Formed in 1965, the Cambridge-Guernsey County Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) was created by the Guernsey County Commissioners and designated by resolution to perform the economic development functions for the County, the City of Cambridge, and the Village of Byesville. Later, in 2000, the Guernsey County Port Authority was formed to also contribute to these functions…
Presently, both the CIC and the Port Authority operate out of a single office and offer a “one-stop shop” for businesses seeking assistance in setting themselves up in the county. “The vision was that this organization would provide the marketing, the contacts with new businesses, and maintain contacts with existing businesses to help them grow, provide funding if necessary, and whatever was needed for economic development – that was assigned to the CIC as part of its mission,” notes Norm Blanchard, CIC Director of Economic Development.
The area boasts a number of sizeable industrial employers, including Colgate-Palmolive, who operates a state-of-the-art facility near the airport that employs over 350 area residents. The CIC was instrumental in bringing Colgate-Palmolive to the area, by helping the company establish itself and by building a railroad to enable access to rail transport.
The CIC has also served as an integral support for businesses already present in the county. For example, a devastating flood occurred in 1998, a natural disaster that wiped out rail access for Bi-Con Services – a company located in the county that works in pipe and pressure vessel fabrication for the oil and gas industry. Bi-Con deals in products and equipment so large in some cases that they cannot be trucked to and from their facility. Rail access was critical. The CIC worked tirelessly to restore rail access through a patchwork of grants and funding from the CIC itself.
As described earlier, in 2000, the County Commissioners decided that it would be advantageous to the county to form a Port Authority. This Authority was formed with the same mission as the CIC – economic development. However, the Authority also has additional powers in that it can levy taxes; it has access to bonding; and it has a smaller, more nimble board. A lot of the area’s projects ultimately funnel through the Port Authority, but it is a sister organization of the CIC and works collaboratively with it.
Norm Blanchard is the Economic Development Director for both organizations: “We don’t have any conflict that way. For example, the Port Authority built a 150,000 square foot building for Detroit Diesel. It was their second plant here. We facilitated the growth of the North American distribution headquarters here. Those were large projects. We’re doing a $3 million renovation of a building downtown that will house the area’s Agency on Aging. The CIC is the clearinghouse for all of the economic development activities that are done here, however some of the projects are undertaken by the Port Authority,” explains Blanchard. In addition, Blanchard is also Chairman of the Planning Commission for the area – a man who wears many hats! But the centralization of all arms of economic development for the county in one office provides an attractive efficiency for businesses. Blanchard, and each of the organizations he works with, acts as a central resource for any business seeking to locate in the City of Cambridge or the county more broadly.
“The Commissioners have vested everything that has to do with economic development in this office,” he explains. “So we have the Planning Commission, the Workforce Policy Board — which is from Ohio Means Jobs, they operate from here because we do a lot of work with our workforce — and then we have a private non-profit called the Community Industrial Association. They’ve been around since 1925. A non-profit group, they have significant financial resources, so when we need matched funds for grants, the Community Industrial Association represents the public-private partnership that we need to access some of that money. So the CIC is the clearinghouse for all economic development activities in the area,” notes Blanchard.
Cambridge-Guernsey County itself is a burgeoning and vibrant centre of activity in Ohio. Located just 77 miles from Columbus and 80 miles from Pittsburgh, the area contains a number of attractions for prospective businesses, including a brand-new, 217 acre commercial park, the D. O. Hall Business Center, which is owned by the Community Industrial Association and houses ventures of many different sizes. As one of the biggest initiatives undertaken under the CIC umbrella of organizations, the site is located adjacent to the Cambridge Municipal Airport, offering many advantages for prospective development. Cambridge-Guernsey County received generous Ohio State funding for this commercial park, including two $1 million grants to fund improvements to the park’s infrastructure. All utilities are located on site and the CIC can assist businesses in accessing existing tax incentives.
