Economic Development

Businesses Voice Optimism at Lordstown Event

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – When Canada-based Johnvince Foods was in search of a site to start up a distribution operation in the United States, its operations manager turned to an old friend who happens to be from the village.

“A good friend of mine lives down here and had only great things to say about the people in the area,” recalled Luis Deviveiros. “When we came down and visited, it just proved him right.”

This asset – coupled with a location that provides easy access to the country’s highway system – was a major reason why Johnvince Foods, a wholesale distributor of dried fruits, nuts and candies based in Ontario, Canada, moved into the former Lear Seating complex in 2014 along Ellsworth Bailey Road.

Deviveiros was among several speakers who addressed community stakeholders during the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber’s Good Morning Lordstown breakfast on Friday at Lordstown High School.

The operations manager noted that it made sense to serve the United States market from a distribution hub in this country, and Lordstown proved a viable opportunity.

“In the United States, we serve a number of customers such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, Sprout – just to name a few,” Deviveiros, said. The company also supplies medium and smaller distributors across the country, he added. “We serve the entire United States out of this operation.”

It’s likely that the company will expand operations in this area, Deviveiros said. “We’re looking to bring a couple more lines down and we may, down the road, put up a couple more warehouses up where we need them,” he said. “Right now, Lordstown is where we want to spend our time and our efforts to try and get a bigger play in the market.”

The company is considering expanding its packaging lines at the Lordstown site this year, which would lead to more jobs locally, Deviveiros said. And, demand for the company’s products is steadily growing.

“People like the organics, and the dried fruit and the confectionary line complement sales well,” he said.

Johnvince Foods, a family owned company, employs roughly 30 at its Lordstown location, about half of which are part time, Deviveiros said.

Additional hires are expected this year at Anderson-Dubose Co.’s distribution center at the Ohio Commerce Park, said Mike Boddy, general manager. April will mark the company’s fifth year in Lordstown.

“We’ve created almost 200 jobs here in Lordstown,” Boddy said. “We’re very proud of that.”

Anderson-Dubose, which sponsored Friday’s breakfast, distributes food products for two major national chain restaurants, McDonald’s and Chipotle. Boddy said that 2017 presents an opportunity for the company to grow. “We’re going to add another 40 jobs at Lordstown and 80 overall,” he said. “So, we’re very excited about that.”

The prospect of an expansion at Johnvince Foods and additional employees at Anderson-Dubose are among several positive projects looming in 2017, said Mayor Arno Hill, who emphasized the great success the village experienced the previous year.

“2016 was a great year that’s going to be hard to beat, but we’re going to see what we could do,” Hill told guests.

Matalco early last year cut the ribbon at its $125 million plant at the Ohio Commerce Park and has since employed between 80 and 100 people, Hill said.

While that alone would stand as a major development for a community the size of Lordstown, Hill pointed to one of the largest projects now under construction in northeastern Ohio – the Lordstown Energy Center.

Clean Energy Future is building a nearly $1 billion modern, natural gas-fired electrical generation plant along Henn Parkway, just off state Route 45. Just last month, the company announced its intention to construct another plant with approximately the same amount of investment at the same location.

“Everybody who has come to Lordstown has been an excellent neighbor,” the mayor said. “Everybody who has come in has been a good fit.”

Bill Siderewicz, president and CEO of Clean Energy Future, said that the economic impact of just a single plant on the local economy would translate into $14 billion over 40 years. The plant now under construction, he told the audience, has the capability of manufacturing electricity at a much lower cost than the utility companies.

The village school district has benefited directly from the Clean Energy project, added Lordstown School Superintendent Terry Armstrong. An agreement signed between the company and the schools allowed for a $500,000 payment to the schools in May 2016. This helped the school system finish the year with a $600,000 surplus, versus a $100,000 balance a year earlier.

“Thanks to a thriving business community, things are turning around,” he said.

Clean Energy also paid for the demolition of a vacant school building and the creation of a new circular running track and soccer field.

However, Siderewicz said that the greatest obstacle facing this development is the push from the large utilities to reregulate the industry in Ohio, which he said would stifle competition and place plans for a second plant here in jeopardy.

He charged companies such as FirstEnergy are lobbying state lawmakers to draw up legislation that would protect the interests of utilities and make it difficult for independent energy suppliers such as his to operate in Ohio.

“They basically want to put us out of business,” Siderewicz told the crowd. “Their costs are too high and they feel that part of the marketplace slipping away.”

Pictured: Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill addresses the audience at the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber’s Good Morning, Lordstown breakfast Friday.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.