County cites gains in economic development
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Friday, 15 February 2013 11:09
Wood County is seeing more investments by local businesses and less unemployment.
|File photo. Construction of the new Calphalon building near Rt. 25 and St. Rt. 582 just North of Bowling Green. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
During the annual meeting of the Wood County Community Investment Corporation on Thursday, members heard about local economic development efforts.
"Last year was a pretty good year," said Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission. "We've seen pretty good evidence of growth."
Gottschalk listed off investments announced by companies last year, with Owens-Illinois investing $35 million; Calphalon, $11 million; Johnson Controls, $12 million; Fed Ex Freight, $21 million; and Northwood Industries, $750,000.
The trend is predicted to continue. "We expect to see a good year this year," Gottschalk said.
The city of Bowling Green experienced success last year as well, reported Sue Clark, of the Bowling Green Community Development Foundation.
"It was a very good year," Clark said, noting investments of nearly $22 million in building construction and equipment in the city.
Bowling Green does, however, still have four empty manufacturing buildings, "which is the most I've ever had," Clark said. Those vacant buildings were formerly used by Rexam, Cooper, Thomas & Betts, and a site in the Woodbridge industrial park.
Gottschalk also noted that Wood County's unemployment rate had dropped by a couple points last year. And Clark said several businesses in Bowling Green have been unable to find workers to fill positions.
"Lots of people are looking for more employees," Clark said, but they can't find workers with the right mechanical skills. "That's one of my biggest concerns."
"We need more young people to go into the skilled trades, and we're not seeing that," she said.
Tim Smith, associate vice president of economic development at Bowling Green State University, reported hearing some of the same concerns from employers.
"Some young people would be better served by some technical education," he said.
Smith reported on the $200 million construction and renovation plan for the campus over the next few years, and noted that BGSU remains the largest employer in Wood County.
"We are an economic driver here," he said.
Also at the meeting, Rex Huffman of the Wood County Port Authority reported on economic development efforts of that organization. The port authority financed the Calphalon project, plus assisted with roadway projects such as the Liberty Hi bridge over the CSX hub and turn lanes for Calphalon.
Huffman said the state is encouraging such types of assistance for businesses, "as a passive way to subsidize some of their construction projects."
The port authority is presently working to help a company that handles international freight to build near the CSX site. The business could lead to agri-businesses locating in the area, he said.
Huffman said the port authority is always looking for ways to aid economic development projects. "We'll keep the radar open for things out there."
He also noted the organization is working on a strategic plan, to make sure the agency is working efficiently with other economic development groups in the area. "So we don't have a lot of entities pulling the sled in different directions," he said.
Also at the meeting, it was noted that some local employers have voiced concern about the effects of the Affordable Health Care Act. Some have expressed reluctance to increase their employee number to 50 or more, since that would then require them provide health insurance. But Gottschalk said some business officials realize they may need to hire more people in order to meet business demands.
"The reality is if they have to hire four people to make a product," they will have to increase their employees or risk losing a contract, Gottschalk said.
"I don't think it's actually going to curtail hiring," he said.
However, Clark said she suspected some businesses will pay overtime rather than bumping up their employee level past the health insurance threshold.
Economic development officials also discussed the problem employers are having with prospective workers not being able to pass drug tests when applying for jobs.