The commercial park site became even more attractive by the development of a workforce training center. The Zane State College Training Center is the first permanent, public higher education facility to be located in Guernsey County for more than 140 years. Located on Route 660 in Cambridge, this center provides training and educational opportunities to the community and manufacturing workforce of the area. The Center is a collaborative partnership between several economic development groups, human service agencies, area businesses, Ohio University and Zane State College. The Center supports Eastern Ohio’s goal of becoming a national and international leader in manufacturing.
The Business Center is also part of a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) that spans the park’s entire 217 acres. An FTZ is a site within the United States that is legally considered outside of customs territory so goods may be brought into the site duty-free and without formal customs entry. Once merchandise has moved into an FTZ, companies can perform any process, such as repackaging or assembly, to prepare it for distribution within the U.S. or for export. An FTZ provides great advantages and is often leveraged by companies to increase their global competitiveness through realizing significant savings and attaining a competitive advantage over manufacturing plants that are located outside of the United States.
Beyond the growth that will come from the D. O. Hall Business Center, Guernsey County will also see strong growth from the upcoming construction of a 1650 watt, $1.5 billion mega power plant slated to begin construction this year. Apex Power Group plans to locate that power plant in southern Guernsey County. The facility will bring 500 construction jobs on site for two years and employ approximately 35 people on a permanent basis. Apex’s primary motivation for deciding to locate their plant in Guernsey County was the readily available natural gas resources in the area, the proximity of 750 KV power lines, along with excellent cooperation with local leaders, such as Norm Blanchard and his colleagues at the CIC.
Landing economic development coups like the Apex plant has not always been an easy task for the CIC. Guernsey County, in its heyday, was an area that featured massive coal deposits and attracted the development of many coal mines. But these historically rich resources have created present-day challenges for the CIC and the county. “The era of coal was a blessing when it was here; it’s a curse now because we are left with a lot of underground mines which makes a lot of extensive growth difficult,” says Blanchard. “So we’ve tried to create a very business-friendly atmosphere. We are at the beck and call of industry. We have taken the Business Park and have done whatever we can to make those sites ready so if someone calls us and says, ‘I need 10 acres,’ we’ve got it for them. We are very liberal with our tax incentives. If you’re going to bring jobs here, we do provide the maximum tax incentive that’s available to companies, whether it’s through an enterprise zone or community reinvestment areas. We do everything that we can [to support incoming businesses]. We try really hard to let businesses know that you’ve got a ‘one-stop-shop’ here [at the CIC] – we’ll do the legwork for you, all you need to do is contact us and let us know what you need!”
The CIC is also making significant efforts to keep the area’s youth in the county after they finish their secondary and post-secondary schooling. “In small towns this is always an issue. Kids grow up and they see the glitter of the big city and they want to leave for where there are more opportunities. Part of the Strategic Comprehensive County Plan involves our business education committee. We formed a manufacturers’ council and the purpose of this is to link schools with businesses to allow industry to signal what their needs are and allow schools to learn about the opportunities for their students. We’ve hired a position we call a Career Pathways Specialist. Her job is to set up job-shadowing; she’s got internships going, she’s arranged industry visits, and is part of a huge career day that we put on here in the city. But mainly, we wanted to employ her because she is able to link high school counsellors with industry HR people to make sure that kids aren’t lost in the shuffle because they don’t know what is available locally,” Blanchard explains.
Beyond the attractiveness of the county for business, the county is also blessed with stunning natural beauty and a family-friendly downtown area with features to attract new residents and tourists alike: “We really do have an attractive downtown. We have an excellent hospital system – the hospital is our largest employer, and the CEO is a long-term resident of Cambridge. We always brag about our health care. We also have the largest state park in Ohio – Salt Fork. We have the third-largest lake in Ohio, Seneca Lake, both of which are visited by about 3 million people a year, so the tourism industry is very active.”
What’s in store for Guernsey County and the CIC in the future? Blanchard notes that the CIC foresees an influx of great economic growth both in the D. O. Hall Business Center and in new parks to be developed. As well, the CIC is in the process of updating and reformulating their website to improve access to the many resources that are available to businesses interested in the county.