The departure of a long-time staffer at East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp. will leave a void in Franklin County leadership, the organization’s top executive said Monday. 

Following a farewell reception Friday, Aaron Heckman, chief operating officer for ECKAN, is set to embark on a new phase in his career as the director of the Montgomery County Action Council, based in Independence. 

“Aaron’s not only been an asset to the agency — he’s been an asset to the community,” Richard Jackson, chief executive officer of ECKAN, said. “We hate to lose him.”

During his more than eight years with ECKAN, Heckman, 33, oversaw the organization’s finances, and acted as the No. 2 executive, Jackson said. That experience, Heckman said, should apply well toward the enhancement of Montgomery County and its residents, Heckman said. 

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with such a broad base of partners — be it federal agencies, state agencies, other social service providers, cities and counties — on a daily basis that will transfer well into the economic development world,” Heckman, who worked at Ottawa’s Peoples Bank for two years before his stint at ECKAN, said. “As chief operating officer, I’ve got to work with all areas of ECKAN. It’s been wonderful to work for an agency that’s mission is basically to do good and help those who are less fortunate.”

Heckman, who graduated from Baker University with a degree in business finance, also attended Coffeyville Community College, which is located in southwest Montgomery County. Heckman earned his community action member certification while working with ECKAN, he said. In addition to his social service work, Heckman also served on the City of Ottawa’s planning commission, he said. 

In his new role with Montgomery County Action Council — also referred to as MCAC — Heckman will be working with Montgomery County government, the county’s various city governments and local employers to improve the area’s economy, he said. With those groups, Heckman added, he will work on job creation, job retention, broadening the tax base and general community improvement. Since 1994, the council has facilitated economic development efforts that have resulted in more than $250 million in investments and the creation of 5,600 new jobs, according to the organization’s website. 

While Heckman said he will miss Ottawa and Franklin County, he added that he is excited to return to Independence, which is his parents’ and his hometown. 

“It’s kind of a returning home for me,” Heckman said of his new endeavour. “I’ve enjoyed living in Ottawa and Franklin County, and working with everyone here. It’s been wonderful, and I’ve loved my time here at ECKAN.”

While his day-to-day duties will certainly change, Heckman said the end goal of his work is the same. 

“It’s a little different, but similar at the end of the day,” Heckman said. “You’re working to improve communities — that’s what we do at ECKAN, and that’s what I’ll be doing in Montgomery County.” 

Jackson said ECKAN is now advertising to fill the organization’s vacancy left by Heckman. The organization is looking to fill the “critical” position as soon as possible, Jackson said, but still is looking for the best possible candidate. 

A farewell reception is planned for Heckman from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday at ECKAN’s conference room, 1320 S. Ash St., Ottawa. Refreshments will be provided, ECKAN said.