Clark County’s recent successes attracting new jobs and investment is the result of several separate strategies that are finally starting to pay off, Springfield economic development officials said.
Clark County has attracted about $475 million in new investment and created new jobs since 2012, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Chamber of Greater Springfield. The county has also attracted hundreds of new jobs from manufacturing firms like Topre and Silfex, while companies like Dole and Yamada have announced major expansions.
But Hobbs said that was only possible because schools, the city and various other organizations worked together to make the region more attractive to employers.
“We’ve made some mistakes, but we have been doing things for a sustained period of time where we are finally seeing momentum,” Hobbs said.
He was the guest speaker at a I-70/75 Development Association event hosted at Sinclair Community College on Friday. Hobbs said smaller cities like Springfield need to be creative and find ways to stand out to potential investors, who otherwise often know nothing about the community.
“There are 35 Springfields in the U.S.,” Hobbs said. “No one cares about Springfield, Ohio.”
Hobbs said several local organizations have tried to find creative ways to change that. The Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the CIC, the county’s nonprofit economic development arm, have worked jointly to market the community and address issues like workforce development.
“Its not perfect, but it’s working very well,” Hobbs said.
That includes efforts like developing a partnership with Madison County to promote a 40-mile stretch of I-70 as a prime location for businesses. In the past, Clark and Madison counties competed to promote their own industrial parks, but they now work more closely to encourage developers to look at the corridor first and then decide what location is the best fit.
He also said the CIC increasingly uses data from the Dayton Development Coalition to provide companies with information on everything from wages to the education levels of the local workforce to gain an edge over other communities.
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Many communities are facing worker shortages as older employees retire and too few younger workers take their place, and Hobbs said that is likely a reality that doesn’t have a simple solution.
“We have to be focused, but it’s not any one entity, person or solution that’s going to fix that,” Hobbs said.
The city, local school districts and nonprofits have also looked for new ways to boost the skills of the local workforce or attract grants to develop new manufacturing classes, he said.
Hobbs pointed to several cases in which the county has been able to attract new jobs, or local employers have made significant expansions.
Silfex, a high-tech manufacturing firm based in Eaton, has pledged to invest about $223 million in Springfield and create about 400 jobs over the next few years. That company recently purchased the former Thirty-One Gifts plant near the PrimeOhio Industrial Park for $11 million. The firm provides silicon products for a variety of markets.
In South Charleston, Yamada North America Inc. announced plans in 2015 to add jobs as part of a $15.2 million expansion. The company, at 9000 Columbus-Cincinnati Road in South Charleston, manufactures water pumps, drive shafts, steering columns and other parts for the auto industry.
Hobbs said those kinds of projects have led to other opportunities for the county as well. Springfield’s city commissioners recently approved a re-zoning request that will allow a proposed housing development to move forward along a section of East National Road near Walmart. It would be the first significant housing development of its kind for Springfield since the 1990s.
“Now people are starting to believe in our community and that we can actually win and make a difference,” Hobbs said.