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ST. MARYS — An economic development official says he hopes a 400-acre site in Wapakoneta serves as a regional economic shift for Auglaize County.
During the St. Marys Community Improvement Corporation’s annual luncheon, Wapakoneta Area Economic Development Council Executive Director Greg Myers addressed a variety of economic development topics regarding the county, including the West Central Ohio Industrial Center. The parcel, which is a 471-acre site adjacent to Interstate 75, was one of the state’s first certified through the Job Ready Sites program — a state-sponsored program aimed to increase the number of sites suitable for economic expansion in the state’s portfolio.
“Gov. Bob Taft and Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson, when they implemented the program, called their Job Ready Manufacturing Sites ‘regional economy shifting,’” Myers said. “And we hope that’s what this piece of property in Auglaize County will have — a regional economy shifting impact. We’ve talked with some property owners to even expanding the site to bring it back up to what it was before the state cut it back.”
The Wapakoneta location is one of four JRS manufacturing sites in the state — and the only one in west-central Ohio. Before the parcel could be deemed a Job Ready Sites manufacturing site, Myers said officials worked diligently to meet a slew of requirements.
“We have since done every study possible — possibly known by mankind on that piece of dirt,” Myers said. “It has not only all the infrastructure ... It also has had it’s phase I environmental review done and any mitigation that was
required by that has been completed ... . It’s had its endangered species reviews done and it’s even had its wetlands delineation.”
The parcel also includes a rail connection to CSX’s system. Myers said that aspect helped the site earn a distinction from the transportation company.
“They are implementing a new program called Select Sites,” Myers said, noting CSX representatives approached city officials last year regarding the Wapakoneta location. “Their goal is to have 12 sites throughout the eastern U.S. — they operate in 23 eastern states — and they will certify the sites and begin marketing them. Because we were an Ohio Job Ready Site, they felt it would give us an advantage for CSX Select Site certification, which it did.”
That partnership could lead to economic growth. Myers said CSX has a hand in numerous modes of transportation.
“We’re excited that our team now includes the world’s largest transportation company — CSX, which does more than just rail,” Myers said. “They are also now promoting the Auglaize County site as a location to drive major rail customers. Their incentive is they want to locate people on these parks who will be major rail users.”
Myers also spoke about a CSX project in North Baltimore. That hub was upgraded through a $175 million investment that will handle shipping containers from major eastern sea ports.
“This facility at North Baltimore is pretty amazing,” Myers said. “They estimate they will process 2 million containers a year at the North Baltimore location. It’s not a bad thing for us, in our Auglaize County site, to be just 60 miles south on the CSX main line.”
Myers also spoke about the importance of retention and expansion of existing facilities in the county. During the past year, economic development officials met with county firms to develop a comprehensive plan.
“Economic development isn’t all about bringing in the sexy, new large company in,” Myers said. “It’s about fostering and enhancing the opportunities and solving problems for the companies that are already here.”
County officials made 85 visits to businesses across the county to learn about any issues and concerns. Myers said the data will be pulled with neighboring counties to develop a game plan to help each remain successful.
“We found the results very exciting,” Myers said. “We heard from company after company in Auglaize County ... work force is a challenge. In the next five to eight years, a lot of very highly skilled, technical and industrial employees, people who are advancing welders and a lot of tool and die folks, are going to be retiring and we haven’t been nurturing the young work force to take their place and companies are worried about that. So we are strategizing within the county and also within the region on how we can address those issues.”