Springfield Resurgence: Future growth tied to nurturing businesses, tapping into new markets

Those efforts are also extensively linked to a broader strategy of creating more housing opportunities that feed into that development, and having a trained workforce to fill certain types of jobs, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Partnership, which consists of about 800 companies that represent more than 15,000 employees.

The economic development strategy — put in place 15 years ago — has been successful thus far, although there’s still much work to do, officials say. The construction of the Mercy Health — Springfield Cancer Center set the economic plan in motion. That was followed by the Mercy Health Springfield Regional Medical Center downtown. Later, white collar employers such as Assurant and CodeBlue came to town.

New manufacturing has cropped up in recent years with auto-parts maker Topre America and the high-tech manufacturing firm Silfex establishing a presence in the area. Both have continued to invest in their Springfield facilities and add jobs.

Existing companies such as manufactures Esterline & Sons and McGregor Metal have expanded facilities or built new ones and reported growth in operations.

Those opportunities have been made possible due to a more mobile workforce, large investments in public infrastructure and the repurposing of old facilities.

As a result, communities such as New Carlisle and Springfield are focused on adding an array of housing opportunities. That comes as more jobs are added in the area, a shift towards remote work and a cheaper cost of living when compared to nearby metropolitan areas such as Dayton and Columbus, said Alex Dietz, the Economic Development Specialist for Clark County.

Dietz’s colleague, Ethan Harris, the director of community development for Clark County, said that more housing will lead to larger retailers considering the area.

“My hope is that we can have the rooftop numbers, which drives retail recruitment,” Harris said, noting that that had been a barrier in terms of attracting larger national chains.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

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A shift towards remote work

However, in terms of fostering more economic development, the key also lies in adapting to national trends, strategically leveraging existing assets and getting in on the ground floor in-terms of budding technological advancements.

That includes recent investments in broadband access and a growing shift amid the pandemic towards remote work in certain industries.

“In the past two years, everyone has learned how to work remote. So now you can live further away from Columbus or further away from Dayton, which is Clark County. You can work in your home and now we have expanded broadband to nearly every corner or will be in every corner in the county in the next two years,” said Harris.

However, what impacts the shift to remote work will have on local income tax, especially for the city of Springfield, and whether some companies will transition back to the office, is still being determined.

Those who work remotely no longer have to pay income tax to the municipality in which their employers are located if they do not live in that area. That was temporarily not the case amid the height of the pandemic.

But, that can have an impact on cities such as Springfield, where more than 80% of its general fund revenue comes from income tax.

“With companies that have a presence in our community, but people work remotely outside of the city, we lose that income tax. That certainly has an impact on the amount of revenue that we collect, which impacts our ability to invest in public infrastructure and so forth,” said Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck.

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Breaking into new industries

Manufacturing and agriculture, two of the largest industries in the city and county that have a significant number of employers, offers many jobs that can’t be worked remotely.

Clark County is also positioned to break into new manufacturing opportunities and capitalize on developments in the region as a whole. That includes the semiconductor company Intel announcing that it is establishing a presence in the Columbus-area. That can have a positive impact on Springfield companies such as Silfex, which builds silicon components that are part of the machines that make chips used in several industries.

Intel plans to invest $20 billion in dual New Albany-area semiconductor production sites, which would be about an hour from Springfield. Intel’s investment in central Ohio could bring opportunity to companies across the region that can benefit as suppliers.

Harris said that the county could benefit from Intel’s planned investment as that type of manufacturing requires a lot of water. Clark County has access to the Buried Valley Aquifer, which has about 1.5 trillion gallons of water.

The airport can lead to new possibilities

The county also benefits from its proximity to institutions such as Wright Patterson Airforce base in the Dayton area. That along with the Ohio Air National Guard presence in Clark County has led to opportunities at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.

The airport is becoming an important location for the research and testing of unmanned aerial vehicles and air mobility technology. As a result, an $8.2 million National Advanced Air Mobility Center of Excellence is being constructed there. The 30,000 square-foot, two-story facility will accommodate university and government research and companies developing that technology that already have a presence at the airport.

The center, which is slated to be operational in 2023, will also be used by other entities that are part of the program called Agility Prime. The Air Force launched the $35 million program in order to create and speed a commercial market for advanced air mobility aircraft.

Other infrastructure needed for the testing and development of that technology has been implemented at the airport such as flight simulators and charging stations.

There is also the possibility that continued testing and development of that technology could eventually lead to local manufacturing opportunities. That can also benefit the county’s traditional manufacturing presence.

“Our traditional supplier base in the community and region will have opportunities to serve that new industry, those new vehicles as they come online,” said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of Economic Development for the City of Springfield.

That also plays into the importance of being able to adapt to changing economic circumstances and repurpose existing infrastructure.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

ExploreSpringfield Resurgence: Building momentum sees more people calling the city home

Repurposing an old mall into something new

That is being done elsewhere in the community. The former Upper Valley Mall site, which closed last summer, is now being transformed into a business park. Ohio-based developer Industrial Commercial Properties purchased the Upper Valley Mall site from the Clark County Land Reutilization Corp. for $2.25 million last year.

The goal is to provide additional commercial and industrial space that will aid an existing business presence in that corridor and lead to more economic development there.

County officials expect to see multiple business operations taking place at the former mall property, which is slated to be fully occupied by the end of 2023.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

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