Gary Thompson, director of the Oregon Economic Development Foundation, told members of the Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning that only a lack of credit is holding up development projects eyeing Oregon as a potential site.
“I’m amazed at the number of industrial firms looking for space,” he said. Even though the economy is in free fall and industry is moving off-shore, Oregon draws its share of interest from developers. “We have that magic geography that only a dozen places in the country have,” he said. A number of areas can claim to be the “Crossroads of America” because of their highways, but few can combine that access with rail and a deep water port, he added. Oregon can.
Thompson said three steel companies are looking at local sites. The city is one of three still competing with Michigan and Minnesota for one of these projects. “Hopefully, we’ll have an announcement in the next 30 to 90 days,” he added.
Thompson also extolled the vision of the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority which recently acquired more property making it the largest land mass port on the Great Lakes. (See column by Brian Schwartz) Thompson said this land could be a future home for manufacturing and distribution of components for alternative energy as Toledo is becoming a leader in solar panel manufacturing.
Thompson was fresh air after listening to Pat Bacon, Northwood’s administrator; Marge Brown, Oregon’s mayor; and Mike Craig, district councilman from East Toledo.
It’s not that these speakers were spreading doom and gloom. They just told it like it is.
Bacon, who year after year has been able to tout millions of dollars of new construction for industrial projects like Magna, Faurecia and Johnson Controls, said the city is doing what most of us in business are doing—cutting costs to reflect decreased revenue while waiting for the bailout to take effect. The city expects an eight percent decline in 2009 revenues and has cut 13 percent of its budget in anticipation of lower revenues from three Jeep suppliers who have laid off employees.
In the biggest news, the city and Evergreen Landfill have reached an accord to develop a 40-acre park. The city will lease land from Evergreen for $1 a year and the company will spend $420,000 to develop the park.
Mayor Marge Brown said Oregon has also seen a decline in economic development. Only 33 construction permits totaling $18.9 million were issued last year compared to 52 permits totaling $34.6 million in 2007.
Fortunately, the city is home to two hospitals and two refineries. One of the refineries, BP, was singled out as boosting the city’s tax income due to a major construction project and design work for the upcoming $2.5 billion joint project with Husky Energy to develop the Sunrise oil sands fields in Alberta, Canada. Mayor Brown said the city’s rainy-day fund totaled $1 million when she came to office in 2001, but today the fund totals $5 million.
Mike Craig echoed Thompson’s assertion that credit availability is plugging the development pipeline. He cited the lack of vertical development of The Marina District as an example. But, while developer Larry Dillin searches for private funding, the city is building the road to access the project. Craig’s other good news is TetraTech just paid $50,000 to extend options on land it wants for the Swan Creek river walk project.
While Craig holds onto hope for these projects, he’s busy dealing with today’s economic reality. He said he voted against the city budget because he believes the city will not bring in the revenue it projects and more cuts should be made now.
Craig said the city has also been “hit hard” by home foreclosures, but it recently received $12.3 million from the federal government for neighborhood stabilization. Four of the six neighborhoods targeted for help are in East Toledo.
While Thompson delivered the side order of hope, the real meat of this annual State of the Communities breakfast came from Pat Bacon—expect less revenue and cut costs. Those who do will survive and put themselves in a position to capitalize on that hope when it turns to reality.