Local economic development leaders believe new business parks and other work in 2013 will give them an advantage over other communities in the new year as they compete to bring jobs to Clark County.
In 2013, new industrial parks broke ground in Clark County and in Springfield, which also became headquarters for Ohio and Indiana’s efforts to land a test site for unmanned aircraft systems. A new ice arena opened, a portion of downtown Springfield was converted to two-way traffic and several area businesses showed signs of growth.
Community leaders have worked to prepare the region’s workforce for job openings and to improve corridors into the city, among other projects.
The efforts might not pay off immediately, said Mike McDorman, president of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. However, it puts the city and county in a better position to encourage outside investment and offers opportunities for local businesses to grow.
“When you look at communities around the state, you won’t find too many communities that are situated as well as Springfield for development to occur and investment to occur,” McDorman said. “The state understands that through JobsOhio, the region understands that, and prospects will understand that as they come to the state and look to invest.”
Josh Rauch, deputy economic development administrator for Springfield, said the city has put additional emphasis on retaining existing businesses and helping them expand if possible. From those meetings, manufacturing companies and other firms appear optimistic in general about next year’s economy.
“One of the things that I’ve heard out of those meetings is just very generally speaking, things are kind of looking up compared to the last couple of years,” Rauch said.
In Champaign County, several projects that began in 2013 will be completed next year, increasing optimism for business owners, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for Urbana.
A project to extend a sanitary sewer line to Robert Rothschild Farm will be completed in 2014, allowing that company to move forward with plans to expand and create at least 25 full-time jobs.
Hughey and Phillips, an Urbana-based company, also announced a multi-million dollar agreement to provide obstruction lighting on a Canadian telecommunication company’s towers throughout Canada. KTH, a St. Paris-based auto parts supplier, also began work on a $29 million expansion that will continue in 2014 and could add as many as 90 full-time jobs.
Retailers and restaurants also appear to be more optimistic about downtown Urbana, Bailey said.
Clark County also had several large projects move forward in 2013 that will help increase momentum for new jobs and investment in 2014, McDorman said. He said organizations and business leaders have worked together to create a strategic plan for the region and have followed through.
Greater Springfield Moving Forward is an initiative started in recent years by the chamber, and it includes input and support from numerous volunteers, business leaders, city and county officials and others. Members have worked to identify areas of need and to develop coordinated solutions to improve the workforce, and to make the region a more attractive place to live and work, among other goals.
Within that organization, five smaller committees were formed to address issues that were identified by surveys of residents. This past year, the organization took on numerous initiatives, including an ongoing attempt to align workers and interns to prospective employers. Businesses and local school districts are also increasingly being encouraged to work together to create internship opportunities for students, benefiting both entities by providing a better-trained workforce and giving students a chance to learn more about opportunities that are available locally.
One result was a career fair organized in October at Clark State’s Hollenbeck Bayley Center that connected 1,400 8th-grade students from across Clark County to learn more about local companies.
As the local workforce ages, it will be important to find ways to develop the next generation’s skills and ensure local companies are able to find workers who match their needs, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Clark County Community Improvement Corp.
“I think over the next year you’ll see more dialogue about it,” Hobbs said of the efforts to coordinate internship opportunities.
Another committee focused on downtown Springfield is also assisting with a larger effort to develop a $9.75 million parking garage at North Fountain Avenue and Columbia Street. Local officials believe parking is important to encourage additional investment downtown, and they see the garage as a solution that could provide as many as 485 additional parking spots, allowing customers easier access to restaurants, retail and other activities downtown.
The parking garage was recently included in a list of requests to the state from the Dayton Development Coalition, as officials try to pitch projects that may be eligible for state capital funding next year. Also included was a request for capital funding for a new hangar for drones at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.
Greater Springfield Moving Forward has been beneficial, McDorman said, because it helps clarify and promote a single vision for the region.
“We’re starting to get to the point where we’re seeing the fruits of our labor, and now we believe that we can take the next step and do other projects that are going to continue to help us move forward,” McDorman said.
A decision is also expected from the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday or Tuesday on whether Ohio will be included as one of six sites nationwide where unmanned aircraft systems will be tested. Springfield is at the center of the state’s efforts to achieve the designation, which could mean numerous jobs for the area.
“We’re hoping Ohio will be chosen as one of the six sites, and that will be a big shot in the arm for Springfield as we have the test center right here,” McDorman said.
Two new business parks were also unveiled this year; both chamber and city officials have said those will provide opportunities for new companies looking to move to the area, as well as space for existing companies to expand. PrimeOhio II, located along I-70, includes about 200 acres of space and is expected to attract logistics and distribution firms, as well as some light manufacturing. Love’s Inc., a national truck stop chain, has already announced plans to build a $7.5 million travel center at the site.
The Champion City Business Park, at the corner of Lagonda and Belmont Avenues, includes more than 28 acres of space for light manufacturing firms on a property that was previously used as a Navistar manufacturing site.
Springfield economic development officials have already seen interest in Champion City, Rauch said.
“We just opened that in October, and we’ve already had some interest in some parcels up there,” Rauch said.
The city is also making improvements to Veterans Bridge, although that work is not expected to be completed until 2015. That project is designed to make the bridge more pedestrian friendly, Rauch said, encouraging more foot traffic from both sides of the river.
Both Rauch and McDorman also mentioned recent projects including the the National Trail Parks and Recreation District’s $8.5 million ice arena, which opened earlier this year, and a new Prospect League baseball team that announced plans earlier this year to move from Slippery Rock, Pa., to Springfield. The Champion City Kings are owned by Ron Heineman, a venture capitalist from Cincinnati.
McDorman said those and similar projects are a good sign for the region’s future, because it provides more recreational opportunities for residents who may consider living in Springfield. It’s a sign more businesses and organizations are willing to consider investing in Springfield, he said.
“We’re now seen as an investment-grade community, a place where people are looking to invest,” McDorman said. “Where 10 years ago, that wasn’t the case. We’re now seen as an investment-grade community, and the baseball team is a perfect example of that.”