A nonprofit automotive research center in Logan County is seeking more than $7.8 million in low-interest state loans to assist with financing the construction of a state-of-the-art conference center and office space to accommodate new clients.
The Ohio Controlling Board is expected to consider a request next week to grant about $8 million in low-interest loans to the Transportation Research Center Inc.
The center in East Liberty has served for decades as a 4,500-acres research site where manufacturers and engineers test prototypes of the newest sports cars, motorcycles and trucks long before they’re ever unveiled to the public.
The Transportation Research Center began construction in the late 1960s to attract foreign automakers and new jobs to the state, a goal that was accomplished when Honda established a manufacturing facility nearby in the mid-1970s. But state lawmakers and other partners now see the TRC as a key asset to attract investment and even more high-tech auto research to the state.
TRC officials have previously told the Springfield News-Sun that their goal is to double the center’s business over the next five years. The research center already finished construction on the conference center and additional space for clients last year, CEO Joanna Pinkerton said. But the low-interest loans would be used to pay off those investments at a more affordable rate, she said.
“Those are funds to help us refinance funds that we have already spent,” Pinkerton said. “We are investing in ourselves and those loans are at competitive rates so they help us keep our costs down since we are a nonprofit.”
The conference center provides space for as many as 300 people and allows auto industry clients to host events on site. It also currently provides office space for the Logan-Union-Champaign Regional Planning Commission. The conference center also includes a distance education learning lab allowing students, faculty and TRC clients to connect with classrooms and labs on Ohio State’s main campus.
A $5 million loan from the state would finance an expansion to allow more customers to use the site for testing and research for extended stays, Pinkerton said. A separate loan was listed at about $2.9 million.
“The past model was very much a secrecy model,” Pinkerton said of the TRC. “Now we are trying to be more open to industry in this era of mobility so they know we exist and so we can bring in new customers.”
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Along with those projects, Pinkerton said construction will resume this year on a $45 million expansion of the the center’s 540-acre SMART Center, a state-of-the-art hub for autonomous and connected vehicle research. Ohio State University is contributing about $25 million toward that project, which is expected to be complete by the end of this year.
Honda purchased the land the center sits on from the state in 1988, although the TRC still operates as a nonprofit managed by Ohio State. The site operates 24 hours a day and is the largest independent proving ground in the U.S.
The News-Sun provides unmatched coverage of automakers in Clark and Champaign counties, including extensive stories digging into the industry’s impact in the region and recent investments by both automakers and are parts suppliers.
By the numbers:
$2.87 M — amount of one of two loan requests
$5M — amount of one of two loan requests
300 — Number of visitors the new James A. Rhodes Conference Center at the TRC can accommodate
15,240 square feet — size of conference center
Source: Ohio Controlling Board