The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, May. 18, 2022

Planning crucial for local development

Editor’s note: This is the last article in a three-part series about economic development in the Van Wert community. This article provides a look at the current economic situation and how development officials plan to seize opportunities that arise as the economy improves.

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

To area residents burdened with job losses, with unemployment pay exhausted and, sometimes, facing mortgage foreclosures and bankruptcies, preparing for economic growth seems wildly optimistic. But Van Wert Economic Development Director Nancy Bowen says planning and optimism are the best ways to achieve economic success.

Van Wert County Hospital's emergency medical services addition (above) along with Brumback Library, YMCA and YWCA and the Niswonger Performing Arts Center of Northwest Ohio are important tools for future economic development. (independent file photo)

“Obviously, few of us are ready to be happy as clams, but the area is in a recovery mode and we need to stay positive,” Bowen noted.

Reasons for optimism are few at the moment, though. The county still has double-digit unemployment heading into the third year of the recession and has lost approximately 1,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, to the current economic downturn.

Furthermore, the recession hit Van Wert County particularly hard because of its heavy reliance on goods-producing manufacturing facilities. “Van Wert is one of the top counties (although it has fallen from No. 2 to No. 4) with employment concentrated in manufacturing,” Bowen explained.

Even without the “R” word, the local manufacturing sector has dropped off over the past two decades, not only because of the movement of jobs offshore, but because of technological advances that decrease the number of employees needed.

Businesses lost include GKN, Findlay Industries, Tendasoft, Varco-Pruden and, finally, Kongsberg (formerly Teleflex Corporation), which was the third-largest employer when its Norwegian owner closed the local plant.

Fortunately, Bowen and other local government and development officials have worked hard to position the county for the coming recovery – but the work isn’t done yet, she added.

Work has begun on diversifying the local economic mix, while efforts to get Van Wert’s 1,600-acre Jobs Ready Site shovel-ready are intensifying.

As was mentioned in the last article, the county has some excellent economic development tools, including Microenterprise and Revolving Loan funds, a business incubator and a well-established Retention and Expansion program.

The quality of local schools has increased remarkably over the past decade, especially as it pertains to facilities infrastructure. That will only improve once Van Wert City School District’s new grades 1-5 elementary school is completed.

The Niswonger Performing Arts Center of Northwest Ohio is bringing thousands of new people to the community with its high-quality entertainment and reasonable ticket prices, while the county has a very desirable workforce, with excellent training facilities at Vantage Career Center, with its partnership with several area facilities of higher education.

Even at the state level, efforts appear underway to streamline government, privatize the state development agency and modernize the state tax structure.

Along with all that, county development officials are working to implement a plan they hope will create a net of 2,245 additional jobs in five target sectors and 3,606 total jobs (direct and indirect).

The five target sectors, and the number of new jobs sought in each, are as follows:

  • Value-added agriculture (wind farms, food processing, etc.) – 205 jobs.
  • Polymers, plastics and rubber (retention and expansion of current businesses and addition of one new facility) – 150 new jobs.
  • Distribution and logistics – 300 new jobs.
  • Information technology and insurance (assist expansion of Central Insurance and add two new tech businesses) – 90 new jobs.
  • Advanced manufacturing (end user for Jobs Ready Site, preferably company involved in energy, transportation, military/aerospace of heavy equipment) – 1,500 new jobs.

Bowen said that, in addition to those jobs, local development officials hope to create an additional 1,361 indirect jobs in 68 economic sectors.

Another part of the plan is to use the small business loan programs (Microenterprise and Revolving Loan) and the local Business Retention and Expansion program to help existing businesses retain existing jobs, while providing grow financing tools and counseling to help business start-ups and those that want to expand.

Of special importance to local development efforts has been the Towne Center retail development. While its growth has lagged behind expectations, Bowen noted, its construction has led to expanded opportunities north of U.S. 30.

“Without Towne Center, we wouldn’t have been able to expand development north of U.S. 30 like we have,” she said, noting that infrastructure constructed for Towne Center has provided a springboard for expansion further north – especially for the Jobs Ready Site.

One critically important tool in the county’s economic renascence is the one local residents see when they look in the mirror, the local economic development director says.

“The general public plays a key role in sending a positive message to prospective businesses wanting to locate here,” Bowen said, adding that periodic controversies that arise over what most outsiders would see as trivial issues – including the recent battle over selling beer at the airport for Wheels-N-Wings – hurts that positive message (see an editorial on that issue in Monday’s independent).

“We need to adopt a positive, can-do attitude,” Bowen said, “because new companies want to locate in proud, winning communities.”

POSTED: 02/26/11 at 4:20 am. FILED UNDER: News