Williams County, Ohio is no stranger to success. The community has been home to a vibrant manufacturing sector for decades. “We have been making things in northwest Ohio for a long time; we are not new to the manufacturing game or the large employer game,” says Matt Davis, Executive Director of the Williams County Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO).
A long list of assets has been built upon this solid foundation. “We have a system built to support manufacturing,” says Davis. “It is not just the land, the reasonable utilities, the good logistics, the accommodating governments, wonderful communities, and great new school buildings—all the things that [many communities] already have in place. We have a leg up because of built-in support networks that support manufacturing in place; from local machining shops ready to serve, to custom training opportunities for the workforce.”
The community’s commitment to hard work also contributes to business success. “We’ve got good people,” Davis explains. “We have that Midwestern ‘let’s roll up the sleeves and get it done’ type of work ethic.” Water is another critical advantage. “We sit on top of a large aquifer right here in Williams County so we have a surplus of very good quality water right under us.”
Location, location, location
The county’s convenient, central location is also a key advantage. “We can reach about 60 percent of the United States’ population within a day’s drive of William’s County,” Davis notes.
Williams County is less than three hours from Detroit, so it is only natural that the automobile industry also has a solid foothold in the community. “We have a number of tier-one, tier-two and supportive manufacturing in Williams County.” Plastics and injecting molding are also thriving, and these sectors feed into the automobile industry.
In addition to a robust rail system, Interstate-90 and several major highways run through the county and connect it to some of the Midwest’s largest cities. Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis form a ring around the county; the proximity to major markets makes Williams County an opportune area to establish a base of operations.
Logistical advantages make Williams County an ideal location for distribution centers. Menard, Inc. is one company that took advantage of the community’s distribution and manufacturing advantages. The home improvement chain needed a huge tract of land for a regional distribution and manufacturing center and recognized that, in addition to acreage, Williams County offered the locational advantages, support network, and workforce that the company needed.
A winning lifestyle
The county’s quality of life offers substantial advantages in addition to the community’s business opportunities. “We have a number of wonderful communities—six incorporated villages and one incorporated city—and they all take pride in being a choice place to live and raise a family.”
The rural, Midwestern county offers the pace and sense of community found in small town lifestyle—but with assets of larger metropolitan areas.
The county’s small town living is ideal for families. “A nice benefit is that folks can trust that their children will be well educated, well cared for, and provided good opportunities in a slower paced lifestyle. We don’t run into the transportation headaches that you might find in the big cities… Some folks get tired of the rat race and we see them heading in our direction to get away from that everyday hustle and bustle. On the flipside, we are only 45 minutes to an hour from Fort Wayne and Toledo, and two hours from Ann Arbor, so you can get that ‘urban therapy’ when you need it, and still make it home the same day.”
From swimming and golf to soccer and biking, there are plenty of recreational activities in Williams County. “We have wonderful, well maintained park systems,” Davis shares, and the school systems are top notch. “All of our communities have built new or have renovated facilities to meet the need of providing a quality education for generations to come.”
In addition, residents enjoy access to a range of higher education options. Private liberal arts school Defiance College is less than an hour away. Nationally recognized Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo are both just an hour away from Williams County. Northwest State Community College is on the Williams County eastern border. “It is a wonderful asset to the community.” In addition to a variety of post-secondary options, the two-year college provides custom training solutions for many of Williams County’s industrial employers.
Thriving industries in Northwest Ohio
These employers represent diverse economic sectors, ensuring that the local economy is not dependent on any one industry. The plastics industry, for example, is strong in Williams County, and is continuously expanding. In recent years, Davis notes, “We have [several] larger plastic operations that have made some significant investments in the county…” For example, 20/20 Custom Molded Plastics invested just under $20 million, which prompted 20/20 to grow from 140 full time employees to 190 in about a year’s time.
The county’s many attributes have also ensured that businesses can enjoy longevity and ongoing support in the area. Ohio Art, for example, was founded in 1908 and is based in Bryan, Ohio. The company is a specialist in metal lithography, focuses on two business streams; the first line of business is the sales, marketing, and distribution of toys (including the Etch A Sketch, which the company sold in 2016 to Canadian-based company Spin Master.) Ohio Art’s second business stream is its Diversified Products segment, which manufactures custom metal lithography products for food container and specialty premium markets.
Another area company with a long and rich history is Bard Manufacturing Company, which has been engineering and manufacturing climate control solutions since 1914. Its corporate offices are also based in Bryan.
Winzeler Stamping Company, similarly, has been in business since 1919, and is a fourth-generation family-owned manufacturer of custom metal stamping components for a breadth of markets, including automotive, heavy equipment/diesel engine, lawn and garden, fluid handling and more.
Pioneer Industrial Systems, meanwhile, is one of the newer kids on the block, founded by University of Toledo graduate Todd Hendricks Sr. The company focuses on engineering and custom design/build solutions in diverse sectors, and makes it its mission to stay on top of the latest technological developments. Today, Pioneer Industrial Systems employs approximately forty-five individuals including engineers, fabricators, machinists, assemblers, electricians, and office personnel.
Given the plentiful water supply and reasonably priced utility rates available in Williams County, the target industries that would serve the area best are those that can utilize large amounts of water, power, and rail, or that can take advantage of the prime location for distribution on the major routes that bisect the county or via the varied established rail networks.
Food processing industries tend to utilize these abundant resources, and the community’s agricultural heritage also makes food processing a natural fit. For over 100 years, family-owned Spangler Candy Company has been taking advantage of these resources. Spangler’s products include the well-known Dum-Dums, Saf-t-pops, Marshmallow Circus Peanuts, and Spangler’s Candy Canes.
The healthcare and medical industry is another promising growth area for Williams County due to its close proximity to Fort Wayne, Indiana, which has become a major hub for the industry. “Right now they are very big on prosthetics and there are a lot of regional hospitals in the Fort Wayne area,” Davis explains.
Daavlin has emerged as leader in the healthcare and medical manufacturing field in Williams County. Daavlin is a dermatology company manufacturing products that are used to treat photo-responsive skin diseases. Daavlin’s consumer markets have experienced exponential growth in the states and internationally. In 2016 the company invested $1.3 million in expanding, to accommodate for the anticipated continual growth.
WEDCO is committed to maintaining the county’s pro-business environment in order to sustain and promote a healthy economy. “Naturally, we want to future-proof ourselves. Even though we are heavy into manufacturing and agriculture, we want to make sure that we are diverse enough so that we can handle the ups and downs of the economy.”
Ongoing success will require careful maintenance of the county’s many assets. “[We want to] make sure that we are on the cutting edge of manufacturing and the services that can be provided to employers of choice,” Davis summarizes. “[We want to] make sure that we stay on the cutting edge with transportation enhancements and improvements that continue to make our area easy to get in and out of. We want to ensure that we have accommodating governments and good schools moving forward, and we will continue to build upon the strengths of the area by actively recruiting companies that support the existing manufacturing up or down the supply chain.”
Ultimately, “we want to be an aggressive economic development group and make sure that we are providing the environment that will allow people to want to come here and invest—and if you are already here, to continue to invest and grow and subsequently provide good opportunities for our residents.”