Wyandot County, Ohio is home to over 20,000 people and has seen a rise in business activity recently thanks to the efforts of a new organization within its borders. The Wyandot County Office of Economic Development (WCOED) was established in 2008 and celebrated its tenth anniversary just last year.
The office is a non-profit organization comprising both public bodies such as the county and its larger municipalities and many private sector entities. The organization was established to assist with local business growth projects within Wyandot County and the surrounding area and to attract new businesses to the county, improving the quality of life for residents. The office currently has forty-eight members, forty-three of which are private sector business representing various sectors, including many financial institutions, general contractors, and a mix of local businesses as well.
Greg Moon, the office’s Executive Director, says that the county is uniquely positioned within the state of Ohio, giving it a bevy of advantages. Wyandot is centrally located between the major metropolitan areas of Toledo and Columbus and is intersected by two four-lane divided highways. The county is also served by three rail providers, and being in a more rural area of the state, makes it easily drivable as well. Moon says that transportation is one of the largest assets to local business and a big attractor for new businesses because of how conveniently placed the county is within Ohio and the number of travel options to reach it.
The business retention and expansion (BR&E) program offered by the office to its business partners and members is one of its largest programs and one that Moon calls the primary focus of the organization. A top priority for the organization’s team is to constantly keep in touch with local businesses to identify strengths and weaknesses in the local economy and to find new ways to help businesses grow. Moon says that the economic development office “is a liaison for [the] local business community to larger regional state and federal level resources that they may not be aware of.” Major local expansions over the past several years identified through the BR&E program included many from industry leading companies such as Bridgestone APM Company, Continental Structural Plastics, Kalmbach Feeds, and The Andersons.
A key strategy of the organization focuses on workforce development. For example, the office has engaged in Manufacturing Day for the past five years, in which local sophomore high school students tour various manufacturers. This introduces tomorrow’s workforce – who may have never even been in a manufacturing facility workforce – to opportunities of which they may not be aware.
Another initiative begun by the office to capitalize on events like this is the website Community Opportunity (CommunityOpportunity.com). This is a comprehensive online resource begun by the office in tandem with adjoining Crawford County, Ohio to introduce both students and job-seekers in the area to local employment opportunities and to connect these seekers with businesses in need of human capital.
Moon says the interface resembles sites like Monster or Indeed, but with a far more local focus; there is a student portal where high school students can make their own profile and use the site as a career exploration tool before leaving high school, allowing them to make a fully informed decision and contact local employers for job opportunities before leaving their local community, and a means to attract them back to the local area. The website currently sports over 130 companies, 300 independent job-seekers, and a whopping 980 students in its system and has been a great success so far.
The office of economic development also works alongside the Wyandot Chamber of Commerce to head up another initiative, the Wyandot Employment Task Force. Moon says it is the county’s first concerted effort to bring together stakeholders and communities to tackle local issues surrounding workforce development. This includes the business community, local government, community organizations, educators, and the future workforce like students in the county. Such a wide sweep is necessary, says Moon, because “all communities have to be engaged to make an impact in the local workforce.”
In the ten years since inception, Moon says that the office of economic development has had a markedly positive impact on Wyandot County. The organization has assisted projects accounting for the creation of 980 new full time jobs, almost $30 million in new annual payroll, and over $265 million in local capital investment. Not only has the office’s impact in the fields of local business expansion and attraction been seen, but also in establishing itself as a local resource that created direct lines of communication. Now, thanks to the office’s efforts, any local company is a mere phone call away from getting the assistance it needs, be it a resource or even a simple answer to a question. This is an inherent advantage of a community the size of Wyandot, Moon says, because it means assistance, processes, and permitting can be expedited much quicker than in larger metropolitan areas.
The efforts of the organization have become recognized and appreciated by the local Wyandot County community as well. Moon says that the economic development tools and programs it now holds far exceed what was available to its local communities and business partners prior to ten years ago. Thanks to continuous hard work and annual increases in success, more entities have become a part of the organization, leading to its heightened effectiveness.
A successful decade does not come without hardship, and the area’s biggest challenge now lies in developing its workforce. Unemployment within Wyandot County and the surrounding region is low, and the county’s workforce participation rate is high, which heightens the need for services like the Community Opportunity website and the organization’s continued attention to workforce development.
These tasks are very involved, but with hard work, comes great results. In its relatively short time serving Wyandot County, the office played a major role in several local business expansions and new attraction projects. Moon cites the example of a new industrial park in the Village of Carey, where a local contractor cleared land and installed infrastructure to develop the Arrowhead Commerce Park. The site’s initial 100,000-square-foot speculative building was occupied by Hanon Systems USA, a Tier 1 automotive supplier. It moved in three years ago and now is already more than doubling the size of its building with an additional 140,000 square feet.
A second speculative building was established in the Arrowhead Commerce Park. This one, at over 100,000 square feet, now contains the county’s first dedicated distribution center operation of a pharmaceutical and medical supply distributor, Smith Drug Company. The company has since expanded the building by an additional 35,000 square feet which, as Moon says, “has helped to diversify the local industrial base.” With these two operations combined, the Arrowhead Commerce Park will soon support nearly 400 full time workers. Wyandot County also possesses the Columbus-Toledo Midway Industrial Park in its county seat, Upper Sandusky. This park offers over 150 acres in developable land and is located adjacent to a four-lane highway interchange.
In addition to major growth in its industrial sector, Wyandot County is experiencing growth in other sectors as can be seen by the investment in a new K-12 school facility, new service industry and retail establishments, and the development of the new 23 acre Sheriden business park in 2018. This commercial development area, offering shovel-ready lots with new interior roads, currently has a 14,000 square foot medical facility under construction. Master designs include further space for a hotel, restaurants, and offices in the subdivision that is also adjacent to one of the four-lane, divided highways intersecting the county.
In its first decade, the Wyandot County Office of Economic Development has helped the county fill a handful of empty industrial facilities that are now at full occupation, and there are certainly no plans to stop any time soon. Moon says that in 2019, and over the next few years, the office’s primary purpose will be to market to both local and outside businesses to encourage future development, which will mean additional speculative building space and shovel-ready sites.
The organization will also keep its focus on the areas in which it has excelled especially business retention and development. This kind of “work with our local businesses is always going to be a top priority for us because we know that’s where the majority of our growth is coming from.” Moon is confident that the area will continue to see success as Wyandot County possesses ample opportunities for growth, a tradition of strong work ethic, and a strive for the public sector to supports the needs of its private sector partners.