Due Diligence, Incentives Before Auto Parkit Commits

WARREN, Ohio – A “handful of things” – including environmental issues, rail infrastructure and financing – need to be resolved before Auto Parkit LLC commits to moving forward on a multimillion-dollar project at the former Delphi Packard property on Dana Street here, founder and CEO Christopher Alan says.

Alan, a Warren native, joined city and county leaders and representatives of economic development agencies Tuesday in one of the vacant Delphi Packard buildings to discuss the “great proposed project,” as Mayor Doug Franklin described the venture.

Los Angeles-based Auto Parkit, which designs and manufactures automated lift parking systems for vehicles, is in a six-month due-diligence period during which it will determine whether to move forward with the project, Alan said. The company, which he started about five and a half years ago, manufactures equipment at smaller plants in four states and wants to consolidate into a larger single location.

“We want to manufacture equipment here. We want to be able to ship it here on rail and we want to locate our design, engineering and architecture infrastructure and personnel in the building across the street in the administration building,” Alan said. The intent is to serve customers in the central and Midwestern United States and from Europe.

The company announced it has entered into a purchase agreement for the buildings that once housed the Packard Automobile Co., then Packard Electric Co. that later became Delphi. Auto Parkit has leased the property during the due diligence period.

The property’s past and potential future was on display during the news conference, with a shiny red Packard planed on one of Auto Parkit’s lifts behind a podium. Behind that, a faded red Packard logo could be seen on the building’s wall.

In his opening remarks, Franklin noted that Delphi filed for bankruptcy 10 years ago this month. “But our community is a resilient one and since that day we’ve worked very hard and made a very conscious effort to climb out of some holes and do it successfully,” he remarked.

“The reason Warren is great for us is you already have the steel and automotive industry here, which means you have all the tool and die and engineering and heavy steel manufacturing we need to make our product locally,” Alan said.

“We also have a port that’s less than an hour away in Ashtabula that we can load container ships and ship equipment to projects across the pond, as they say, to Europe. That’s significant to us,” he continued.

Alan declined to provide specific numbers on the potential investment, but said it would be in the millions of dollars “in double digits.” Employment would be between 250 and 300 over the next three to four years, reaching 800 to 1,000 in a decade. While most new jobs would be in manufacturing, many positions would be in engineering and architecture.

Alan said he looked at potential locations for three years and kept coming back to Warren and the former Packard plant, where his parents both worked. “Knowing what used to be here and the infrastructure that was here quickly brought Warren back to the forefront for me,” he said.

“There’s just a handful of things” that need to fall in place for the project to move forward in Warren, Alan continued.

“We need to make sure that we’re not taking on someone else’s environmental liability,” he remarked. “I’m not in the business of buying someone else’s environmental concerns, so we have to make sure that we have a no-further action letter and that the abatement that’s required for us to do business here is competed.”

In addition, the existing rail infrastructure on the property needs to be restored and Auto Parkit needs to make sure the building is financeable, the CEO said. He also is seeking cooperation on permitting of the property and financial assistance from the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp., the state of Ohio and other sources.

Other states that Alan considered for the project –Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana and Nevada – have “a lot of incentives,” he acknowledged.

“But the truth is the infrastructure is here,” he continued. “It’s one thing to find a factory or build a factory and have what you need but not have the rail, not have the trucking, not have the steel industry, not have the tool and die, not have the engineering. All the things you need being in the steel business, in effect.”

“There’s a variety of things that have to come into place,” added John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority. WRPA staff, at the invitation of Warren city officials, have been involved with other economic development partners in discussions with Auto Parkit for several months, he said.

“It’s exciting to see it finally come to a press conference and a public announcement, and now we set about trying to make it a reality,” Moliterno said.

The Auto Parkit CEO “wanted to get out in front of all of the rumors and just say what was happening here,” Franklin said. He rejected suggestions that the news conference was timed to boost his prospects for winning a second term in next month’s general election.

“The city doesn’t stop running and things don’t stop happening because there’s an election,” he remarked. “This was all Chris’ desire to get in front of the story because there’s too many false rumors.”

The importance of “getting the facts out … precipitated Tuesday’s news conference, Alan confirmed.

“I’ve been coming back and forth for the better part of a year. Every time I come back into town, or someone calls my office, there are some characterizations or untruths that are rumored about what’s going on here,” Alan said. “We don’t want a misperception that things are done or completed when they are not.”

Pictured: Auto Parkit CEO Christopher Alan at Tuesday’s news conference.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.