit. Today, there are more than 40,000 employees in the county and the unemployment rate is 2.3 percent.
“One of the things I think I’ve done as an economic developer is I’m a futurist, I look at what’s going on and how it will affect the community,” he said.
Robertson has been the first economic development director in a community four times. He explained when doing this, he starts at ground zero. “It takes a different skill set then being an economic developer. You have to have a sense of how to create a functioning organization. You don’t inherit much,” he explained.
Robertson began his career in his home state of South Dakota. After recruiting businesses and workers from New York state he was asked to help keep jobs in New York rather than stealing them. He was offered a job as an economic development director in Schenectady. Due to job loss, the entire city needed to be rebuilt. While in Schenectady, he and the mayor were invited to a blessing of a Hindu temple that had about 200 Hindi Ghanians as members. At an inquiry from the mayor, they explained they were from Queens, N.Y.
Robertson and the mayor began recruiting members of the Ghanian community in Queens to fill jobs in Schenectady. The Ghanian leadership in Queens insisted both the mayor and Robertson visit Ghana so they went to attend the world cricket match. While there, he met his wife, Priya, in a pool hall. “She beat me five games straight and two of those games, I never got to hit the balls,” he said, laughing at the memory.
One of Robertson’s passions is Scouting. An eagle scout, when he came to Kosciusko County he became a den leader and a Cub Scout leader. The Fort Wayne district told him it had never had a successful Scouting pack in the Claypool/Silver Lake area. He has been a Scout leader for four years and his son, Joel, is a Boy Scout.
“I was happier than blazes that we welcomed girls (to Scouting),” he said. “We’ve always been about family. I’ve had sisters come (with members) and I’ve let them participate.” During his spring recruiting he had 10 girls sign up for Scouting. “It’s been very beneficial for Scouting and girls,” he said.