Downtown Springfield, the municipal airport, the drone industry and workforce development top Clark County economic leaders goals for 2018 as they seek to build on some big wins last year.
Two big projects in 2017 — Japanese auto parts manufacturer Topre America and high-tech silicon parts maker Silfex — are a sign that the region’s economy has finally turned a corner, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Chamber of Greater Springfield.
Topre’s $55 million project will create 85 jobs and has taken over the vacant Champion City Business Park, with the expectation that even more jobs might be on the way in the coming years.
Silfex, based in Eaton, pledged to invest about $223 million in Springfield and purchased the former Thirty-One Gifts plant near the PrimeOhio Industrial Park for $11 million.
“Those two projects last year were once-in-a-generation announcements for communities like Springfield,” Hobbs said.
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Building on that will likely include seeking more investment in downtown Springfield, emphasizing workforce development and adding businesses from the drone industry to the Springfield Beckley-Municipal Airport, Hobbs said.
City leaders also pointed to proposed projects like a Kroger Marketplace along Ohio 72 and ongoing efforts to develop a year-round farmer’s market in downtown Springfield that could move forward this year.
“I’m looking to 2018 to be a continuation of our momentum,” Hobbs said.
Several downtown projects are priorities for the Springfield this year, said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of economic development for Springfield.
SpringForward, a nonprofit with a goal of targeting redevelopment of existing properties downtown, is working on a proposal to convert the long-empty McAdams Building at 31 E. High St. to 56 market-rate apartments and retail/restaurant space.
The nonprofit also is working closely with city officials on a separate project that could eventually reuse the vacant Myers Market building at 101 S. Fountain Ave. as a year-round indoor farmer’s market.
A downtown parking garage also remains a goal, Franzen said.
If those projects move forward, Franzen said it would be a step toward relieving problems downtown that include a lack of available housing and bringing more amenities to residents who might want to live and work there.
City leaders also hope to see other big projects move forward this year, including a proposed $20 million Kroger Marketplace project south of Interstate 70 on a former Springfield Twp. golf driving range. It’s expected to bring as many as 350 new jobs to Springfield, although some residents have raised concerns about traffic and other issues.
“Kroger continues to evaluate its capital investment timing for new stores,” Franzen said. “The Springfield Kroger Marketplace is still in the queue for Kroger and we’re hopeful construction will begin in 2018.”
Officials from Kroger said no updates about that project are available now, but more information will be available in the summer.
The city also plans to work closely with several entities to make improvements at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, including finalizing a 10-year master plan for the airport. The plan prioritizes everything from maintenance needs to what facilities the site will need in the future.
The airport has a significant economic impact in Clark County, directly impacting close to 700 jobs and more than $40 million in payroll, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
“The master plan plays a key role in determining the future of the airport,” Franzen said.
State and federal agencies are also moving forward with a roughly $5 million investment at the airport to allow researchers to test new drone technologies, potentially making Clark County one of the only research hubs of its kind in the nation.
Navistar — one of Clark County’s largest employers — is another bright spot from last year that’s expected to carry over into 2018, Hobbs said. The company has more than 1,800 workers at its Springfield manufacturing plant and thousands of retirees in the area.
The truckmaker’s Springfield site had as few as 300 workers several years ago and struggled with challenges that included a failed engine technology, legal struggles and weak demand in the face of the Great Recession. But Navistar has steadily rebounded, reporting an annual profit in December for the first time since 2011.
The Springfield plant produces medium, severe service and heavy duty commercial trucks, and a GM cutaway van on a separate line. Navistar leaders expect an even stronger year in 2018, when they expect worldwide demand for commercial trucks to improve.
This year the manufacturer also will launch a new joint venture with GM to build medium-duty trucks in Springfield. Those trucks will be available in both the International and GM brands, and will be produced with engineering input from both manufacturers.
The company will likely play a role in the local economy’s rebound in 2018, Hobbs said.
“You’re seeing profits happen for the first time consistently and Springfield’s been at the head of that,” Hobbs said of Navistar.
Workforce development will be another emphasis this year, Hobbs said. Several local agencies, including the Chamber of Greater Springfield, Clark State Community College and Ohio Means Jobs of Clark County, have been working to certify Clark County in an ACT Work Ready program.
The certification is a portable credential that shows job candidates have the essential skills to be successful. The idea is to show employers that potential workers have the basic aptitude for math, reading comprehension and other skills that can translate to various jobs.
Improving the education and skills of Clark County’s workers will be critical to attract employers to the region, Hobbs said.
The chamber and its economic development arm, the Community Improvement Corp., also plan to meet with more employers already in Clark County to make sure their needs are met, he said.
“You’re going to see a real effort to move toward that certified work ready community status,” Hobbs said.
One of the biggest projects in Champaign County in 2018 will be continued redevelopment efforts at the long vacant Q3 and Johnson Manufacturing site at 605 Miami St., said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the Champaign Economic Partnership.
The site has long been described as an eyesore near downtown. It also created hassles for firefighters and police in Champaign County as trespassers were often found on the property and it caught fire.
The city of Urbana reached an agreement with a local developer last year to clean it up. Once demolition and cleanup at the roughly 20-acre property are completed, Bailey said local leaders plan to market the property to a new developer. They want ti attract new jobs to Champaign County.
The city could apply for a covenant not to sue from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency as early as this year, Bailey said. That designation would serve as a signal that the site is cleaned up and in good condition to protect any potential developers from liability at the site moving forward.
It would be a good location for a manufacturing plant, she said.
“I’ve been hearing some interest in what’s been going on and how soon it could be ready,” Bailey said.