Some things have not changed in Sandusky County, Ohio since Business in Focus last profiled the region in February 2018. Sandusky County is still a low-cost, low-crime county located in a convenient transportation hub in north-western Ohio. But things that have changed include new companies starting operations and existing companies expanding them, a natural gas pipeline going into service, and the impending launch of a huge school construction initiative…
“We have a lot of new leadership within many of our organizations. There’s been a synergy as far as working with one another. New ideas have been coming forth,” states Sandusky County Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC) Executive Director Beth Hannam.
Over the past year, Sandusky County has been presiding over a local economic boom. For a small county with a population of 59,195 as of July 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the pace of development has been dizzying, but local officials are on top of everything. As of November 2018, some $283 million in new capital investment projects have been reported in the county, according to the SCEDC.
For example, there has been a $29 million investment at Tower Automotive, in Bellevue, within Sandusky County. This significant employer makes engineered metal components and assemblies. In 2018, a new coating line was introduced at the Bellevue facility. As a result of this development, a new 73,000-square-foot building was constructed and sixteen new jobs created.
Some 28,000 square feet of space was recently added to ABC Inoac Exterior Systems, a Tier 1 automotive supplier that specializes in spoilers, exterior trim parts, and finishers. This $4 million project involved the purchase of new equipment and created twenty-five new positions. This well-regarded facility won a prestigious General Motors Supplier of the Year Award in 2017.
Columbia Gas of Ohio is currently building a new 6,700-square-foot facility in the Bark Creek Industrial Park, located in the Sandusky County city of Fremont. This nearly $3 million investment will be used to create a mobile operating deployment facility for the company.
Some new businesses have opened as well. On November 19, 2018, Standard Wellness, a medical marijuana company, received a certificate of operation from the state of Ohio allowing the firm to start work. Standard Wellness now operates a 55,000-square-foot cultivation facility in the Village of Gibsonburg’s Clearview Industrial Park.
On top of this, a natural gas pipeline built by Nexus Gas Transmission is now operational. The Nexus pipeline covers 256 miles in total, thirty-two of which cross Sandusky County. It took two years to build the pipeline, a process that generated an estimated 907 jobs for the county and $117.3 million in value-added income.
So, why are all these good things happening in Sandusky County? Well, for a start, the county boasts “an outstanding location, with proximity to highways, rail, air, and water. We are truly at the crossroads of America,” says Hannam.
Sandusky County enjoys easy access to I-75, the Ohio Turnpike (I-80/90), and other roadways, plus two rail lines and a regional airport. Sandusky County is close to the busy Port of Toledo, from which manufacturers and farmers ship goods across Lake Erie. According to the SCEDC, Sandusky County is located within a one-day drive of eighty percent of all manufacturing operations in the U.S.
It also helps that Sandusky County is an inexpensive place for both residents and companies alike. The median value of a housing unit in 2016 was $111,300, says the Census Bureau, and Ohio offers “the lowest taxes in the Midwest,” and affordable electricity rates.
Sandusky County officials have a pro-business attitude and offer incentives to lure companies to the county or encourage them to expand. There is a community reinvestment tax abatement (CRA) program in the community of Bellevue which provides one hundred percent tax abatement for fifteen years on new construction. Fremont has a similar abatement program, while the community of Clyde offers an enterprise zone tax abatement of seventy percent for a decade on new buildings or expansions of old buildings. The community of Gibsonburg also has an enterprise zone tax abatement plan. Tax incentives are not the only reason companies like Sandusky County either.
This is a county that takes workforce development very seriously, and this is something employers appreciate. Sandusky County-based Terra State Community College plays host to the Kern Center for Workforce Development and Corporate Partnerships, which designs customized company training programs, hosts public workshops for various career fields, and offers computer and industrial certifications. Fremont is also home to the Vanguard Career and Technology Center, a well-regarded and award-winning school district that provides career and technical education primarily to high school students.
