Projects Pump Up Investment in Columbiana County

LISBON, Ohio – Critical infrastructure improvements, a growing portfolio of commercial ventures such as the TownCenter project in the city of Columbiana, and the potential to lure new industry attracted by low-cost energy, a highly skilled workforce and tax incentives, are helping to guide development in Columbiana County over the next five years.

That’s the consensus of development specialists throughout the region as they put private and public dollars to work to expand the county’s commercial and industrial footprint.

Over the last five years, Columbiana County has witnessed a surge in development buoyed by oil and gas exploration in the Utica shale. Utica East Ohio’s Kensington cryogenic plant in Hanover Township, for example, alone boasted a nearly $1 billion investment in the area.

And, more recently, energy giant Chesapeake Energy Corp. has started to renew existing oil and gas leasehold agreements with landowners, preserving the company’s position in the Utica shale and ensuring another round of bonus payments that should spur the local economy (See story page 40).

Other industries have targeted Columbiana County as a location for big projects, most notably South Field Energy’s plan to build a $1.1 billion natural gas-fueled power generation plant near Wellsville. “Obviously, when you employ 500 people to build a plant, that translates into sales tax, which directly benefits the county, helps the merchants and helps things that go along with an improving economy,” county Commissioner Mike Halleck observes.

The South Field project, a subsidiary of Advanced Power Services, would produce enough power to serve about one million homes.

Halleck points out this area of the country has a great labor force, as evidenced by the recent news that the New Castle School of Trades plans to move forward with its $8 million campus in East Liverpool. The project was made possible through the Columbiana County Port Authority agreeing Oct. 19 to lend $250,000 to build the campus.

“They’re advancing their project in East Liverpool to train folks in specific areas that might be conducive to oil and gas,” Halleck notes. “But, we have cheap utilities. The housing market is very reasonable. So it’s a great place to do business.”

Activity is evident throughout the county as development projects in communities such as Salem and Columbiana begin to come to fruition.

“We’ve got about 20 open projects on the books,” reports Mike Mancuso, executive director of the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center in Salem. “They range from small mom-and-pop startups to larger expansions.”

Mancuso says his center has received several inquiries regarding sites in the Salem Industrial Park as well as another site within the city: “We’ve showed a lot of properties and a lot of sites. They all look very promising.”

Earlier this year, the startup Phoenix Corrugated Container opened its doors at the Salem park and so far is enjoying a very busy year, he says.

“We’ve got one potential project in the development stage on five acres,” at the park, Mancuso says.

A critical component of economic development is laying the infrastructure necessary to support more industrial and business expansion, Mancuso says. Work should soon begin on a new sewer line along state Route 14 while preliminary work has begun on a sewer and utilities extension project along Snyder Road.

That project, Mancuso says, is especially important because it has the potential to open up 30 acres zoned commercial and industrial. The project would also eliminate two pumping stations and supply wastewater
services to Freshmark, the second-largest employer in Columbiana County.

“There’s a lot of stuff in the planning stages,” Mancuso says.

Development is evident elsewhere across the county, especially in the city of Columbiana, where Firestone Homestead LLC has started work on TownCenter, a multi-use project under construction at the intersection of state routes 7 and 14.

“We have 60 acres for commercial development on the north side,” says Tom Mackall, president of Firestone Homestead.

Workers were busy the morning of Oct. 21 constructing what will be one of four 39,000-square-foot buildings in the development. The building will feature a clock tower and offer shops, medical offices and restaurants. The first building should be finished by next September, Mackall says.

The development, modeled after Easton Town Center in Columbus, will have a theme based on the life and business of Harvey Firestone, the native of Columbiana County who pioneered tire manufacturing and the rubber industry during the early 20th century. “We want to do everything we can to commemorate him as a great businessman,” Mackall says.

Land has been cleared on the northeastern corner of routes 7 and 14, while another parcel across Route 14 is also being cleared for development. That parcel is now home to the Firestone homestead barn, built on his family farm when Harvey was just 12. “We’ve moved the family barn so it overlooks a 10-acre retention pond,” Mackall says. “We plan to turn that into a restaurant and banquet center.”

The project will be completed in phases over 10 years. “We’re going to do this one step at a time,” Mackall says of the privately funded project.

Such a development would draw patrons from Columbiana County and from southern Mahoning County, Mackall notes.

“If you live in Canfield, it takes less time to get here than it would driving down [U.S. Route] 224,” he says. “We hope to attract more people here.”

Meantime, additional infrastructure improvements such as turning lanes on routes 7 and 14 are needed before development on a large scale can begin, says Lance Willard, Columbiana city manager. “Our main thing is to get that intersection done,” he says.

The project is scheduled for sometime in 2018, and engineers have begun preliminary work on the $2.3 million project.

“It’s going to be big,” Willard says. “It’s going to be like a small Easton Center with a Firestone touch to it.”

Another project in Columbiana is the prospect of landing a huge specialty metals manufacturing plant to a site to be annexed from Fairfield Township, Willard says.

To make that project work, sewer, water and natural gas lines must be extended to the area. However, the company – which has not been publicly identified and is known only as Project Foxtrot or Amp Corp. – is “taking a step back right now” on the project, Willard says, noting it’s “too early to say” whether the lines will be extended.

To help attract more development, the city has formed an enterprise zone that encompasses the entire municipality.

“Certain-sized projects can get tax breaks,” Willard says, adding that the incentives are designed to draw business from outside of Ohio. “Our enterprise zone is structured so it won’t pirate other businesses from the state,” he says.

That is, only startup companies or companies relocating to Ohio from another state would qualify for tax breaks on a new project.

“It’s a big step and a nice economic development tool,” Willard says.

Moreover, the city hopes to begin construction next spring on the new $21 million water treatment plant. “It will be the new heart of Columbiana,” he says.

Commissioner Halleck says that other recent economic development initiatives such as new leadership at the Columbiana County Port Authority should bring more interest in new development in the county.

During its meeting Oct. 19, the port authority board named Diane Ksiazek as its interim executive director after the departure Sept. 30 of longtime CEO Tracy Drake. County commissioners do not sit on the board, but they do appoint its five members.

“The board of commissioners is ultimately the arbiter of the port authority, and that got lost on some people,” Halleck remarks. “Our goal is to have everyone involved,” including the county economic development director, Tad Herold.

“There’s no singular individual that’s larger than the whole. We’re all on the same page and moving forward,” Halleck says, “and a lot of exciting things are going to happen.”

Pictured: Buildings take shape at the TownCenter multi-use project under construction in the city of Columbiana by Firestone Homestead LLC.

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