Vacant industrial parks working to attract tenants

Local economic development officials say they are making progress in filling them, even though that can be a slow process. Without shovel-ready sites available, Clark County and Springfield could lose out on new construction projects to other cities or states in the region, said site selection experts.

Companies are currently searching for space inside existing buildings, those officials said. As the market continues to improve and demand increases, they expect companies to be searching for shovel-ready sites. These parks will have plenty of land to offer, according to Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for The Chamber of Greater Springfield.

“The good buildings that can be had are gone,” said Hobbs. “We’ve got to have shovel-ready sites available in close proximity to the interstate to get goods and services out quickly.”

The $8.5 million, 200-acre Prime Ohio II Industrial Park near Interstate 70 and Ohio 41 was completed last fall and was expected to bring about 1,000 jobs to Clark County. The Love’s truck stop planned adjacent to the park was scheduled for construction this spring but has been delayed.

The $1.8 million, 32-acre Champion City Business Park, located on the site of the former International Harvester Body Plant, was expected to create about 300 jobs. It was completed in 2013.

Local economic development officials said the expected 1,300 new jobs won’t happen overnight. Other more-established industrial parks such as Prime Ohio Corporate Park and Springfield Industrial Park saw similar slow starts before gaining major investments from private companies.

“It’s taken many years for them to build any kind of capacity or reach any type of peak,” said Tom Franzen, Springfield Assistant City Manager and Director of Economic Development.

Rather than spending the money on having shovel-ready sites available, the community should work out deals with companies to build infrastructure once they commit to coming to Clark County, said Mike Robbins, president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

“It’s good to lay the infrastructure, but have some commitment on paper,” Robbins said.

It’s difficult to compete with other Ohio communities and other states if sites aren’t shovel-ready, Franzen said. It takes time for sites to go through the process of rezoning and adding infrastructure, he added.

“By that time, they’re two states away,” Franzen said.

Other industrial and corporate parks have seen local companies expand, recently bringing about 500 jobs to Clark County.

The $6 million Next Edge Applied Research and Technology Park on U.S. 40, built in 2009, saw two tenants open there last year. Speedway spent $5.4 million to purchase the former QBase building, while the Ohio/Indiana Unmanned Aerial Systems Test Center recently began leasing space inside the AVETEC building.

Next Edge was recently a finalist for two different data analytics projects in the last 12 months, but didn’t win the projects, Hobbs said.

Dole Fresh Vegetables recently completed a $9 million expansion at its facility in Prime Ohio Corporate Park. Konecranes, Parker Trutec and Pentaflex have also expanded at Prime Ohio Corporate Park. The park has 14 tenants and 2,300 employees total.

Two other sites are nearly full, including 95-percent occupied Springfield Industrial Park on Progress Drive near Leffel Lane and 90-percent occupied KTK Industrial Park on Urbana Road.

Prime Ohio II

There are currently three active prospects at the 200-acre facility at various points in the process, but it’s hard to tell where they’ll end up, Hobbs said.

“There’s definitely interest,” said Hobbs, who couldn’t comment on the prospective businesses.

The planned $7.5 million Love’s Travel Stops truck stop was expected to begin construction this spring. But the company is currently working through an access agreement for a nearby cell phone tower, said Kealey Dorian, a media specialist for Love’s. It’s unclear when construction will begin, she wrote in an e-mail to the News-Sun.

The 5.2-acre site at 4725 South Charleston Pike was formerly occupied by the Prime Fuel truck stop. It was purchased by Love’s Travel Stops for $566,000 in 2013.

Once construction begins, it will raise the visibility of the site and increase interest in the remaining available land, Hobbs said.

The Greater Springfield Community Improvement Corporation, the economic development arm of the Chamber, recently purchased all the land, Hobbs said.

“It’s one more hurdle that’s overcome when we go to sell ground,” Hobbs said. “It’s a tremendous asset for the community. It’s very attractive.”

Champion City

The 32-acre light industrial park at the former International Harvester body plant on Lagonda Avenue opened in 2013.

There have been a few inquiries about the property, but nothing substantial, Franzen said.

There hasn’t been much activity for new construction at industrial parks recently, Franzen said, including other sites like AirPark Ohio, which is about 30 percent occupied.

More than $12 million in grants and private dollars have been spent on demolition, remediation and infrastructure at Champion City since 2003. An Ohio Department of Development grant paid for approximately $1.3 million of the infrastructure project, while the rest of the money came from the city’s general fund.

As the economy continues to improve and confidence increases, more businesses will be searching for sites to build new construction, Franzen said.

“It’s been up-and-down and sideways,” he said. “It takes a lot of confidence in what you think the economy is going to do to put a shovel in the ground. It’s a long-term investment.”

The park is perfect for a local business looking to expand with Springfield-based customers, Franzen said. It’s also a great location for companies who supply for Navistar, he added.

“If they make a major investment up there, suppliers might look at this location as a viable place to serve them,” Franzen said.

Site selection

Companies are often looking for the right location for their business to help them lower overall costs, said Frank Spano, managing director at Cleveland-based Austin Consulting.

Businesses will typically go through a lengthy process, including analysis of cost, transportation and labor, Spano said. They’ll also look at assistance available from local, regional and state government, he added.

“The company has to justify the fact that they need to be in Central Ohio,” Spano said. “That’s the big issue.”

The local community’s workforce and livability also play a factor in the process, he said.

“It has to be attractive for the current workforce they’re recruiting from, but also to bring workers from outside in (to Clark County),” Spano said.

If a company is looking in Ohio, they’re likely looking in other states in the region as well, he said. Communities must have shovel-ready sites to keep up with the competition, Spano said, and it also helps local officials sell the site.

“They can share information with companies and prospects,” Spano said. “In my estimation, it helps sell a community as very pro-business and understanding the site.”

The state and consulting firms are more aware of Springfield’s available space than they’ve ever been, Hobbs said.

Local officials make sure regional and state economic development officials, like the Dayton Development Coalition and JobsOhio, know what the community has to offer, he said.

“We’re probably the most outspoken group in Ohio,” Hobbs said.

‘It will take off’

Prime Ohio Corporate was developed about 30 years ago and took time to get fully occupied, said Jim Foreman, a past president of the Chamber.

Once a few tenants began construction, it built excitement and created a domino effect, he added.

“We thought it would take 15 to 20 years and we got it done in about 10 to 12 years,” said Foreman, who currently serves as chairman of the Port Authority.

The new Prime Ohio Industrial Park is at an excellent location, between Columbus and Dayton on I-70, Foreman said. The intersection near the Clark County Fairgrounds is going to explode with development soon, thanks to the industrial park and the proposed travel center, hotels and restaurants, he added.

“I think once they get one or two places in there, all of a sudden, it will take off,” he said. “That might take a little while to do. … You don’t get too many locations like that one.”

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