Springfield resurgence: Area poised for lasting growth

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Clark County is now poised for lasting economic growth as years of investments and longtime collaboration between public and private entities seems to be paying off.

For more than a decade, tens of millions of dollars have been spent in Clark County on roads, interstates, sewer and utility lines as well as broadband access and other fixtures needed to aid local business and attract new development, county and Springfield officials said.

Those efforts, paired with Clark County’s proximity to larger metropolitan areas such as Dayton and Columbus have made the area attractive to potential employers who may do business with those markets or are looking to attract labor. Interstates such as I-70 that run through the county also make it attractive to companies that rely on the transportation of their goods or have a number of open positions needing to be filled.

“Cost of doing business here is lower than it is in Dayton and Columbus. If a company wants to come in and they want to be centrally located between two economic powerhouses, they can do that for the fraction of the costs,” said Alex Dietz, the economic development specialist for the county.

The proximity of three interstates that run through the county has also been important for local manufacturing, a major industry in the county, due to the importance of distribution and logistics to their operations, Dietz added.

Infrastructure improvements made in recent years also include investing in and building industrial parks as well as rehabbing old industrial spaces that have since found occupants and added jobs. That work has been made possible as governmental officials, economic development leaders and private investors have been more intentional in their approach and in creating a shared vision for the future.

New manufacturing and investment

The combination of location and new infrastructure in the county has played a key role in attracting outside investment such as Topre America in recent years. The auto parts maker, which is also a supplier for companies such as Honda and Toyota, opened a facility in the Champion City Business Park in Springfield in 2017 that has since led to more than $300 million in investment and the creation of over 600 jobs.

The high-tech manufacturer Silfex, which builds silicon components, opened a facility in Springfield in 2018, utilizing an existing structure on Titus Road. As of 2019, the company had poured more than $223 million into their Springfield facility and as of early this year employed over 500 people there.

Those investments have attracted other development from out of the county and has created an environment where some existing employers are able to grow or relocate within the county, said Horton Hobbs, the vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Partnership.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

That includes the announcements made last year that the Toronto-based Indian snack food manufacturer Surati Sweet Mart, Ltd acquired a 240,000-square-foot space on Upper Valley Pike in Springfield and plans to convert it into its first U.S. manufacturing facility. The company intends to complete the project by the end of this year, and is investing $16 million and expected to create 108 jobs.

Last year also saw the announcement by the discount retailer Gabe’s, also known as Gabriel Brothers, that it will build their largest distribution facility in the Springfield area, and will be the first business at the Prime Ohio II Industrial Park, which was completed in 2014 in order to aid local development efforts.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Gabe’s distribution center, which is expected to be operational by the end of this year, will be located off of I-70 on land that was annexed to Springfield from Springfield twp. The facility will be 870,000-square-feet and constitutes a $77.5 million investment.

“Right now if we did not open this (distribution center) we wouldn’t be able to open any more stores after 2022. This gives us a runway to the next 120 stores. This is the evolution of our company and we are thrilled to be here,” Gabe’s President and CEO Jason Mazzola has said.

Officially, the retailer has pledged to create 833 full-time equivalent jobs. But the actual number of jobs that could be generated as a result of the project includes more than 700 full-time positions and over 300 part-time positions.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Growing existing businesses

Several local manufacturers are in the process of expanding their operations. That includes locally-based Esterline and Sons, which has been in the community for decades and specializes in light precision machining manufacturing and makes small parts for medical equipment, jet engines and commercial food equipment.

That business is building a 57,000 square foot facility, constituting a $5 million investment, at the Airpark Ohio business park near the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. That project is expected to be completed by the fall.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Another longtime Clark County company McGregor Metal is constructing a 21,000 square-foot addition to its facility on Leffel Lane and plans to invest a total of $10 million into its overall operations and hire an additional 50 workers.

Past efforts geared towards workforce development, including proximity to larger population centers, a workforce that is more willing to travel, the partnership with educational institutions including local school districts and colleges such as Clark State, have led to more economic investment in the area and the diversification of industry, Hobbs added.

Clark County as a whole still has several employers that play a large role in employment such as the truck manufacturer Navistar, which employs over a thousand people and Assurant, a global provider of risk management products and services, that employs 1,600 people out of its Springfield office as well as hospital network Mercy Health that employed over 2,000 in the area as of 2021.


But, there has been a concerted effort to diversify the county’s employer base. That can be through more diverse array of manufacturing or the growth of other sectors such as healthcare and retail.

“We were reliant upon as a community on International Harvester (Navistar) for so many years. It was our single largest employer. And that was great when they were doing well. But, during those cyclical times, those down times, the community suffered and struggled,” said Tom Franzen, the assistant city manager and director of economic development for the city of Springfield. He said that had been the case in prior decades.

“So we have done a really good job as a community and the industry within our community has diversified their contracts as well as the type of employers they are brining,” Franzen added.

That was something touched upon by Ethan Harris, the director of community development for Clark County.

“We have diversified in aerospace now with the (Springfield-Beckley Municipal) airport, chip manufacturing with Silfex. So it’s far more reaching than traditional manufacturing. That is still the base. But we have diversified in far more areas now and growing those exponentially,” Harris said.

The Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport is becoming an important location for the research and testing of unmanned aerial vehicles and air mobility technology. That work could lead to more companies coming to the area in the coming years and potential manufacturing opportunities.

In terms of healthcare, in addition to Mercy Health, there is the Ohio Valley Surgical Hospital in downtown Springfield and Kettering Health has expanded its presence in Clark County with the opening of its $20 million medical center in Springfield this year that resulted in the creation of 70 new positions.

In terms of retail, Bechtel Avenue still remains a large center of commerce, sporting large box chain retailers and restaurants. Even as the nature of retail shifts away from traditional anchors such as malls, local downtowns have also seen an increase in occupancy in recent years, including in Springfield and New Carlisle as once empty storefronts have since been reoccupied.

The Upper Valley Mall, which closed last summer and once was a large retail center in the county, is being transformed for commercial and industrial use. Some of the mall’s former stores have since found new locations in other parts of the county, including downtown Springfield.

Local officials hope that the repurposing of the Upper Valley Mall will lead to more economic development in that corridor and bolster retail opportunities.

“We don’t think that this would take from Bechtel, which is the hub of retail in Clark County, but it will complement it,” Harris said.

Moving forward, future economic growth will be tied to the continuation in the diversification of industry and employers as well as the intersection of local educational institutions and work force development.

Housing will also play a critical role in attracting more employees, investment and retail to the area.

“My hope is that we can have the rooftop numbers, which drives retail recruitment,” Harris said.

About this series

News-Sun reporters spent the past two months talking with investors, government officials and local experts and digging through records to bring you exclusive details and analysis about an initiative to revitalize the city of Springfield and surrounding communities.

This Springfield Resurgence series — consisting of multiple stories that will run over the next two weeks — looks at what has been done in the past 15 years to draw new investments and stabilize a population in decline. Our reporters looked at how housing will play a role in future economic development, what is being done to diversify the county’s employer base and how the business community has partnered with local educational institutions to meet workforce demands.

On July 24-25, we’ll look at the city’s future economic and housing development plans, and dig into how area colleges are preparing current and future workforces for the tech jobs officials are looking to bring to the area. Our digital subscribers will also get access to exclusive content on SpringfieldNewsSun.Com in the coming days.

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