Community Voices - Janet Haar

photo1Mrs. Janet Haar, the director of the Oberlin Business Partnership, likes to call her business a “three-legged stool”. The OBP combines a chamber of commerce, main street organization, and visitors’ bureau all into one. Haar followed son Blake New (men’s soccer coach for Oberlin College and owner of Slow Train cafe and the Local) to Oberlin after he implied that her work was needed in Oberlin. He was right. Janet Haar has done a great deal for the community. She is constantly thinking about the future and what would benefit her business in the long-run. Economic and environmental sustainability plays a key role in not only her professional life, but in her personal life as well.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its role in the Oberlin community?

A: The Oberlin Business Partnership is an organization that combines a chamber of commerce and a main street organization.  Main street organizations have traditionally been the historic preservation groups in town. If we were kind of ablated downtown and had a lot of empty storefronts and bad buildings and that sort of thing, then what we help to do is preserve those buildings and build them up. We did that last year through this grant that we got from the state of Ohio. Let’s say a business needs a new roof, and the roof is going to cost $20,000. They can actually be granted half of that. So, through the grant, they have to have the professional people do it, and they have to meet some criteria, but their $20,000 roof cost them $10,000. Or, if they have a $30,000 project, we can give them $10,000 on it. So, what we have been able to do is leverage $170,000 of grant money into over $500,000 of improvement in the city by doing that. So, we work that way through the main street. Chamber of commerce is more helping people get to know one another in the city; helping present their businesses to their fellow businessmen as well as to the residents in the city. Helping them do some advertising and some marketing and running their business. We’re also- I’d like to say we’re a three-legged stool- the other leg of that stool is that we’re the visitors’ bureau for the Oberlin area because we don’t really have one. So what we do is the city gives us bed tax money- the money that people pay in taxes to stay at the Oberlin Inn and some other places in Oberlin- they give us that money and say, “With this money, promote Oberlin”. So, when we have events in the city or when we just want people to come and visit and stay and invest, we market and promote Oberlin in every way that we can.

Q: Have you had any interaction with the Environmental Digital signs in the Public Library, the AJLC, or Prospect Elementary school, and if so, what do you think about it?

A: Slow Train? Is that one?

Yes.

Well, for months, this office actually did the updating of the Slow Train dashboard, but we usually use an intern to do it and they were coming in and coming out. The one in the library I’m most familiar with, and I think that’s great for people. I’ve seen people stand there and look at it. I’ve been to several of the explanations of what it is, so I’m really interested in it. And I find that some people want to know what it is and don’t quite know, so the more you can communicate the better. And then I have a granddaughter who’s at Prospect School, and she loves it. She talks about it a lot.

Q: What words or images would you use to describe Oberlin?

A: Norman Rockwell. It’s a small town with a lot of the amenities of the larger met areas. The fact that it’s a college town and that many people have chosen to retire here speaks volumes.

Q: How is it that you came to live, work, educate or be educated, play, or establish a business in Oberlin?

A: The short answer is: my son, Blake New, who is the men’s soccer coach at Oberlin College. He’s been here for about 18 years and has a family here; he and his wife and Zach Tesler own the Slow Train cafe and the Local. This job came open and he called and he said, “Mom, you have to come do this. We need you in Oberlin.” So that’s the short of it. My background is with a small business development center in Cleveland and working with the council small enterprises there. And then I actually retired for a while before he called and said “Mom, you have to come do this.”

Q: Some people use the word “sustainability” to mean actions that enhance/maintain the economic, environmental and social welfare [or “wellbeing” or “health”] of the Oberlin community. What does sustainability mean to you?

A: In my business life, in this position, it means more of an economic sustainability because we represent the town of Oberlin which includes the small businesses, and Oberlin is made up of a lot of small businesses. So, their ability to sustain themselves is interconnected with environmental sustainability, and we’re trying to help them see that. I just worked with a group of students on a project, actually, we just met an hour ago, and their project was helping us to create some criteria that we could use when we talk to the businesses so they could understand how they could become more environmentally sustainable which would help them become more economically sustainable.

