The past year was important for the region as manufacturing firms like Silfex and Topre pushed ahead with investments expected to bring hundreds of new jobs to the area, said Michael McDorman, president and CEO of the Chamber of Greater Springfield. In Springfield, city officials reached a deal with a Dayton developer to build a 53-acre housing development on 37 acres of property south of the Tuttle Road Walmart along with an additional 15-acre tract to the east of the Walmart. The project would include more than 230 new houses built in four separate phases.
Last month, the city also approved a redevelopment agreement with Charles V. Simms Development Corporation to build 34 townhomes downtown in a separate project.
Those kinds of deals were developed in 2018, McDorman said. But residents will start to see the results of all those efforts this year and into 2020.
“There is certainly much momentum happening in Springfield right now,” McDorman said. “We will need to continue to partner with one another in working to keep the momentum going in ‘19 and beyond.”
Downtown will continue to be the focus of much of the investment, and local residents can also expect to see more parking, new restaurants and a year-round market and commercial kitchen that is planning to open in the Spring.
Boost from new jobs
McDorman pointed to companies like Topre America Corp. and Silfex to show workers in Springfield should have more job opportunities in 2019, an issue the region has sometimes struggled to provide in the past. Along with a recent announcement by Speedway, those firms and others are expected to continue to add hundreds of jobs over the next few years, and hiring is likely to ramp up in 2019.
Topre’s presence in Springfield began in December 2016 when the Japanese firm announced it would hire about 20 workers and invest $10 million to open a facility in the Champion City Business Park. By this past Spring, the auto parts manufacturer’s investment had ballooned into a total investment of about $130 million, with plans to hire 300 workers supplying vehicle components to companies like Honda and Toyota.
Silfex, a high-tech manufacturing firm based in Eaton, Ohio has also hosted job fairs throughout much of the past year to find qualified workers. The company builds silicon components for everything from computer processors to cell phones to cars. It also grows silicon crystals at its existing plant in Eaton and will perform similar functions in Springfield. Silfex is converting the 350,000-square-foot warehouse near the Prime Ohio Industrial Park into a high-tech manufacturing plant that makes silicon products for a variety of markets and has pledged to create more than 400 jobs over the next several years.
McDorman said Navistar, a company with a long history here, has seen new products added at the Springfield manufacturing plant and has seen a rebound in jobs in the past couple years.
“We have not seen this type of growth in job opportunities in decades,” McDorman said.
Linking students and employers
Champaign County hasn’t had a new hotel in several years, but a group of local investors are pushing ahead with plans to build a new Cobblestone-branded hotel with more than 50 rooms, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the Champaign Economic Partnership.
The CEP serves as the economic development agency for Champaign County. Bailey said the investors are focusing on three acres of property near the intersection of Ohio 55 and U.S. 68. According to its website, the Cobblestone chain focuses on providing upper-midscale rooms, typically in smaller towns. The chain’s only other hotel in Ohio is located in Orrville, south of Akron.
Assuming the project moves forward it's possible construction could start in March and be finished by mid-September next year, investors previously told the News-Sun.
Officials in Urbana are also moving forward on a project to redevelop the former Q3 and Johnson Manufacturing site.
Once complete, Bailey said the complicated project will remove a property that was a nuisance to the city and local first responders. Once redeveloped, the goal is to use the property to attract more jobs and investment to the city. The abandoned Q3 site at Miami and Beech streets has been an eyesore in Urbana for years, creating concerns about safety, vandalism and drug use on the property. In 2015, a fire destroyed much of the building.
Bailey said potential businesses have already shown some interest in the site once the project is complete.
“In 2019 hopefully we’ll start getting some signatures on the dotted line to get somebody in here,” Bailey said.
But Bailey said one of the key improvements long-term came this past fall when the CEP hired Ashley Cook to work part-time as a business liaison with the goal of linking Champaign County students and local employers. She said one of the CEP’s long-term goals is to find ways to make sure students are more aware of local job opportunities, and to encourage more young skilled workers to stay in Champaign County.
Working with students, one of Cook’s ongoing projects includes developing videos for YouTube to market Urbana and Champaign County’s villages. Cook also helped link engineers at local manufacturing firms with students as part of a design project to make students more aware of careers in that industry. And the CEP is working with a handful of partners, including local school districts to install television monitors at each district and a handful of other locations throughout the county. The monitors are being used to make students and other residents more aware of local job opportunities and other economic development updates taking place in the county.
“She’s connecting the students back into the workforce,” Bailey said of Cook’s new role.
Several of the major projects expected in 2019 are centered in downtown Springfield, but city economic development officials said activity is also taking place at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport that will benefit the region.
Bryan Heck, who was recently selected to become Springfield’s next city manager, said several projects have been in the works for years but are starting to pay off in 2019. Most of those initiatives are related to goals laid out by the city commissioners to provide more housing options and attract new jobs to the area.
Heck said the city recently approved the first stage of development for what’s being called the Bridgewater project which will build a total of 231 new homes being built in the city. The project calls for a 53-acre housing development on 37 acres of property south of the Tuttle Road Walmart, along with an additional 15-acre tract to the east of the Walmart. The first phase will include 71 new homes,
City officials also reached a redevelopment agreement with Charles V. Simms Development Corporation to build 34 townhomes downtown at a site located between West Main and West Columbia streets. Also downtown, the city is moving forward with a new two- to three-story parking garage with approximately 275 to 325 parking spaces at the corner of Fountain Avenue and Columbia Street. Construction on all three of those projects is expected to start this spring.
In addition, the News-Sun recently reported a new fine dining restaurant called Stella Bleu is expected to open this spring at 20 N. Fountain Ave. The new restaurant is one sign that businesses are more willing to take a chance on downtown Springfield than in the past, said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of economic development for Springfield.
“When you look at the market gaps, we have plenty of chain restaurants on Bechtle Avenue,” Franzen said. “People have wanted to see more more locally-owned offerings.”
Finally, construction is already underway at the Myers Market building at 101 S. Fountain Ave. SpringForward, a local nonprofit, is working closely with CoHatch, a co-working lifestyle company based in Worthington, to develop the project. Those entities announced earlier this year that the Springfield market site will undergo a roughly $1.75 million renovation. When complete, the site will include a year-round artisan's marketplace, shared kitchen and food hall, and event space for small local businesses and individuals.
Outside downtown, Franzen said city officials are working to develop a master plan to map out the long-term future of the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.
The Air Force Research Laboratories is working with the city toward Federal Aviation Administration approval that will allow research into detect and avoid technology in airspace surrounding the airport, Franzen said. The designation, expected this year, should also allow private firms to research and test technologies that allow drones to operate beyond the line of sight. That could create additional business opportunities for area companies, Franzen said.
City officials said most of the projects expected this year are the result of efforts from the city, chamber and several other entities to make Springfield a more attractive place to live and work.
“These projects don’t happen in a vacuum,” Heck said. “It takes a team effort.”
The Springfield News-Sun will continue to provide unmatched coverage of jobs and the economy in Clark and Champaign Counties. For this story, the paper spoke to economic development officials in both counties to highlight progress made in 2018 and what residents can expect this year.
FACTS & FIGURES
Townhome units expected to be built in downtown Springfield
Estimated houses in a new proposed development in Springfield
New jobs Speedway plans to add in Enon
Estimated investment in a new Urbana hotel project