NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – A boom crane towers above the metal skeleton of PurFoods’ Mom’s Meals plant along Bailey Road in North Jackson, as a multi-million dollar building expansion takes shape at the site. Less than two miles north along the same thoroughfare in Lordstown, work continues at TJX HomeGoods’ sprawling, $170 million distribution center – a portion of the billions of dollars worth of development underway in that village.
Together, the two communities stand to draw significant new business tied to anchor projects in Lordstown – a prospect that was at best bleak two years ago when General Motors Co. announced it would shut down its Lordstown assembly complex, eliminating more than 1,500 jobs.
“It’s crazy out there right now,” says Dan Crouse, a broker for Platz Realty Group. “We’re excited.”
Crouse says he met recently with the representative of two companies interested in the Lordstown area so they can provide support to Ultima Cells LLC, the joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem that is building a $2.3 billion electric-vehicle battery manufacturing plant on land near the automaker’s former assembly complex.
Crouse says interest in the area from out-of-state companies has increased substantially over the last several months, largely because of the Lordstown projects. “I’ve seen about a half dozen major opportunities – all of them are viable,” he adds, declining to provide specifics. “They’re at the proposal stages.”
Development in Lordstown is having a positive effect on nearby North Jackson. Bailey Road, among the most traveled corridors in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, serves as the major conduit for commercial traffic through both communities.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship between the two townships,” Crouse says. “When I get someone looking to be near Lordstown, I show them sites in North Jackson, too.”
All of this bodes well for the adjoining communities. In general, both share important assets – large tracts of open land and access to a freeway system from two locations less than three miles apart.
Still, there are some differences in that North Jackson no longer provides property tax abatements while Lordstown does. On the other hand, North Jackson is an unincorporated subdivision of Jackson Township in Mahoning County and does not assess payroll income taxes. Lordstown, incorporated as a village in Trumbull, imposes a 1% income tax.
“It sort of puts them on an even playing field,” Crouse says. “Both are taking advantage of the infrastructure, utilities, highways and to a certain extent, rail.”
The opportunities in North Jackson could be a perfect fit for those industries drawn to the Mahoning Valley because of the nearly $3 billion in new investments underway in Lordstown. The Ultium Cells plant is on track to be completed and in production by the first quarter of 2022, GM spokesman Dan Flores says. Lordstown Motors Corp. has said it would invest $423.8 million to retool the former GM assembly complex and begin production of its first vehicle, the Endurance pickup, in September.
This month, Lordstown Motors released a video demonstrating a test drive of the vehicle’s “skateboard” chassis. The company says its Endurance will begin beta production testing in January.
Meanwhile, TJX HomeGoods is in the final stretches of completing its one million-square-foot distribution center along Bailey Road. TJX has pledged to create more than 1,000 jobs at the site.
The Professional Development Center, based in Youngstown, recently hosted the first round of training sessions for potential TJX job candidates in forklift operation, professional aptitude and safety protocol.
Jeff Magada, director of the Professional Development Center, says more than 200 people have registered for training thus far and 55 have completed the course. “We’ll continue to have training this month and January,” he says.
“This is pre-employment training. They are preparing themselves to get the skills to make them competitive for these jobs.”
A definitive opening date has not been announced and TJX declined to provide a timeline for the project, noting in a statement only that it “was pleased that we continue to make progress with the construction of our HomeGoods/Homesense distribution center in Lordstown.”
Other recent developments include M&M Industries’ purchase of the former Magna seating plant along state Route 45 in Lordstown. M&M, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., manufactures pails and packaging products for pool chemicals, bioscience, laboratory, pharmaceuticals, and specialty paint and food products.
The company plans to begin operations by next summer and employ 106 at the Lordstown location within five years. The plant would produce “current and future innovations for M&M,” according to a news release.
Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill says that while the community was devastated over the news of GM abandoning its plant, he’s heartened about the prospects for Lordstown Motors. Earlier this month, the electric vehicle startup was awarded a $20 million job creation tax credit from the Ohio Tax Credit Authority in exchange for a pledge to hire 1,570 employees by 2025 and keep the plant operating for 18 years.
