Ottawa County, Ohio has something for everyone. “Our community varies greatly,” says Jamie N. Beier Grant, Director of the Ottawa County Improvement Corporation [OCIC]. “The western end of our community is very close to the city of Toledo metropolitan area. And as you come east there is a lot of agriculture. The further east you move, you get into the lakefront, tourism economy.”
This variety of geography and industry makes for a thriving business sector as well as a high quality of life. “There is so much to do that you never have to leave Ottawa County.”
While the county is largely rural, the community enjoys quick access to a slew of major cities and to Canada. “We are centrally located within an easy drive between the large business hub cities of Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland,” reports Shelly Lizyness, HR Director at Materion. Jim Stouffer, President and CEO at Catawba Island Club adds, “We are within 200 miles of almost 30 million people.” Being situated in the middle of the nation, and at the crossroads of so many cities, is a major plus when it comes to logistics. “We have tremendous infrastructure here in the Midwest,” Mr. Stouffer points out. “It is amazing when you look at the volume and freight that comes through this region.”
Ottawa County’s number one attraction is Lake Erie. “There is a great opportunity for year-round recreation,” says Paul Zeiler, Plant Manager at Custom Glass Solutions. Residents and tourists enjoy everything from boating, sailing, and kayaking to water skiing, bird watching and swimming along the county’s 75-plus miles of Great Lakes shoreline.
With so much water-related recreation to enjoy, tourism is one of the county’s strongest industries. The lake is also an invaluable asset for industry. “We have a significant abundance of fresh, raw water available for manufacturing and industrial uses,” Ms. Beier Grant reports. Lake Erie Business Park boasts two permitted fresh water intakes that can draw 1.7 million gallons a day for industrial use. “And we have a significant amount of land around those intakes that is available for business development opportunities. We believe that is a key asset to business development opportunities in our community.” The business park is serviced by a four-lane highway as well as the Norfolk Southern Railway.
The abundance of fresh water has already created a strong industrial base in Ottawa County. The local nuclear power plant relies on this natural resource, as does United States Gypsum Corporation (USG), which uses water in the processing and manufacturing of various building products. Other local manufacturers include advanced materials producer Materion, as well as a number of manufacturers supplying the health, beauty and plastics sectors.
With Detroit only a short distance away, the auto industry is also big in Ottawa County. This helps keep the local economy diverse and makes the most of the community’s location. “We are using the natural assets that we have in the lake, but we are also tying into some of the surrounding industry base with automotive,” Ms. Beier Grant point out.
In addition to natural resources and the presence of the auto industry, the community’s solid work ethic helps support Ottawa County’s various industries. “Midwest sensibilities are prevalent here,” says Mr. Stouffer. “People are straightforward and honest.” Ms. Lizyness adds, “The average worker has a self sufficient approach to dealing with issues and does not expect others to take care of their problems for them. Additionally, they work very well with others to work through problems and find solutions. They want to make a difference and their work ethic supports this, especially at Materion. Their work ethic fits our demanding job tasks very well. We rely heavily on our dependable, consistent, intelligent, and dedicated workforce.”
The community’s can-do spirit has led to a large number of entrepreneurial ventures within Ottawa County. “We have a good base of businesses in manufacturing that were started by local entrepreneurs,” Ms. Beier Grant shares. “They started manufacturing products in their garage.” Now, these small to medium sized, family run businesses are in their second and third generation of ownership.
Ottawa County’s low cost of living and doing business is another huge boon to local industry. “Our median housing price is around $135,000, so it is very affordable to live here,” says Ms. Beier Grant. “And our low tax rate makes it easy for a business to be competitive here.” Ms. Lizyness has experienced the positive effects firsthand. “The affordable cost of living in the area allows us to pay competitive wages and still allow our employees to have a high-quality lifestyle.”
In addition to water recreation, the county’s rich lifestyle includes easy access to hiking trails, biking trails, and a wide selection of restaurants. “We have any restaurant that you can imagine, from American to Irish to Japanese cuisine,” Ms. Beier Grant remarks. “There is so much that we have to enjoy and experience in the county. I think that is a valuable asset to the residents and to businesses. Once you get off work at 5:00, you can jump in your car and head to the beach, you can jump in the car and head out for a nice meal. You can grab your bike and go. You can do all of those things right here without having to travel. In Ottawa County we have that work/life balance that so many people are looking for.”
Of course, top-notch schools are another key asset. “All of the six school districts in the county have a state of Ohio rating of excellent or higher,” Ms. Beier Grant reports. “That is really important. You can have a good quality of life both for yourself and for your children.”
Ottawa County’s businesses enjoy strong support. “The local government really supports the business community,” Mr. Zeiler reports. “If there is an issue it really becomes an all-hands-on-deck kind of matter.” As the community’s primary economic development agency, The Ottawa County Improvement Corporation [OCIC] takes the lead in advancing, encouraging, and promoting the industrial, economic, commercial, and civic development of Ottawa County. “Our number one priority is retaining industry and helping those businesses to expand and grow,” says Ms. Beier Grant.
OCIC is not afraid to step out of the box to help local businesses thrive and grow. “We provide all of the traditional economic development services that an EDO would provide, from assistance with financing to tax incentives and grants. But we think that we are unique in that we take our services one step further than that. We actually administer two revolving loan fund programs in our office to help with gap financing and down payment assistance for our small and midsized companies. We think that is something that is very important to help grow our small and midsized companies and provide that local support to see projects move forward.” OCIC also provides workforce development services in house, from pre-employment screening to workforce training, at no cost to the company.
OCIC partners with elected officials and other local leaders as well as with businesses in order to meet the community’s needs and create a mutually beneficial network. “I can’t highlight enough how well the local community works with the businesses,” Ms. Lizyness remarks. “The cooperation with the Ottawa County Commissioners, the Ottawa County Improvement Corp (OCIC), the Ottawa County Business Advisory Council (BAC), the mayors, the local emergency response agencies, and many others is excellent! They are very hands-on, and always engaged with the companies and the schools in Ottawa County. They truly are making a difference in the county. We are overwhelmed by the teamwork and the support they provide to Materion and other companies. You couldn’t ask for a better group to work with.”
A key area of partnership involves a group effort to ensure that local industry has a strong workforce in the future. “A perfect example is our progressive approach to connecting education and industry leaders to build our workforce of tomorrow,” Ms. Beier Grant reports. “We have established a Business Advisory Council that represents the primary industry sectors in Ottawa County, everything from manufacturing to healthcare to the tourism sector. [They are] sitting around the table with K-12 school leadership talking out ways to better engage our students in the different skillsets that [match] careers in Ottawa County and how to bring those employment opportunities to our students in the K-12 system.”
The community’s efforts do not stop there. “We are not just talking about it; we are actually working to bring in those opportunities for engagement and experience to the students.” For instance, a career showcase walks the county’s ninth graders through an exhaustive list of career options, from law enforcement and healthcare to manufacturing and engineering. “They come together with the business community and they engage in different types of activities with the businesses that demonstrate the skills needed,” Ms. Beier Grant explains.
Ottawa County’s students can also participate in a job shadowing program or work as an intern to gain real, on the job experience. Kids interested in aviation can take advantage of a pilot program at the local airport. “There are a lot of career oriented experiences that we are bringing to our kids to help get them excited about the careers that are available in Ottawa County and help to build that pipeline for our workforce.”
Local youth have plenty of reasons to stay in Ottawa County to forge their career. “When you look at Ottawa County, we have the work/life balance, we have the diversity in our industry base,” Ms. Beier Grant points out. Add a waterfront lifestyle and low cost of living to this list, and Ottawa County just might have it all.