The Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corporation (SIEDC) was created in 1983 to provide strong, strategic leadership with the goal of promoting economic development. Today, over three decades later, the organization continues to thrive under President and Chief Executive David Zak.
Zak’s considerable hands-on experience – including thirteen years in the public sector, seven years in private, and running half of the State of Ohio’s agency for economic development – more than qualify him for his current role which he has held since early 2014.
“If you’re not willing to live there, you shouldn’t be marketing a community. That’s my policy,” states Zak, a resident of the area since he started as President & CEO.
As a 501 c3 non-profit, public-private partnership, the SIEDC serves as a driver and leader for the economic success and development of Ohio’s city of Tiffin and surrounding Seneca County.
Both Tiffin and Seneca County have experienced have experienced growth and development that is nothing short of remarkable through careful planning, bold initiatives, strong local support and a can-do attitude. There is plenty of available housing and the area has seen a dramatic seventy percent reduction in crime. The region is thriving, particularly when compared to other communities of a similar size; in fact, this is among the top fifteen percent of approximately six hundred other similar-sized communities and in the top ten percent in the past three years.
“We are laying the foundation to be able to meet the business needs for employment in town long-term, and it’s a priority for us,” comments SIEDC’s Zak.
The county has experienced enviable results since 2012. Seneca County has seen over one hundred projects and $160 million in new investment, as well as the retention of 4,600 jobs and the creation of another 1,100 new jobs. Most impressive of all, perhaps, is the unemployment rate being cut by more than half, from 9.9 percent to just 4.3 percent today.
No long ago, the economic situation and business climate in Tiffin and Seneca Counties was vastly different than it is today. Like many states in the years following the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, Ohio was in trouble. By 2009, its rate of unemployment had grown higher than the U.S. average, and there had been mass business closures in the five years leading up to the GFC. The economies of the 17,687-strong Tiffin City and Tiffin micropolitan statistical area (population 55,610) have since enjoyed sustained growth.
For the past two years, unemployment has stayed lower than the state and national average. This is largely the result of the Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corporation’s collaboration with local business, industry, schools and universities, as well as a host of incentive programs, solid communications and marketing and other initiatives that have resulted in diverse business opportunities.
Through economic, community, and downtown development, SIEDC assists companies to find the right locations for their businesses, provide research, advocate on their behalf, obtain incentives, facilitate public development projects, enhance downtown development by focusing on design, marketing, business management and operations, and much more. Along with initiating the establishment of a new community reinvestment area to boost commercial and residential development on the west side of Tiffin, other recent successes include helping global automobile supply manufacturer Taiho with a CRA tax exemption and obtaining local design approval for the expansion. SIEDC also solved “a problem with relocating a retention pond to facilitate their $8 million expansion,” and assisted Soni Junction in obtaining a $10,000 facade enhancement grant which resulted in transforming an old gas station into a new brick structure.
In fact, recent growth exceeds that of many other communities across the state of Ohio. From industrial to retail, and health and recreation to infrastructure and other areas, Tiffin and Seneca County are not only retaining but attracting new business and industry. In the industrial arena, medium-sized entity Tiffin Metal Products – which was established in 1903 and sells internationally – continues on its $1 million three-year, multi-phase expansion plan (phases announced in 2015 and 2016), having recently announced a 25,000 square-foot storage expansion of its Tiffin facility, at a price of $100,000. In retail, businesses both large and small make significant, multi-million dollar investments in the area, including highly respected brands such as Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, Jimmy John’s, Tim Horton’s, and Lowe’s.
Recently (as of 2015), industries such as Aqua Ohio and well-known telecommunications companies like Agile, Verizon, T Mobile and Sprint contributed three percent to the total $3 million investment in infrastructure, which did not include public infrastructure. Not to be outdone, the health and recreation sectors contributed another nine percent – about $8 million – to the area’s economy. In addition to park and memorial projects currently in progress, others such as Mercy Health, ProMedica, the Good Shepherd Home, CRSI, and Oriana House have initiatives underway.
Being ranked in the top ten best cities in the Midwest in which to start a business (out of 800) does not happen by chance. Neither does growth throughout all sectors of the economy and retaining and attracting thousands of jobs.
