Economic Development

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Looking for Development Site? Check the Inventories

March 21, 2017
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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Site inventories maintained by economic development organizations provide commercial developers with a central point to access the properties in the communities where they are exploring projects, as well as options beyond those areas.

In the Buckeye State, JobsOhio maintains the statewide database of the information these entities submit. JobsOhio is the public-private entity that handles economic development for the state. It collects data from regional partners, usually economic development organizations, in each county.

Ohio has had such a database more than a decade, predating the creation of JobsOhio in the early months of the administration of Gov. John Kasich.

“That county administrator is responsible for data entry and maintenance,” says Christine Nelson, vice president of project management and site selection for Team NEO. Team NEO, based in Cleveland, is the agency that provides the information to JobsOhio gathered from its 18 counties that include Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

“There is everything in there from 5,000 square feet to one million square feet,” Nelson reports.

The database accepts information on industrial and commercial sites, but not retail, she says. Properties can be searched by using the site selection tool on the JobsOhio website.

“The majority of our requests are for 30 acres or more and 100,000 square feet or more,” she says. “And those are on regionwide site selection opportunities.”

Among Team NEO’s partners is the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, which collects information on properties in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Sarah Boyarko, senior vice president for economic development, says the chamber has inventoried 159 buildings that collectively have more than 14 million square feet and 123 sites with an area of 8,926 acres.

“We’ve got some parameters around JobsOhio’s requirements,” Boyarko says. “For example, the land sites must be five acres or more. The building inventory must be industrial in nature,” such as manufacturing and warehousing/distribution, she continues. The chamber can also list larger commercial or retail spaces that could be renovated for another use.

The chamber is the initial point of contact for the properties listed, Boyarko says.

“Through our ongoing relationship with the state and Team NEO, all that activity flows through our organization so there’s one single point of contact. When there’s a specific interest in a particular property, the broker or owner is engaged to work with the chamber through the process,” she continues. The role of the chamber is coordinating incentive, workforce and related issues.

For properties that don’t fall under the JobsOhio guidelines, the chamber offers services through its contracts with individual communities, Boyarko says.

In Columbiana County, the Columbiana County Port Authority reports the properties to the JobsOhio listing. “Last year, when we first came on board, we hosted many roundtables,” says Penny Traina, its executive director. At the roundtables,  she distributed applications to the participants so they could forward their sites and buildings for the database.

The port authority also keeps its own list of available properties with dimensions and whether the owner prefers to sell or lease, Traina says. Beyond the port authority’s footprint, it has 80 acres of shovel-ready land in World Trade Park outside Leetonia.

“Obviously, we have a lot of assets and leased space available, so we are starting to become the beginning ground for someone to call,” she says.

If a suitable property isn’t within her database, she emails municipalities and other public entities within the county. “If they have suitable space, they can contact the client and hopefully assist that client with property that’s available,” she says.

In Pennsylvania, development organizations gather data on available properties, with links to larger networks.

“We evaluate the zoning that is done in our municipalities because that is step one,” says Linda Nitch, executive director of the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp. “What areas are zoned industrial and commercial can really help identify large parcels that might be available or commercial buildings that are in the proper zoning.”

Once zoning is taken into account, her organization looks at related utilities, infrastructure and transportation available to the sites the interested property owners have about selling their land or buildings, she says. LCEDC tries to take the lead with brokers who have agreements to market properties by giving them access to the LCEDC system, allowing them to list their sites in the database.

“Once we’ve evaluated all of that, we are proactive about seeking approval to take that gathered information and put it in our database,” she continues. The database links to Pittsburgh Prospector, another online regional real estate site as well as PA SiteSearch, the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development’s property search tool.

“That gives us linkage then for the largest metropolitan area we’re part of as well as the state,” Nitch remarks. “So if someone is seeking information on sites or facilities, we have that available.”

Nitch says LCEDC has several thousand acres of property in its database – industrial, commercial and office sites.

The organization has taken the initiative to use drone photography, recording views of 13 sites last year and producing “full-fledged” narrated commercials.

“Plus we always add that the cracker plant [under construction in Monaca] is close by,” she says.

The message Penn-Northwest Development Corp. sends to real estate agents, brokers, developers and property owners is that listing their properties in the inventory is free, says Randy Seitz, president and CEO. “Being in the inventory only increases the probability the property is going to be sold or leased,” he says.

“One of the ways we keep the inventory full is we do tours of the county,” he says, “and whenever we see a for-sale sign that we’re not familiar with, we reach out to whoever that realtor is. The second thing is we encourage real estate agents, brokers and developers to become members of Penn-Northwest and encourage them to give us their listings.”

Penn-Northwest, which focuses on Mercer County, Pa., has about 60 properties listed in its inventory, both vacant land and buildings.

“It’s pretty extensive,” Seitz continues. “If we have a client that is looking for a certain size facility, the first thing we do is go to our inventory.” If no listing meets the client’s needs, the agency pays an annual fee to have “exclusive use” of CoStar, an online property database, on behalf of the interested party. In addition, several Mercer County properties are listed by their brokers on LoopNet, another database.

“We also reach out to the municipalities” to see if any newly available properties have been identified but not plugged into the database, says Tammy Calderwood, Penn-Northwest marketing director.

If nothing comes up that meets the real estate needs of the client, Penn-Northwest branches out to its neighbors, including LCEDC, the Regional Chamber and other agencies nearby.

“Our primary focus is Mercer County. However, we make it a point to understand what’s available in the Mahoning Valley, Lawrence County and Venango and Butler counties,” Seitz says. “If we have a client looking for half a million square feet, we’d rather have them locate in a neighboring community than lose the project.”

Penn-Northwest is upgrading its website to make it easier for visitors to search its inventory of properties.

 

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.