EATON — Preble County’s employment level is at its highest level since early 2007, according to data provided by Preble County Development Partnership Economic Development Director Justin Sommer.
Sommer met with commissioners to provide a quarterly economic development update on Wednesday, May 17.
Sommer began his report with data provided by Jobs EQ software the PCDP purchased last year. “It really compiles Census data Bureau of labor statistics data, all of those federal sources, and puts it into a format that’s easy for us to read and understand,” he said.
“As of end of Q4 2022, Preble County is at over 13,000 employed,” Sommer said. “That is the highest level of employment in the county since pre-recession. It goes back to quarter one of 2007 the last time we saw employment numbers at that level, so very, very pleased with the economic activity that our businesses continue to provide within the county.”
“To go along with that trend, average annual wages in Preble County are now over $49,000 a year, pressing up on $50,000 a year, and you can see that that trend is certainly headed in the right direction,” Sommer added. “Wages have increased 44 percent over the last five years. That is significant increase.”
“Obviously our employers are feeling the effects of a tight labor market and are responding to that with increased wages,” he continued. “We anticipate that those trends will only continue as some of these projects that we’ve been working on over the last few years come online, and in particular Royal Canin. They’ve already been advertising for hiring but really haven’t full-force started hiring yet, as they await the opening of that facility, but we know that they’ve committed to 225 new jobs in the community. Those are not reflected in those numbers yet.”
“We expect the labor market will remain tight, which will continue to put pressure on wages, which I think tells a good case for the other activity that we want to see in terms of retail and housing development,” Sommer said. “So we certainly support new activity there.”
Preble County outpaces the region and the state in both employment growth and wage growth, according to Sommer “So, again, I think the activity of Partnership and more importantly, of our employers in the county are helping. Our economic performance only happens through the partnerships that have been created over the last several years,” he said.
Sommer reported there are a couple of new projects in the pipeline for Preble County. He noted, demolition has begun on buildings in Camden which will be replaced with the offices of new business, MedShip. “I anticipate that we’ll be hearing more details in the near future on what their plans are. More to come, but exciting developments in Camden.”
He noted, the PCDP recently provided funding from the Partnership’s revolving loan fund to Barnes Butcher Shop, a company which is renovating and moving into the former Camden IGA building.
“Barnes will be actually processing meat at the facility as well as have a retail store with some farm-to-market kinds of goods, with locally sourced food. And obviously taking what was a vacant building and putting that back into productive use is good for all of us,” he said. “They tell me that they’re getting calls every day from people who are looking for processing capabilities. We know is a need statewide. There were some state funds that were available in the last budget. We hope that those are available in the next budget cycle for the state as well, so that we can help them as they continue to grow their business.”
A lack of inventory is going to constrain some of the development growth in Preble County, according to Sommer. “Even though I just talked about the positive trends that we’re on, we will be somewhat constrained going forward because of lack of available inventory,” he noted. “Really both with industrial property and workforce.”
“We know that we need to make some investments into infrastructure and to site development so that we’re prepared, whether that’s our existing businesses within the county that need to grow or whether that’s new businesses that want to set up operations here,” he continued. “But the reality is, I’m pretty well out of industrial land for new development, so we’ve had conversations with developers. There is interest especially along I-70.
“When you look at the activity that’s happened just outside of Lewisburg, Royal Canin, Cargill investments — that same type of activity can happen at over at 127 and I-70 and so on.”
Sommer said he will be making some recommendations to the PCDP’s business development committee to figure out what the next steps are. “But really what that amounts to is figuring out how we pay for the infrastructure that is necessary to plan for future development,” he said.
Sommer told commissioners he recently had the opportunity to attend the Mid America Economic Development Council Best Practices Conference. “I like that organization. Because it is totally focused on Midwest development, the conversations are not slanted by what’s going on the coast or in the Sunbelt. It’s really focused on our logistical advantages,” he said.
The PCDP has also engaged a consultant to complete an updated housing study for the county, and is helping provide several nonprofit organizations grants through its civic development grant program.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr.