Our Towns

Interstate Highways Lead to Growth in North Jackson

NORTH JACKSON, Ohio — Clark Leonard glances across hundreds of acres of soybeans planted on land he owns bordered by Interstate 76 to the north and North Bailey Road to the east.

Over time, he envisions these fields filled not with crops, but office buildings, hotels, restaurants, car dealerships and retail establishments – a departure from the distribution and logistics businesses so long identified with this area of Mahoning County.

“My vision is retail,” Leonard says, as he stands in the cul-de-sac of Leonard Parkway, a road cut into the land nearly 20 years ago to make way for the family’s business – Leonard Truck and Trailer Inc., now owned by his brother and sister-in-law. “A large franchise car dealership, fast food, office complexes – anything that contributes to retail and pedestrian traffic,” he explains.

The Leonard family bought the land in 1999 and relocated the dealership there in 2001, laying the foundation for Leonard Commerce Park, which today encompasses nearly 400 acres on the southwestern, northwestern and northeastern corners of the I-76 and Bailey Road interchange.

“It’s one of the only interchanges in the area left that has large parcels around it that are flat and have a full range of visibility,” Leonard says. About 10 years ago, the commerce park started development in the northeastern section by building the FedEx Ground terminal there.

“Transportation is definitely a draw here,” Leonard says.

And, the Bailey Road corridor will likely become an even greater draw because of regulations the U.S. Department of Transportation proposes. In 2018, the department will mandate that any carrier with a load greater than a single trailer must use roads that contain a median strip, which Bailey Road has.

“Bailey Road is one of the few with a median strip,” Leonard says.

Another reason that transportation companies gravitate to North Jackson is the availability of large lots, Leonard says. “You just don’t drive down I-76 and get a 30- or 40-acre lot with full utilities,” he states.

The volume of truck and vehicle traffic – more than 42,000 vehicles pass by the interchange daily – convinced Leonard to kick off another phase of development, a Truck World fuel stop travel plaza and Burger King in the southwestern corner of the park along Bailey Road. The new plaza opened last spring and so far has attracted a steady stream of business.

“About two years ago, we started to actively pursue other businesses,” he says.

Leonard now wants to build on the success of the plaza and develop retail and office space at this section of the park. “We’ve just recently started developing this,” he says.

But challenges remain, he acknowledges.

First, the population in North Jackson isn’t sufficient – at least not yet – to support large-scale retail development here. That could change as development along Mahoning Avenue moves west from Austintown across Meander Reservoir toward North Jackson. Also, additional retail along Bailey Road could become more appealing as the Lake Milton area grows.

“For now, we have to pull from the interstate to draw business in,” Leonard says.

North Jackson continues to attract its share of new projects, recently evidenced by the construction of the Ohio Public Utilities Protection Services’ data center and headquarters in Youngstown Commerce Park.

“That was a prime lot in our park,” says Mike Conway, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp., which operates the park. “We retained that site for a special type of operation that would yield an attractive building that would keep a significant number of jobs.”

Conway says that the utilities service – a center that serves all of Ohio – received overtures about relocating to Dublin, Ohio, but chose to remain here after MVEDC and other entities presented an opportunity to build at the park.

The Youngstown Commerce Park is nearly at capacity, housing a variety of companies that together employ about 300, Conway says.

Former MVEDC executive director Don French, now retired, spearheaded the agency’s development of Youngstown Commerce Park more than 30 years ago, and the park has since attracted a diverse tenant base that includes companies in the metals manufacturing, electronics, distribution and food industries.

“We have just about five or six acres left at the park,” Conway says. “It’s about 95% built out and we’re working on a smaller project that could put us at 100% filled.”

Transportation, logistics and warehousing companies have long found North Jackson a logical fit as demonstrated by the cluster of distribution centers there. Macy’s, Brentwood Originals, FedEx and others have all staked out a spot in North Jackson.

At the Youngstown Commerce Park, two transportation-related businesses say that the area suits their needs perfectly.

“We’ve been here 10 years,” says Brad Hille, president of Hilltrux Tank Lines Inc., a fuel hauler that covers an area within a radius of 350 miles from its offices in North Jackson.

Brad Hille, Keith Lanham and Marvin Carroll are executives at Hilltrux Tank Lines Inc.

“Truck World is one of our customers and it’s convenient to have one here now,” he says.

The company maintains a fleet of 40 tanker trucks and hauls products such as gasoline and diesel fuel to service stations and truck stops in the region, Hille says.

“MVEDC brought us to this site on Rosemont Avenue,” he notes. “It’s worked out well.”

Hilltrux employs 50, most of them drivers.

“It’s challenging to find drivers today,” reports the company’s safety director, Marvin Carroll, who notes that it’s even more difficult to find drivers with proper hazmat certifications.

Hille designed the building for expansion, he says, and there’s enough room on the lot to accommodate about six more trucks.

Moreover, the company doesn’t have to look far should it opt to add a new tanker to its fleet or replace an older model because one of its dealers is just around the corner.

TSI Western Star is a family-owned business that’s been in the park since 1992, says its general manager, Clint Moore.

The company is a dealer of Western Star brand semi-tractor-trailers, and sources some of its business in the North Jackson area.

“Some of our business is service-oriented, and we’re getting a lot of business from neighboring freight companies such as FedEx Ground, PAM Trucking and Encore Trucking,” Moore says, all of which are less than two miles from the TSI dealership.

“Hilltrux is a good customer of ours, and we’re seeing a little more business because of Truck World opening up,” he says.

What is heartening for Moore is that he’s witnessed North Jackson grow to become an important commercial hub for the region. “There’s plenty of opportunity here because there’s plenty of land available,” he observes. “It means easy access for trucks and the trucking industry.”

Pictured at top: Clark Leonard envisions retail and commercial development at this business park.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.