Q: What actions are you [your business or organization] engaged in that relate to sustainability? (i.e. water conservation, electric conservation, local spending, education, services, and/or products, etc.)

A: I think I’ll go back to what I just said. We are understanding that return on investment, which is an economic standard, has a lot to do with environment. And the future of economic return has a lot to do with the environment. So, I would say, education services connecting people that are associated more with the environmental part to the people who are associated with the economic part is one of our roles. 

Q: How would you answer that question personally? In other words, in your own home, what do you do sustainability wise?

A: Well, since I have a granddaughter who monitors everything we do… she’s a nine-year-old who comes into our house and she checks our thermostat to say “Okay, Mimi, you’re doing good, that’s set right!” She checks the light bulbs to make sure we have the right light bulbs. Water conservation is just something we do automatically. You know, turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth and don’t water the yard when you don’t need to water it. Personally, we also have rental units, so we put together a whole education for our tenants on water usage and electric and heat. They like to keep their heat at 80 degrees and we say “No, layer”.

Q: What inspires you to take these actions?

A: I would like to think that my generation is leaving the world better than we found it, and I know that’s not true. So, I think it’s important, and the reason I do this and try to educate and work with my grandchildren especially on this is because I’d like for them to leave the world better than they found it.

Q: Is there anything you would like to tell your fellow community members regarding care for the environment/sustainable living/respect for nature?

A: I think one of the things I would like to tell them, and I say this about a lot of things, is that I believe in having an abundance mentality, which is there’s enough to go around for everyone, but sharing it and using it responsibly is how we continue to have enough to go around for everyone. So, from the economic standpoint, when you look at things from a scarcity mentality, you’re saying “Oh my goodness, I’m the only one that can do this and there’s not enough to go around so I better do it right now.” When you look at it from an abundance mentality you’re saying, “Wow, there’s enough to go around, so how can we work together to make sure that everybody gets a piece of it?”

Q: Are you involved in the efficiency smart program?

A: From the standpoint of working with the organization POWER (Providing Oberlin with Efficiency Responsibly), POWER’s a member and we’re going to do a special presentation with them in June to try to get the small businesses on board knowing that they can have them come in and look what they’re doing and give them some suggestions and things like that. So, from that perspective, yes.

Q: What advice/tips would you offer to other business owners who are interested in adopting sustainable initiatives?

A: Well, we just finished working with these students who came up with some great criteria. I think they’re doing their presentation next week in class, and as soon as we have all of that information, we’re going to be using it to talk to the businesses about how they can use it. So, I can’t give you anything specifically, but we’re going to be doing a lot of things. We modeled some of the things that we are doing on this sheet that I saw when I was waiting in a doctor’s office. It’s a list of some of the businesses in the area and it starts out with “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…. with nature.” And so the businesses are advertising themselves based on what they do to make them more green. And so that’s what we’re going to be doing, and the students have helped us put together the criteria for doing that.

Q: Do you think sustainability is a relevant factor in making business decisions and why?

A: Absolutely both economically and environmentally. If I only think about today, then I only make it through today. If I think about tomorrow and the next day and the next day, and what would benefit me in the long run, then I’m taking a long-term view of my business therefore I’m going to put things in place and do things differently than if I’m just worried about tomorrow. So, from that perspective, absolutely, and I think the environment is exactly the same way.

Q: How do your beliefs about sustainability influence your business model practices?

A: Many times people go into business, especially small-business people, because they don’t want to work for someone else or they have a great idea or they have a hobby they love to do and they think they can turn it into a business, not realizing that they don’t know how to run a business. And I think you can say the same thing about some environmental things that are done, people have a great idea for doing things without thinking “Okay, what effect does this have on the environment and what could I do that would be better for the environment”. We try to teach people what could they do that would be better for their longevity vs. what could I do for today. It’s almost the same thing

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Rachel Rossello is a Voice Major at the Oberlin Conservatory. She has a passion for living in an environmentally-sustainable way, and for helping others to do the same. She is an activist on many environmental fronts both at Oberlin and in her hometown.

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Rachel Rossello
Rachel Rossello is a Voice Major at the Oberlin Conservatory. She has a passion
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