With nearly two dozen projects in the making and a new website offering employers job candidates, Fulton County is poised for growth in economic development in 2016, officials say.
The main concern is a possible lack of people with the availability and skills needed to fill positions.
Developments currently spotlighted include:
• Phase 2 of the NatureFresh Farms greenhouse complex in Delta. The second of 12 planned 15-acre greenhouses to grow hothouse tomatoes and other vegetables is under construction, with completion expected later this year. The Phase 1 greenhouse is already growing tomatoes.
• A new branch of Sherwood State Bank on Main Street in Fayette, expected to open in the spring.
• A new 8,000 square-foot building on Shoop Avenue in Wauseon to house Dr. David Kouba’s dermatology practice and possible retail units. An opening date is expected in the summer.
According to Matt Gilroy, executive director of the Fulton County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC), they are only a few of 22 active projects in the county, at least five of which, by average economic development standards, should reach a successful conclusion. Several other projects are still under consideration, some involving established County businesses looking to expand and some regarding companies presently located elsewhere.
“The pipeline for economic development projects is strong for the next several months,” Gilroy said.
Several kinds of local and state incentives can be offered to businesses that consider locating in Fulton County, he said. But sealing a deal often depends more on the amount of expense, available and reasonably-rated utilities, transportation, and the availability of a viable workforce.
“If the community can provide all of these items, then incentives are considered,” he said. “Fulton County has all of the assets and resources to continue to win economic development projects.”
In 2015, companies involved in seven economic development projects in the county invested at least $1 million and/or hired at least 20 employees. All told, the projects totaled $97 million in investments and 165 positions.
“I expect, unless there are significant changes on the national and international geopolitical stage, 2016 will be as good or better,” Gilroy said.
To aid the process, the FCEDC has introduced WorkInFultonCounty.com, which steers the corporation’s members toward viable job candidates. The members place their company information on the website and have their company website directly linked. Gilroy said it’s a method that allows job candidates to search for work and learn about the company in which they’re interested.
WorkInFultonCounty.com is being advertised on billboards in surrounding counties, and Gilroy said other types of advertising are scheduled.
“Employers struggle to connect with job candidates, so we feel this can fill a significant gap,” he said. “We will keep working to move the needle to help employers find qualified people for their job openings. I think this site will provide help to the FCEDC members that use it.”
Because the availability of workers and their levels of skill are a concern for employers, “workforce recruitment and development will continue to be a priority for (FCEDC),” he added. “The only significant drawback (to Fulton County) is workforce availability. While it is great to have a low unemployment rate, it does make it more challenging when working on the attraction of a large employer.”
Another concern of Gilroy’s is the county’s lack of available industrial buildings. But he said that problem is evident across Ohio.
“We are seeing companies purchase buildings that have been empty for 20 years in surrounding counties. While it is great to fill those buildings, there are opportunities that he have lost because the prospect could not find an appropriate building in our county,” he said.
Fulton County Regional Planning Director David Wright said the pace of completing planned developments can be slow. He said areas in Wauseon and around the county could be used to stage the practice of planned development, but more proactivity is necessary.
“I feel confident that, with the right set of players, and building strong cooperation with the many offices, professionals, along with the decision makers in our townships, villages and City of Wauseon, and the County Commissioners, we can get there. We all need to work together and understand the goals that have been placed,” he said.
Wright said his office has begun updating the county’s Comprehensive Plan, “and I am optimistic that by sometime in 2017 we will have an updated plan to further guide our county towards thriving development with balanced preservation of our agricultural sector.”
The best plans probably take additional time, Wright said.
“I believe in participation and transparency. When you include all the players involved in any such planned development, you are going to get a bigger and better product in the long run. It is up to the champion of any project to identify those players, encourage their involvement, and lay it all out on the table for our citizens to observe,” he said.
Whether good or bad ideas, everyone with a plan should he heard, he said, adding, “I personally am excited to be involved in Fulton County development and believe our best years are ahead of us.”
To spread information about the county, and its influence, FCEDC also has launched www.fcedc-Ohio.com, which displays local economic development opportunities. And it advertises widely; Business in Focus, an international publication, will feature Fulton County in its February issue.
“With all of that in mind, 80 percent of business investment happens locally,” Gilroy said. “Companies already here that are expanding, investing in personal property or hiring additional people should contact us to see how the community and the FCEDC can support them.”
Gilroy said it’s difficult to overlook that the county has a quality workforce, the advantage of a nearby highway system that allows for efficient distribution of goods, and a greater capacity in water services than other areas of the country.
“Fulton County is a great location,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.