The assembly department at the Springfield Topre plant. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Investment steady in Clark County despite fewer business leads

Clark County has seen promises of hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in investments this year despite receiving fewer leads from regional partners and the state regarding possible economic development projects.

The bulk of those investments are a result of several expansion projects either announced or completed this year by companies such as Topre America Corp., Silfex and Code Blue. In total, those companies expect to create over 600 new jobs in the area over the next two to four years, the News-Sun reported.

Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Chamber of Greater Springfield, said growth in the county over the past couple of years has been slow but steady. He said a main focus for his organization has been to grow companies that already have a foundation in the county.

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Roughly 81 percent of job growth and investment seen in the county over a period of seven years has come from existing businesses, according to data provided by the chamber.

However, limited space in the county or aging infrastructure can be a challenge for companies looking to expand.

Hobbs said there has been more of a focus from local officials in retaining companies that have established a presence in the area in recent years.

“There is always a little doubt or a concern of what the future holds, especially when we approach a presidential election year. But, as we continue to build strong partnerships in the community, it has created opportunities,” he said.

That includes increased efforts in finding labor for those companies by working with agencies such as the Clark County Department of Job & Family Services and Ohio Means Jobs. That also means working with companies to find sufficient space needed to expand, he said.

The number of leads given to local economic development officials about potential expansion projects or interested companies looking to expand their reach in the area has decreased this year. Hobbs said that number was 27 at the end of September compared to the 42 reported last year.

However, there has been a 1.3 percent increase in Clark County jobs compared to last year, according to Bill LaFayette, an economist and owner of Regionomics, a Columbus-based economics and workforce consulting firm.

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In manufacturing, there was a 5 percent increase in Clark County based jobs in that industry compared to this time last year, LaFayette added. However, he said those estimates could change in March, when more information is released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last month there were 5,904 online job postings in the county, according to data collected by the analytic tool JobsEQ.

Hobbs said regionally, economic development leads are down compared to recent years and it could cause uncertainty as the economy has not fully recovered from the Great Recession. However, he said he doesn’t fear a major slowdown in the local economy.

Silfex, a manufacturing facility based in Eaton and a division of Lam Research Corporation, purchased a 350,000-square-foot warehouse located on Titus Road in Springfield for $11 million last year. Since then, the company has invested more than $223 million into its Springfield facility and has brought on more than 100 employees with a pledge of creating 400 jobs in the area in two to four years.

Code Blue, a water mitigation firm that manages claims nationwide, announced in April they were planning to hire 169 new positions at the company’s downtown Springfield office.

Topre America announced a third expansion in the area in September and is expected to create 71 new jobs in Springfield. The company said it would invest an additional $54 million and add 78,000 square feet to its existing stamping and assembly facility in the Champion City Business Park on Reaper Ave.

The auto parts maker has filled out most of the business park and has invested a total of $182 million and has pledged to create 360 jobs since announcing three years ago that it was interested in opening a facility in Springfield.

In limited cases, a tax abatement has been used by the county as a tool to help stimulate economic development, said Clark County Commission President Melanie Flax Wilt.

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Last year, Clark County commissioners approved a 100-percent, 15-year tax abatement to encourage Speedway’s growth at its corporate headquarters in Enon. The company pushed ahead with construction to its corporate headquarters in Enon at the end of 2018.

The project is part of a $48 million expansion that will add a new 140,000 square-foot building to Speedway’s campus off of Enon Road. Construction is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020 and Speedway has pledged to add as many as 300 jobs in the area over a four-year period, said Christian Holfinger, a spokesman for the convenience store chain.

Marathon announced Thursday it was spinning off its subsidiary, Speedway, into a separate company that will remain based in Enon.

Speedway is one of the largest employers in the region and has approximately 2,500 employees locally. The convenience store chain has 40,000 employees nationally, said Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry.

However, a declining population in the county can make it difficult for companies to find available workers. Clark County’s estimated population on July 1, 2018 was 134,585, according to the Census Bureau. That is a decrease of 3,756 people compared to April 1, 2010 when county’s population was estimated to be 138,341.

Hobbs said the county has a large 45-minute labor shed, the number of people who live within a 45 minute drive to the area. He said 3.7 million people live within that labor shed and 1.9 million are of working age.

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Amy Donahoe, director of Workforce Development with the Chamber of Greater Springfield, said their goal is to not only bring more employment opportunities to the county, but also to encourage more Clark County residents to work in the county.

Currently, 52 percent of the county’s workforce, roughly 30,000 people, have jobs outside of the county, she said. Some larger communities, such as parts of the Dayton and Columbus regions, pay, in some cases, $5,000 to $10,000 more in annual wages, she added.

Donahoe said the county is currently at full employment and the unemployment rate has not increased over 4.9 percent in more than a year. She said for some employers, it means looking at potential candidates that may have been overlooked in the past, including those who have developmental disabilities or those who are incarcerated.

With certain companies making larger investments in the area, it has also led to other companies raising their wages in a bid to stay competitive. Donahoe said some companies have started to reexamine the benefit packages offered to employees.

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