Economic development update: manufacturing is main focus


EATON — Preble County Development Partnership Economic Development Director Justin Sommer provided a quarterly update to county commissioners during a Wednesday, Oct. 18, meeting.

He began his report with information regarding the PCDP Civic Development Grant program commissioners have funded with American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

“I wanted to report back on the Civic Development Grants that were funded through the ARPA dollars. The first round of funds all went out and we were able to provide funding dollars to eleven different organizations across the county. I think we did a pretty good job of spreading those dollars across the county; Camden, New Paris West Alex, Lewisburg, Eaton organizations got funding. And the Historical Society, so there were events in Gratis, that were beneficiaries of the funds. So we think that was a good program.”

Sommer reported the PCDP’s Executive Committee were to meet and approve two additional grants.

“So we’re already starting to get that second round of funding out,” he added.

“October is Manufacturing Month, so I provided you have a report that we’re able to pull out of our data tool that highlights some information related to manufacturing in the county,” Sommer continued his report. “There’s a reason that we spend so much time talking about it and focused on it through economic development activities. Just a couple of highlights out of that report: manufacturing represents about 4,300 people employed in Preble County. That is about 33 percent of the total employment in Preble County, so far and away the largest industry sector within the county.

“That’s an increase in employment of about four and a half percent over the last 10 years,” Sommer said. “The nation saw an increase of less than 1 percent. So, again, our activities in trying to retain and attract new manufacturing into the county have been successful.”

He continued, “Average wages in manufacturing are almost $60,000 a year compared to average wages for all other industries in the county, which are just under $50,000. So, manufacturing pays about 30 percent more than the average wage in Preble County. And then manufacturing accounted for over 40 percent of the gross domestic product in the county. So when you think about a strong economy, attracting new dollars into our economy, manufacturing does that at about four times the rate as it does in the nation. It’s a huge concentration for us. We’ll continue to focus efforts on growing and retaining manufacturing in Preble County.”

Sommer also touched on projects. “A couple of project updates to be aware of, as you know, the former Maronda site was purchased back in June. We had recent conversations with the new owners of that back property. They have construction documents out to bid currently. Plans call for adding about 17,000 square feet to that building.” Sommer said the company would be making significant upgrades to the facility internally, including a crane, putting new offices in and more. Haven’t seen what the total investment is going to be, but they committed to about $24 million. I’m guessing it’s going to be higher than that. And 50 new jobs. That construction project will probably get done throughout 2024. I would expect them to start hiring sometime late 2024.”

“I recently received an update from Royal Canin on their project. The construction is ongoing. I would expect they’re probably going to be producing some product in the first quarter of next year. They anticipate having 85 employees on board by the end of the year. So you’ll start to see them be more active in their hiring,” Sommer said.

He also reported on growth for Rexarc. “Rexarc, so that is a new project that I wanted to share with you guys. Rexarc has acquired 17 acres in Lewisburg for a planned expansion project, so that will be new construction. That was a project that honestly they were looking at other locations. We attempted to retain them in West Alex, but due to business reasons they made the decision to acquire the property in Lewisburg. So unfortunately, we weren’t able to retain them in West Alexandria for the long term, but we were able to retain them in the county. They just found that piece of property that better fit what their business needs were. So we’re glad that we were able to retain them and not lose them.”

Sommer reported building permits have been received at the county for new construction at the Go Mart site at the old rest stop on U.S. 40 at the state line.

“As you recall, that was a site that was a bit overgrown the last few years,” he said. “So that’s all been cleared out and we expect to see the building going up relatively soon, once the building permits are approved. So that’s all-good activity.”

As for the PCDP itself, “We have been working off the comprehensive economic development strategy that was passed in 2017. So it was time to relook at what our strategic priorities are,” Sommer reported. “Many of those things from the 2017 plan have been completed or are works in progress. So we wanted to re-look at what our next strategies are.”

The PCDP went through a strategic planning session recently with the help of Edison State’s Rick Hanes.

“I think that went very well,” Sommer said. “We’re still finalizing the those comments and we’ll have a report that will be adopted by the board but common themes that came out of that strategic planning session was the need for increased industrial sites.

“As we’ve talked about here many times, we lack available shovel ready sites for new growth, whether that’s existing businesses that need to grow or new businesses coming into the county. So that will be an area of focus for us, I believe.”

“Another thing that came through was branding. And we made steps forward. I think one of the Civic Development Grants went towards a new website for the Visitors Bureau. So that’s much improved. The Development Partnership has a new website. But we will need to continue to tell our story on why this is a great place to live, work and play. So, we’ll be adopting some new strategies there,” he added.

“It became clear that we need to do a better job of capturing testimonials from people who have businesses that choose to locate here and people who choose to be entrepreneurs here, so we’ll be doing a better job of that,” he added. “We know those stories are out there. So we want to capture those and tell them to the rest of the world.”

Sommer also touched on housing.

“And then, and we talk about this all the time — the need for housing really at all levels,” he said. “And that’s a national problem. I think the estimate nationally is something like six and a half million homes that were short. And certainly, we see that here. Our housing study will probably be wrapping up in November, but certainly before the end of the year we’ll have a final copy of that.”

Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on X @emowenjr.

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