In August, Lordstown Motors merged with DiamondPeak Holdings Corp., a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, and in October became a publicly traded company under the ticker symbol RIDE. Since it went public, shares of the company peaked at $28.60 on Nov. 23, but had slipped to $18.17 at the close of regular trading Dec. 10.
Major industrial and commercial projects tend to attract additional business activity in the vicinity. Long before GM shut down the Chevrolet Cruze assembly line, the village of Lordstown was encouraging expansions and new companies, Hill says.
Four years ago, he notes, Matalco, an aluminum processing company based in Canada, finished construction and opened a $125 million plant along Bailey Road in 2016.
Another $1 billion was spent to develop the Lordstown Energy Center, a natural gas-fueled electricity generation plant on state Route 45 that began operations in 2018. A second plant, the Trumbull Energy Center, is planned for land next to the Lordstown operation, and is expected to cost $1 billion to develop.
Most of the land available for future development in Lordstown is zoned to accommodate industry. “There are a lot of wagons circling out there [related to possible projects],” Hill says.
Meanwhile, for much of the last 40 years, North Jackson has served as a nexus for companies engaged in warehousing, distribution, logistics, transportation and manufacturing. Retailers such as Macy’s and Things Remembered have located major distribution operations there. Manufacturers such as Extrudex and other industrial operations continue to grow in the township. Transportation giant FedEx operates two locations within a mile of each other.
While the attraction is obvious – the Interstate 680 and Bailey Road interchange feeds directly into the heart of the community – Jackson Township has another asset that’s high on a developer’s wish list: land – and plenty of it.
“We have a total of 1,827 acres that are zoned industrial,” says Bill D’Avignon, zoning inspector for Jackson Township. Just more than half of that acreage is vacant, he says, and roughly 13% of the entire township is zoned for industrial purposes.
Development is active along the Bailey Road corridor, evidenced by a $14 million project at Mom’s Meals. The company prepares ready-made meals and has enjoyed consistent growth in the township.
Another new project slated is American Transmission Systems, a FirstEnergy company that plans to build an operation off Bailey Road that would service FirstEnergy fleet trucks. “They’ve submitted plans for review, but won’t break ground until the end of next year or early 2022,” D’Avignon says.
The only impediment to development is the lack of sewer and water service to the land that runs along Bailey Road in the northern portion of the township, D’Avignon says.
Many of these new projects were encouraged by the use of Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, programs, says Jackson Township Trustee Tom Frost. About five years ago, the township abandoned its use of tax abatements as an incentive for companies to locate there. Instead, the community created a TIF district, where participating businesses would pay full real estate taxes, but half of the revenue would be used for important infrastructure projects within the designated TIF area.
“The TIF money was used to pave the Youngstown Commerce Park,” Frost says. Commerce Park is a business park that is home to distributors, manufacturers and contractors, with entrances just off Bailey Road and Mahoning Avenue. Among the more recent tenants is a new Amazon regional distribution hub. There is also the potential for a new warehouse project in the park, he says.
Frost says the decision to do away with tax incentives has not discouraged new development or expansion in North Jackson. “Since we’ve eliminated tax abatements, we’ve probably seen about $30 million in new investments,” he says.
There have been some misses, however, notes Clark Leonard, whose development company owns the 400-acre Lordstown Industrial Park near the Bailey Road and I-680 interchange. About a year ago, Menard’s, a DIY retailer, had considered locating a distribution and truss manufacturing operation on land owned by Leonard. However, the company instead opted for a location in Ravenna, he says.
Nevertheless, Leonard says, “I’m hearing a lot of positive things.”
The Bailey Road thoroughfare is busier than ever, he says, boosted by the arrival of Amazon. In 2017, a new Truck World plaza opened on a portion of the industrial park. “We have all of the Amazon drivers there,” he says. “They’re maxed out at the pumps every month.”
Leonard says he envisions additional commercial and retail activity in North Jackson, which could come should new business and residential development take hold.
“Right now, we have a lot of transportation companies. That doesn’t generate the kind of headcount retailers look for,” he says. “But it’s definitely coming.”
Pictured: The Ultima Cells LLC $2.3 billion electric vehicle battery plant takes shape in Lordstown.