Clark County commissioners will likely commit $800,000 to develop an industrial park that could bring 1,000 jobs, but one commissioner worries if the county can afford the debt.
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s Community Improvement Corp. is developing the 250-acre Prime Ohio II industrial park that area leaders have been trying to build for 20 years.
Officials hope to break ground Sept. 22 on the $8.5 million project located along Interstate 70, chamber Vice President of Economic Development Horton Hobbs said.
He asked commissioners Tuesday to provide nearly $400,000 toward the Prime Ohio II project for ditch and ground improvement costs, as well as guarantee a potential loan of up to $400,000 to purchase nearly 20 acres of land there.
The CIC also has tapped the city and Springfield Twp. to pay for part of the project.
“This is a major investment in our community. It’s a major investment in job growth. This project — as many economic development projects are — is possible only with community partnerships,” Hobbs said.
Springfield Twp. officials recently approved giving the CIC $240,000 toward road improvements, though performance and other stipulations apply, Twp. Trustee Tim Foley said.
City officials are mulling plans to contribute $814,000 for water, sewer and infrastructure, Hobbs said.
Mayor Warren Copeland said city commissioners haven’t voted on plans to pay for parts of Prime Ohio II, which will go across from the Clark County Fairgrounds.
The city’s proposed commitment is considerably higher than expected, Copeland said, but the city is the facilitator of more than $4 million in federal grants tied to the park and cannot afford to abandon the project.
“The problem we have is this is a project that is very valuable to economic development in the community … The decision is, should we put a little more money toward the project or walk away? We decided it’s a good enough project (and to move forward),” Copeland said.
Clark County commissioners said they support the project, but also worry about the county’s finances, given the uncertainty of the state budget.
Commissioner David Hartley also is concerned about expenses related to others projects such as moving tenants to the Springview Government Center, expected to cost about $750,000.
Hartley has been at odds with his fellow commissioners because they support moving the tenants from the Clark County Agricultural Building to Springview to allow Konecranes to operate a training center in the building and add 25 jobs.
County commissioners plan to borrow money to cover the costs for their contributions to Prime Ohio II and have received a $400,000, 10-year, no-interest loan to move the tenants.
Officials also voted 2-1 Tuesday to accept a $47,000 state grant to pay for an architect who provided the initial estimates for Springview. Hartley was lone dissenting vote.
Hartley said he has pledged to cover loans for the industrial park because of the possibility to get a return on the investment and continues to support Prime Ohio II.
But he said he worries whether the county budget can support it and the Springview project, which he calls “the great giveaway” and fiscally irresponsible.
“We would have the money (for Prime Ohio II) if we weren’t blowing all the money on Springview,” Hartley said.
Commissioner Rick Lohnes quoted county records that show the county’s debt has dropped from $26.3 million in 2008 to $19.4 million now.
He said he would rather not add to the county’s debt load, but said Prime Ohio II is needed to spur economic growth in the community.
“If we don’t invest in the future, who will?” Lohnes said.
Commissioner John Detrick urged Lohnes and Hartley to support the project, saying the industrial park will play a major role in creating jobs in the community and in stalling the county’s population decline that is now at its lowest since 1962.
“There’s a lot of reasons we need this. One would be our population … We need to be attracting young people and we need to employ these young people,” Detrick said.
Prime Ohio II is expected to open in the summer of 2014. It has already received more than $4 million in grants and Hobbs said two prospective businesses could move into the industrial park. One of the prospective businesses was steered to the location by the state, Hobbs said.
The project would expand the first Prime Ohio Corporate Park, which is along I-70 and Ohio 41 and is the area’s largest industrial park and is fully occupied.
Dole Fresh Vegetables and Gordon Food Service are in Prime Ohio I and among the top 25 largest employers in Clark County, according to chamber records.
Lohnes said there’s no guarantee Prime Ohio II will have the same success, but contends the project is worth the investment.
Copeland said the goal is to bring jobs to the community, but admits that Prime Ohio II, just as other industrial parks, comes with risks.
“It’s hard to get prospects to commit until it’s (up and running.) But we took the same risk as we did with the old International site … We took the same risks with Prime Ohio I … But we have to make a judgment on whether it will attract buyers and that’s the judgment that the chamber has made,” Copeland said.