James F. Carter, president of Wood County’s board of commissioners, made an appearance at the Oregon-Northwood Rotary Club’s weekly breakfast at Cousino’s Steak House on Woodville Road, and talked about successes that the Wood County Economic Development Commission and its director, Tom Blaha, have had within recent years.
Those successes include a new $50 million Bass Pro Outdoor World store, the relocation of a FedEx hub from Toledo to Wood County, two new solar energy companies, an $80 million intermodal transportation hub planned by CSX Railroad, and the roles Penta County Vocational School and Owens Community College have played in training the county’s workforce.
Despite the county’s eight percent unemployment rate, the state’s seventh largest county with its 612 square miles, 21 villages, 19 townships, and five cities is taking steps to reverse the current economic downturn, Carter says.
“Other counties around us are having a worst problem than we are. I won’t say we are in good shape, but we not standing still in putting this economy back on track,” Carter told Rotary Club members.
Carter said the county’s most recently announced employment figures do not yet include the 250 full-time workers at the 150,000 square foot Bass Pro facility. In addition, Carter said, about 50 percent of the customers at the Rossford store are from out-of-town.
“If you drive around the parking lot there, you can always count license plates that are not from Ohio,” Carter said.
Carter mentioned that Wood County is employing the same strategies that Toledo and Lucas County economic organizations have employed — the region’s location in the national marketplace.
“Why did (CSX) choose North Baltimore?” Carter asked rhetorically. “It’s not necessarily just that Wood County wanted them to be here, they wanted to be here.
“We are in the perfect location in the United States,” the commissioner continued. “It’s all location, location, location. We are where everybody wants to be and it’s something everyone wants to take advantage of.
“Our economic development people have told us time and time again when people want to come to this area, they start to look around and ask questions. They don’t always know where they want to go — whether it’s Ohio or Michigan. Our economic development commission is doing a good job.”
Carter said Wood County’s ability to provide, on a minute’s notice, a complete inventory of land available for development has been one of its best assets, along with a well-trained workforce thanks to Penta and Owens.
“It’s just a win-win for everybody here in Wood County and especially in the region,” Carter said. “We need all the resources we can get. Toledo and Lucas County have resources we need, too, and we can work together in the region.”
Carter stressed that in both the CSX intermodal project and the FedEx relocation, Wood County is working with Toledo to get water and on tax sharing.
Carter believes CSX may break ground for the intermodal early next year, and said the transportation freight center could replace much of what Chicago is offering now.
“One of the reasons CSX is going to North Baltimore is right now they have to go to Chicago. Chicago is just a big, black hole — they keep losing freight,” Carter claimed.
He described a system in Chicago that he says is becoming too antiquated and large within the region’s hubs to connect different freight systems, and even joked that they are “even losing entire trains.”
The $80 million price tag for the new intermodal hub planned for Henry Township near North Baltimore is only a small piece of that puzzle. Carter said CSX plans to spend another $300 million to raise overpasses and carve tunnels so that trains can double-stack freight for transporting to deep sea ports on the East Coast.
“They can move a lot more freight without adding more track or using more locomotives,” Carter explained.
Carter also gave credit to local higher educational institutions when it came to another new industry in Wood County — solar energy.
He not only mentioned First Solar, which is in production, but mentioned a new solar energy company that purchased the former Delafoil Building on State Route 25 in Perrysburg Township.
Mike Cicak, the founder the company, is an East Toledo native and is naming his company, Willard and Kelsey Solar Group, after the two East Toledo streets near where he was raised. The company, which plans to have over 200 full time employees, has just been approved for tax abatements.
Carter noted that First Solar has done well on the stock market.
“They are the going thing in the stock market right now,” Carter said. “They are providing something that we all think is a good idea, and that is alternative energy.”