The area is home to two respected universities: Heidelberg, a private liberal arts college founded in 1850, and Tiffin University, a private, co-educational university dating back to 1888 and a regional educational services center. Tiffin and Seneca’s quality public schools are an integral component of the area’s success. “One of the things that makes us unique is education,” says Zak. “We have two private universities in Tiffin and a regional center, and for a town of about 18,000, that’s pretty unique.”
Eight percent of its workforce is employed in some way in education – three times higher than the percentage nationally. It is small wonder Tiffin is recognized as ‘The Education Community.’
Tiffin City Schools, the Bridges Community Academy, Calvert Catholic Schools, the North Central Academy and many others are part of an exceptional joint vocational school system, where ninety-eight percent of grads get jobs because they have industry people directly involved in the programs. “There is some truth to education and training being a part of our DNA,” comments Zak of the area, which recently won a million-dollar grant involving robotics and advanced manufacturing.
As part of its strategic workforce development plan, Seneca County has a collaborative of about fifty to sixty people including school superintendents, human resources directors, company presidents and operations managers from industry, among others. They are instrumental in determining what programs are needed, developing training programs and addressing such questions as, ‘will there be enough workers in the future?’ Many school districts have business advisory committee staffers from sectors ranging from healthcare to banking.
Historically, Tiffin was the home to many large industries from glass manufacturing to plumbing products. Although the business landscape has changed considerably over the decades, approximately twenty-five percent of the area’s workforce is employed in manufacturing. About half of that is in automotive supply and industrial machinery and equipment.
National Machinery – a maker of cold-forging equipment that fabricates nuts, bolts, screws and rivets – recently celebrated its 140th anniversary, and remains the largest employer in the county, with about five hundred staff. Respected manufacturer Webster Industries makes quality industrial conveyor chains and has been in business since 1876.
Tiffin is attracting other businesses and industries in areas such as automotive supply. These enterprises have invested tens of millions of dollars into expansions in recent years. Transmissions, shock absorbers and other parts are supplied to Toyota. Attraction is done via workforce development funds, municipal tax credits and other incentive programs.
“We are pretty aggressive when it comes to real property tax exemption programs,” says Zak. “So basically, if anybody is doing any kind of property improvement in certain zones, you’re either going to get a huge discount, or you’re going to get no taxes for a while on any improvements.”
There are a variety of programs including enterprise zones and community reinvestment areas. There are also programs to redirect some tax revenue to pay for further infrastructure, some exemptions from property tax for those conducting improvements and a municipal income tax credit – typically fifty percent for five years. “For all the new employees somebody hires and those new income taxes employees will generate, the company can potentially qualify for a credit through the New Jobs Program – a municipal income tax credit.”
Businesses can gain access to workforce development funds, several financing programs that provide microloans and small business loans and access to dozens of different federal, state, regional and local financing and funding opportunities.
Moreover, there is a downtown grant program for improving a facade. Tiffin is in the process of expanding the $300,000 program this year to a larger area of the downtown and also to making some streetscape improvements near a new city park, currently being developed. Since 2014, the program has seen some forty projects involving window replacement, new roofs and signs, involving more than $1.2 million in new investment.
SIDEC prides itself on keeping new and existing businesses up to date. “We work very hard to make it easy to be able to get the information they need, whether it’s information on workforce, on taxes, or connecting with other suppliers,” comments Zak. “We have a number of recruitment services available at no charge. We have a person who is dedicated – funded by the county – to work with new and existing businesses to help them find the workers they need. There is a huge database, and based on a company’s needs, they will comb through resumes.”
SIDEC is not only promoting the area to interested companies but advocating its way of life while it attracts talented people and meets the needs of employers. “We’re going to be a really great place not only to run your business, but we are really working on developing a culture of entrepreneurship,” says Zak. It has been rated one of the top ten small cities in the Midwest for entrepreneurship.
From wonderful parks and trail systems to a revitalized downtown with quaint shops and more, there is plenty to see and do in this area that is near five airports and just ninety minutes from Detroit, Columbus and Cleveland.
“We’ve been in the top ten percent of the 535 micropolitans four years running, and there are only fourteen communities in the United States that can say that. We’ve seen more than 1,600 new jobs be announced, and we want to keep all that going into the future.”