As 2009 winds down to a close, Oregon is optimistic about the economy.
Rieter Automotive North America, which manufactures fiber padding materials and molded acoustical products for autos, plans to expand its Oregon production facility, according to Gary Thompson, executive director of the Oregon Economic Development Foundation.
“It’s something we’re very excited about,” said Thompson. “The company has been aggressively pursuing additional work. In the short-term, there may be a couple of contracts that would add somewhere between 20-50 jobs. Long-term, because the company has pretty prudent financial management, and a lot of their competitors are filing for bankruptcy, they’re sitting pretty well to increase their market share. We’re just hoping their market share increases so more and more of that work can come to Oregon.”
The company previously expanded about 18 months ago and added 100 employees, said Thompson.
“They’re still hiring, and have not filled all the positions,” he said.
Also, a new automotive company that could deliver between 50-75 jobs has shown a tentative interest in moving to Oregon, said Thompson.
“This company has operations all over the country. We will know by the end of 2010,” he said.
Thompson said he is pleased that the city has not suffered as much as other communities from the recession.
“It’s been a very good year,” he said. “When I talk to communities, they’re most impressed that we have construction happening on Navarre Avenue. There’s no other commercial construction happening anywhere.”
Verizon plans to move into half of a new, 8,000-square-foot strip mall under construction on Navarre, near the Sonic Restaurant, he said.
“The walls are just going up right now. And there’s strong interest from local retail to national and franchise organizations in the strip mall,” he said.
Still, the city, like most communities, would likely see their economic fortunes rise if the banks would loosen up credit and approve loans to small businesses, he said.
“Many still have issues with financing. The credit is not as free flowing as we would like it to be. When you talk about retail start-up or restaurants, a lot of banks don’t want to have anything to do with that right now. There are some local banks that are doing that kind of work, so we’re trying to pair those people together and see if we can’t help fill up that strip.”
So why is Navarre Avenue drawing any interest in a recession?
“I think if you spend some time in the market place, you understand that demographics isn’t the whole story on Navarre. There is a lot of traffic generated, not only during tourist season, but with Navarre being kind of a thoroughfare for all the communities on this side of the river. You get a lot of people, dare I say even from Perrysburg, who come to Navarre Avenue to buy things. And costs are down. You can get something built pretty cheap these days.”
Other new developments in Oregon, according to Thompson, include:
• Plans for an Alde’s grocery store on Navarre Avenue near Wal-Mart.
• BP-Husky’s new administrative building with laboratory space and possibly meeting rooms at the corner of Lallendorf and Dupont roads.
There are also a number of restaurants interested in the former First Federal Bank building on Navarre Avenue after the bank moved into its new branch office down the road in November, he said.
“There’s a fair amount of interest in that because the building, a former restaurant, still has equipment in the ceiling that could be used for a commercial kitchen,” he said.
Next year, Thompson said he would like to see some commercial interest at a few sites.
“I’d like to see a few holes on Navarre Avenue filled, such as something going into the old Food Town building, development near Wal-Mart at Lallendorf and Navarre, and directly across the street. Those are three great opportunities for big box retail, movie theaters, and even a women’s and men’s clothing store. We have all the data that supports it would work. But when the economy took a downturn, everyone put on the brakes,” he said.
Finally, Thompson said officials will be paying attention to Congress’s proposed Cap and Trade legislation, a global warming bill that could severely impact the city’s two local refineries.
Under Cap and Trade, the government would set a cap on the amount of carbon that utilities, refineries and factories could emit. If a company goes over the cap, they must buy allowances or credits from companies that stay below the cap. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050.
The legislation “puts American refineries and manufacturers at a severe disadvantage,” said Thompson.
“With the proposed legislation currently making its way through Congress, not only does the refinery have to worry about the carbon emissions at the refinery, but they also have to deal with carbon emissions when their gasoline leaves the refinery and goes into a tanker, when it refuels at a filling station, and when the customer puts gas into the car - they penalize the refinery all the way down the retail chain You can see how onerous it is in terms of a tax,” said Thompson. “The reality is, worldwide, there are people building refineries in India now. A refinery was just shut down in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey because it’s easier to make gas in India and import it directly to the U.S. than to make gas in the U.S.,” he added.