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Attracting retail, new business remains a challenge in Clark County

Local officials told the Clark County commissioners this week they continue to work on improving workforce development and attracting potential retailers to Springfield.

A handful of retailers have expressed interest, but no deals have been finalized, said Tom Hale, executive director for the Clark County Land Re-utilization Corp. Local leaders continue to work with Buxton Co., a Texas-based consulting firm to identify and attract retailers that would be a good fit for Clark County.

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Local officials have had conversations with several retailers and have received some interest from a clothing department store and a handful of restaurants, Hale said. He did not name the potential retailers because no agreements have been reached. Local officials and residents have often discussed the possibility of a Menards location in Springfield, but Hale said company officials at the home improvement chain are not interested in a new location now, in part due to competition from existing Lowe’s and Home Depot locations already here.

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“They directly told me Springfield is not on their radar right now,” Hale told the commissioners.

Company officials said in an email there is no future store opening information to share.

A handful of other retailers also showed interest in the region, although Hale said they are waiting to hear whether Kroger moves ahead with a proposed Kroger Marketplace development south of Interstate 70.

Company representatives previously told the Springfield News-Sun the project is still moving forward but won’t begin construction until next year. Kroger officials also didn’t provide further information on when in 2018 the project might get underway.

“Kroger is definitely critical for us,” Hale said.

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Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the CIC, also provided an update about economic development efforts in Clark County last year. Among the organization’s accomplishments in 2016, he said the CIC retained about 1,400 jobs last year and conducted meetings with about 320 companies.

Workforce development continues to be a challenge, he said. Amy Donahoe, director of hiring and employer services for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, is in the early stages of seeking certification as an ACT Work Ready Community. Officials from Clark State Community College and OhioMeansJons Clark County are also involved in the process, which helps communities and businesses identify skill gaps and look for ways to improve the local workforce.

If implemented, the program would provide employers with a better picture of the skills local workers can provide, Hobbs said.

“Over the last couple years in particular we have been elevating our role in workforce development,” Hobbs said.

Clark County has lost out to other communities in Ohio on some proposed data centers and other high-tech projects, in part due to skill deficiencies in the workforce, Hobbs said.

Hobbs also noted there has been an increase in foreign companies looking at the Springfield area over the past four to five months, particularly from Brazil. Part of that interest, he said, is likely related to Topre America Corp.’s decision earlier this year to invest $55 million that will create 85 jobs in a 146,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. The Japanese firm provides high-strength steel parts for Honda and other auto makers, and signals that Clark County could be a good fit for foreign investment.

“There’s a lot of foreign direct investment that’s looking at our region,” Hobbs said.

One challenge, Hobbs said he has heard is concern of a lack of available housing stock in the area for companies interested in moving into the area.

“We don’t have the level of housing stock necessary to meet the level of demand that exists between Dayton and Columbus,” Hobbs said.

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