Relatively speaking, things are not that bad if you live or work in Wood County. They’re not that good, either.
“No question about it,” said Tom Blaha, director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission. “That’s probably going to be the main message because as slow as things have been nationally in 2008 because of the credit meltdown and everything, there is not a whole lot of new investment taking place anywhere, especially by our previous standards.
“Some of the things that we had in the works were big enough over a period of time that they were sort of coming online even at a time when new things weren’t being initiated.”
In the counties comprising the Toledo Metropolitan Statistical Area alone, December unemployment rates reached 12.4 percent in Ottawa County, 10.3 percent in Fulton County, and 9.9 percent in Lucas County.
In Wood County — the rate was 8.3 percent, noted Dr. Michael Carroll during his presentation to the Seventh Annual State of the Region Conference held last month in Perrysburg.
“The one thing about it is that everyone has taken a hit with the plant closings and unemployment, and we’ve got unemployment in Wood County of about 8.5 percent, which is high for us, because we’re normally down in the four, five, to six percent range. But still we’re one of the lowest ones around because a lot of other places are nine, ten, and eleven,” Blaha said.
County commissioner Jim Carter told the Oregon-Northwood Rotary Club, “Other counties are having a worst problem than we are. I won’t say we are in good shape, but we are not standing still in putting this economy back on track,”
Wood County has seen the relocation of an $80 million, 395,000 square foot FedEx hub; the opening of a $50 million Bass Pro Outdoor World store in Rossford; and retail success in Levis Commons. The 150,000 square foot Bass Pro store employs 250 full-time workers.
“We counted Bass Pro as a 2007 project because that’s when it was announced, but it actually formally opened in July of 2008,” Blaha said. “That’s something that’s fairly significant that people had been looking forward to in the north end of the county.
“(The Fed Ex facility) is going to be one of the bigger ones in the entire Midwest (tied into the turnpike). It’s going to save quite a few jobs for Northwest Ohio,” Blaha continued.
“All things considered, we’re doing pretty well although there are not the large numbers of newly announced projects that we’ve had. We’ve kind of gotten spoiled by that in the past.”
Blaha says an inter-modal project planned for North Baltimore by CSX Railroad will have far-reaching effects.
“I’m thinking the inter-modal project in North Baltimore, even though that’s at the opposite end of the county and it hasn’t started yet (announced in May of ’08, expected to break ground this spring), when it comes together, should have an impact on all of Wood and Lucas counties both,” Blaha said.
Carter says the CSX freight transportation 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 alleged.
He described a system in Chicago that he says is becoming too antiquated and large to connect different freight systems, and joked they are “even losing entire trains.”
Carter also noted First Solar, which is currrently in production, along with another solar energy company that purchased the Delafoil Building in Perrysburg Township last year.
Mike Cicak, an East Toledo native, is naming the new company Willard and Kelsey Solar Group after two East Toledo streets near where he was raised. The company, which plans to have over 200 full time employees, has been approved by the township for abatements.
In the retail sector, developer Larry Dillin says Perrysburg Township’s Levis Commons is doing well. It is one of his company’s projects, but he admits having difficulty getting financing in many places.
Focus on Retention
Blaha admits that job retention has increasingly become his organization’s focus during the current recession, replacing expansion.
“It really has. We did a very interesting retention in Lake Township with Mark Hummer (Lake Twp. administrator) at a company called Fisher Metal Fabricating there on 795 and Glendale. They are a relatively small family-owned company. We’re talking 30-40 employees,” Blaha said.
“They don’t make a lot of headlines, but we made a retention call there. They are actually making big eight-track units that are being exported to China, which was very heartwarming when you talk about all the manufacturing being taken by China and our jobs that are going over there. These guys have jobs right here in Lake Township, Wood County and they are sending stuff over there and making a buck off it, so that’s good thing.”
Grade separation projects have been announced for Northwood — one that was completed on Oregon Road leading into Owens Community College, and another that awaits construction on Wales Road.
The announcement of a new industrial park planned for the corner of Tracy Road and State Route 795 was also headlines.
Walbridge is doing some retention of its own. The village is in the final stages of signing a long term lease to get PTI moved into a new building that will be constructed on Union Street, where the village oversaw the demolition of an abandoned house near the railroad property.