No Letup in Demand for Region’s Industrial Parks

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio –At they hunt new sites to build a natural gas pipeline within the region, manufacturers, service businesses, international firms and companies looking to build the region’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure see the Mahoning and Shenango valleys industrial parks on their radar screens.

Mix these prospects with projects nearing completion during the first quarter of next year and the region boasts a strong portfolio of economic activity at its many business parks.

“This fiscal year has been pretty active,” says Randy Seitz, president and CEO of Penn-Northwest Development Corp. in Mercer, Pa. The economic development agency administers a menu of incentives programs designed to encourage industrial and commercial projects throughout Mercer County.

Penn-Northwest generated 116 leads, distributed 48 proposals and hosted five site tours just in the quarter ended Sept. 30, Seitz reports. “These range from companies in the U.K., Australia and China,” he says, as well as domestic companies.

Should these five site visits turn into viable projects, it could mean an additional $80 million in new investment in Mercer County in the near-term, Seitz says. Involved in those projects under consideration are an Australian company that manufactures boat trailers, a glass recycling company from the United Kingdom, and a Chinese company that builds CNC machining equipment.

Another company that has patented a process to reverse rubber vulcanization is looking to build somewhere in Mercer County, while startup Velfera Auto Design is considering the Greenville-Reynolds Industrial Park as a site for one of its operations.

“Velfera alone would be about $50 million,” Seitz says, should that project move forward. The company is seeking four locations in the region for plants that would manufacture about 1,000 to 2,000 lightweight electric cars annually. Velfera has secured three letters of intent for land in Greenville, Vienna Township, and East Liverpool.

Other projects that Penn-Northwest is pursuing – ones excluded from Seitz’s $80 million list of prospects – is a $40 million food processing plant and a 500,000-square-foot bottling plant targeted for Stateline Industrial Park in Hermitage, Pa. “We’re trying to get them committed for a site visit,” he says.

Construction is also set to begin in 2016 on a major expansion at Solar Atmospheres on Industrial Road in Hermitage, according to city officials. Other expansions along the city’s industrial corridor include a proposed addition at Samuel Stamping Technologies on Broadway Avenue and a recently finished project at CCL Container.

Although oil and gas exploration has all but dried up in this section of the northern Utica shale, potential remains in midstream and downstream development related to the industry, Seitz adds. “We keep hearing good news on the cracker facility,” he notes, referring to Royal Dutch Shell’s consideration of building a $4 billion ethane “cracker” plant in Monaca, Pa., in Beaver County.

Shell has not announced whether it will move forward with the project, but preliminary site work at the former Horsehead Zinc land along the Ohio River started more than a year ago.

“Three years ago or so, we went to visit cracker facilities in Louisiana,” Seitz says. While there, the development team scouted an area about 50 miles in radius from the plant to ascertain the economic impact such a project might have on Mercer County.

Development officials from across eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania believe the Shell cracker plant – an operation that processes ethane gas into ethylene and polyethylene – could spur a large petrochemical industry across the region.

“The theory is that these companies would be the first we would reach out to,” Seitz says. “We’re excited about the opportunity.”

Meanwhile industrial and business parks in the region are preparing for what developers believe is still a promising midstream market, that is, the installation of pipelines and processors necessary to transport gas out of wells and into the market.

“We believe pipeline activity will be busy,” says Dan Crouse, a broker with Routh-Hurlbert, Warren. The company specializes in commercial and industrial real estate and is the leasing agent at the Ohio Commerce Park in Lordstown. “We think it will increase dramatically,” he says, “while there are other opportunities in downstream business.”

Crouse says his office is in contact with two companies that would require outdoor space so they could stage pipe and other equipment before it is shipped to the site. Since the Ohio Commerce Park has rail access, the pipe could be transported to the park via rail car, unloaded at the site, and then stored outside until the pipe is ready for installation.

“The Ohio Commerce Park is perfect for staging areas,” Crouse says. “Companies want to make sure that pipe is staged and ready to go.”

Other projects at Ohio Commerce Park are nearing completion. Matalco’s $125 million aluminum re-melt plant is scheduled for completion during the first quarter, Crouse says, and the Commerce Park recently leased another 86,000 square feet of warehouse space.

“It was a local company seeking additional space,” he says. “We’ve got some things in the works that are not finalized yet. I’d say we’re seeing a good level of interest out there.”

In Struthers, three projects are in various stages of completion at Castlo Improvement Corp.’s industrial park, says its executive director, Mike Hoza. Aqua Ohio is relocating its Struthers office to the park and constructing a new office and maintenance building on five acres there, he says.

Castlo’s existing buildings are full although some room remains for new building and expansion on a 70-acre Jobs Ready Site, Hoza says.

“We’re working on two other prospects at the moment,” he relates, “and I anticipate those to be finished up by the end of the year.”

One of those prospects is an area service company looking to expand, Hoza says. The other is a national company interested in leveraging the rail access the park offers and building a transfer station there. “We’ve been working with them for most of the year,” Hoza says. “When it closes it should create between seven and 10 jobs.”

A similar transfer operation is slated for the former New Castle Refractory site, once owned by the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp., says its executive director, Linda Nitch. The development agency sold the building and operation to McClymonds Supply & Transit, which wants to build a depot for commodities such as sand, salt and limestone energy companies use in oil and gas well completion and exploration.

“It should be a $5.2 million investment and bring 45 new jobs,” Nitch says. The new operation would benefit from the Class II rail line that serves the site, so large quantities of sand and limestone could be transported by rail.

Nitch says her agency receives a steady flow of inquiries related to new buildings and space, but has no new projects to report at this time. However, several companies expanded their operations throughout Lawrence County in 2015, she says.

“At Millennium Park, Steelite International has expanded 50,000 square feet,” she says. “They continue to be a strong employer at about 100 people. They’re busy, growing and doing very well.”

The company, based in the United Kingdom, manufactures durable tableware and its Lawrence County site serves as the distribution hub for North and South America.

Other industrial and business parks across the county remain active and filled, she relates. “All the buildings at the Shenango Commerce Park are occupied,” Nitch reports. “There are several companies that have been here for years and have done very well for themselves.”

Pictured: Construction of Matalco’s $125 aluminum re-melt plant at the Ohio Commerce Park in Lordstown is scheduled for completion during the first quarter.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.