The SCEDC and other local groups strive to encourage young people to consider manufacturing jobs when they graduate. In March 2018, the SCEDC hosted a job fair for high school seniors at Vanguard Career and Technology Center. The goal was to “reach out to students that are not college bound,” says Hannam, and give them the chance to meet with local employers. The event was attended by 153 seniors and also provided opportunities for those students looking for summer employment and internship opportunities.
Similarly, the SCEDC hosted the fourth annual THINK Manufacturing Career Showcase at Terra State Community College in October 2018. The showcase is aimed at younger teens, and drew roughly eight hundred grade nine students.
There are new SCEDC initiatives set to kick off in 2019, including a bus tour of local industries for school principals, guidance counselors, and teachers or coaches of influence. The idea is to familiarize educators with county career opportunities, so they are in a better position to give job advice to students.
In summer 2019, SCEDC will be hosting a ‘manufacturing boot camp’ involving five days of professional development for teachers. Teachers will visit area manufacturers, write reports and create presentations for classrooms based on their findings.
The SCEDC and other county groups also work closely with JobsOhio, a statewide economic development initiative.
Of course, none of this would mean anything if people did not want to live in Sandusky County, or if companies found themselves strapped for employees. As it is, the county has multiple charming attributes for residents. In addition to inexpensive housing, sales taxes are low, and the county is close to many family attractions such as Lake Erie, Cedar Point amusement park, Kalahari Resorts & Convention Centers – featuring an indoor waterpark, and the playing field of the Toledo Mud Hens professional minor league baseball team. Recreational attractions include fishing and birding as the county attracts thousands of visitors each year, eager to view flocks of migrating birds.
The community of Fremont features the President Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums, dedicated to the nineteenth president of the U.S. All in all, tourism is booming; sales from tourist visits brought $167.5 million in 2017, a 15.8 percent leap from a previous study made two years prior, reports the Sandusky County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Sandusky County also has excellent schools and hospitals. In fact, a huge construction project, set to launch in 2019, involves four new elementary school buildings and a high school. The price tag for this project, scheduled for full completion by 2021, comes to nearly $100 million. Terra State Community College, meanwhile, is in the process of completing a dormitory. Once finished, this roughly $20 million project will see a 225-bed dorm available for students. Initial construction is complete, and sixty-one students moved into a finished section of the dorm in fall 2018.
There are two main medical centers in the county: ProMedica Memorial Hospital and The Bellevue Hospital. The former recently celebrated its hundredth anniversary, completed a $27 million upgrade involving three-dimensional (3D) mammography technology and a new cancer care center among another amenities, and won a platinum level Governor’s Award for Excellence in 2018 from the non-profit Partnership for Excellence.
The Bellevue Hospital won a 2018 Women’s Choice Award as one of America’s Best Hospitals for Patient Experience in Obstetrics. “This award signifies that the Bellevue Hospital is in the top seventeen percent of 2,720 U.S. hospitals offering obstetrics,” the hospital proudly announced in a press release.
Bellevue opened a six-thousand-square-foot facility for rehab services, obstetrics, wound reconstruction, and more. In addition, Bellevue surgeon Dr. Peter Highlander became the first doctor in Ohio to successfully perform a complete ankle replacement using a 3D printing process in January 2018.
On a final note, in June 2018, the SCEDC concluded a successful capital fundraising campaign. The campaign proved such a hit that the SCEDC ended the initiative six weeks early “with $1,410,000 in cash investments and $102,250 in in-kind investments from our private and public investors. This represents 114 percent of the $1.32 million goal,” reports Hannam, who adds that the funds will be used to enhance economic development in Sandusky County.
As for the future, a five-year Sandusky County comprehensive plan is currently examining various development issues, with an eye towards keeping the economic boom going and looking at an optimal population level. “We would like to see growth added to the communities throughout the county,” states Hannam.
It is a safe guess, however, that Sandusky County officials are not about to suggest transforming their county into a major metropolis. After all, a big part of Sandusky County’s allure is that it is a relatively small county that is highly livable, even as the local economy soars.