Small-Town Feel, Big-City Goals

City of Van Wert
Written by Grace McDermott

Van Wert, Ohio has been a leader in the manufacturing industry in the Midwest for decades, but with the development of a brand new mega-site, an increasingly diverse industrial sector and a vibrant local community, the next decade promises to be Van Wert’s best yet.
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Van Wert’s west central Ohio location, within a 350-mile radius of several major U.S. and Canadian cities, and proximity to the Great Lakes makes the area a prime spot for a range of industries. Van Wert offers not only industrial promise but a great lifestyle to match.

Van Wert’s Midwestern roots and population of skilled workers is what has attracted businesses to the area for years, and today that legacy continues. The area has long been one of the region’s best-kept secrets, but as the local economy continues to climb, an increasing number of businesses and professionals are taking notice.

Despite substantial economic and industrial growth, Van Wert continues to cultivate a close-knit community, hosting an increasing number of local initiatives and economic development programs that have proved beneficial for residents and industries. With an excellent school district, top-of-the-line medical facilities, and a plethora of recreational opportunities, Van Wert has all the benefits of the work-life balance for which so many strive to achieve.

As the area’s industrial footprint continues to expand more and more people are calling Van Wert home. According to Cynthia Leis, Van Wert’s Economic and Community Development Director, the feeling of “home” is what continues to set the area apart. “There is a lot of community involvement in Van Wert. This is a great place to work and an even better place to live.”

Situated on Lincoln Highway, the oldest transcontinental highway in America, Van Wert stands as an example of local industry done right. Like much of the Midwest, Van Wert has a history in the automotive sector and has held on to its manufacturing roots. It remains a steadfast supporter of industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and professional services. Although the fabric of Van Wert’s economy is transforming with the times, manufacturing and agriculture remain the lifeblood of area.

Van Wert’s location is one of the best in the nation for manufacturing and logistics. Van Wert’s proximity to all major cities in the Midwest enables the area to be home to numerous national and international industry leaders such as Eaton Corporation, Braun Industries, Federal Mogul, Cooper Farms, Kennedy Manufacturing, Advanced Biological Marketing, and Iberdrola Renewables – and the list is growing.

As a result of its location, there is no better geographic location in the country to run a manufacturing facility, and the benefits are much broader than mere accessibility. Due to Van Wert’s long legacy in manufacturing, the region has not only the infrastructure, but also the added benefit of a long-standing skilled labor force.

Van Wert has always been full of hard-working, highly skilled laborers, an asset that continues to be developed. The Midwest was one of the hardest hit areas during the economic downturn. Van Wert’s local economy was seemingly positioned in the midst, but a healthy industrial base and a community commitment to growth demonstrated sustainability is possible in times of economic hardships.

During the financial crisis, Van Wert created community initiatives, inward investment and government partnerships that resulted in local economic achievement. While much of the country is still fighting against the threat of unemployment, Van Wert maintains an unemployment rate lower than the Ohio and U.S. national averages.

In the past decade, many organizations have broken ground in Van Wert. While manufacturing businesses like Braun Industries and Kennedy Manufacturing have expanded both workforce and facility size, professional service companies like Central Insurance Company and the Van Wert County Hospital also experienced workforce and facility expansions. Additionally, education and arts facilities have improved. Van Wert City High School constructed a new facility with the multi-million dollar Niswonger Performing Arts Center incorporated into the design. Vantage Career Center enhanced their facility by adding space and resources for the faculty and students. The Wassenberg Art Center moved into a larger facility and completed some building improvements, allowing for more art to be showcased as well as more event space for the community to utilize. Van Wert businesses, education and arts invested approximately $60 million in capital expansions and improvements.

Van Wert welcomes renewable energy investments as well. The Blue Creek Wind Farm, completed in June 2012, is an Iberdrola Renewables project in Van Wert and Paulding counties. The 80 square mile wind farm houses 152 turbines, each of which can produce up to two megawatts. Each turbine could power approximately 500 average energy consumption homes. The $600 million dollar investment is the company’s largest investment in Ohio. Cooper Farms erected three wind turbines to power their Van Wert facility. Vantage Career Center has also invested in renewable energy by installing a one acre solar array which currently generates about one megawatt of power for the school.

Van Wert’s current challenge is attracting more people to fill the professional employment opportunities that are currently open in the area. Its unparalleled growth has created an influx of new employment opportunities for the region as a whole. Consequently, many professionals from surrounding cities have begun commuting to Van Wert for work.

Offering the promise of a small town atmosphere with the professional potential of any major city, Van Wert has attracted new residents and called back a number of residents with history in the area. Today, Van Wert is working toward creating a city for many young professionals who left for college to make their way back home to raise families and find their careers.

“Van Wert is a great choice for young people. You can get all the essential items in Van Wert and also have access to the larger cities within thirty minutes,” says Leis.

Van Wert offers all of the benefits of a small town including an excellent school district, an active community environment and a safe, affordable housing market. Unlike other small towns, Van Wert is able to offer the promise of competitive wages and career opportunities.

In the last year, Van Wert furthered its commitment to industrial growth with the development of an industrial Mega-Site. The 1600-acre mega-site, located on US 30, was recently certified by the Ohio Job-Ready Site Certification Program and is currently available for new business.

As the largest certified Mega-Site in Ohio, Van Wert’s Mega-Site provides an unparalleled opportunity for a large corporation to locate. Centrally located thirty minutes from Lima, Ohio and Fort Wayne, Indiana, Van Wert is a target location for companies seeking affordable operations with the benefits of a regional workforce.

The Mega-Site’s location may be its initial draw, but the land itself is ideal for any company seeking expansion for a multitude of other reasons. The site is equipped with all of the necessary space and infrastructure to accommodate a large corporation. The flat agricultural land is ready for use as it accommodates excess capacity for water, wastewater, natural gas, electric, fiber and a rail spur with direct access to the Chicago, Fort Wayne, and Eastern Railroad (CFE) mainline, located 1 mile south of the site.

Entrepreneurship and start-up businesses are a growing part of Van Wert’s regional industry. An entrepreneurial spirit is at the core of what makes the area so successful, as evidenced not only by the large number of major national and international businesses in the area, but also the increasing number of homegrown companies opening. “We have a good foundation for entrepreneurship here,” Leis states.

Homegrown success stories are always the best ones. In the last decade, Van Wert has become increasingly focused on grass-roots business development in the area. Through supporting community driven initiatives, professional and economic development in Van Wert is improving. “We see success with small start-up businesses, growing not only in size and sales but employees,” says Leis.

Successful entrepreneurial endeavors in Van Wert result because of the area’s long history in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing and the incentive programs available from local government and organizations. “We provide small business start-up training, and we also have a revolving loan program which offers funding to businesses. That is something which really provides the additional support necessary to get things going,” Leis says.

Van Wert’s steadfast commitment to stable growth was a product of community, industry and local government synergy that has proven successful. “The citizens of Van Wert City are very committed to this community – to making it the best they can. That’s a unique characteristic of Van Wert,” says Leis.

Van Wert has seen expansion and continues to grow through some of the toughest economic times the U.S. has ever seen, proving that there is a unique and beneficial place for small-town growth, built on big-city goals. Van Wert has managed to foster a robust economic footprint and a rich sense of community, positioning the area for impressive growth opportunities in the coming years.

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