Change agents come in many forms, and no two face the same challenges. But
look around Ohio, and you will find them. In Painesville and Canton, Campbell
and Vienna. From Cleveland's urban core to the southeast corner of the state.
They are small nonprofits, county agencies and regional planning organizations.
Their size does not matter; they each work vehemently to enrich their communities. They rehabilitate old homes and create new ones; save jobs and recruit employers. They see an aging neighborhood, underutilized airfield or crumbling industrial dynasty as a turnaround opportunity. They preserve history and keep an eye toward the next 100 years.
And they deliver changes like punishing blows against heavyweight problems.
So for the seventh time, Dominion East Ohio and Inside Business team up to salute organizations that have helped make their communities better places to live and work. Here are their stories.
Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Aero Park
Eight years ago, despite dwindling air-passenger traffic and anemic manufacturing
growth in the Mahoning Valley, the Youngstown- Warren Regional Airport was chosen
by the state of Ohio to receive a major boost as a transportation and industrial
hub. Then-Gov. George Voinovich's administration sought a Northeast Ohio airfield
to replicate the success of Columbus' Rickenbacker International Airport.
'They decided based on the availability of acreage and the proximity of manufacturing firms that this project was best housed here,' says Reid Dulberger, executive vice president of the Youngstown/ Warren Regional Chamber. Indeed, within 75 miles of the airport are 7 million residents of the Cleveland/Akron/Pittsburgh region, plus 11,700 manufacturing plants and 12,900 distribution centers.
The planning phase to save the struggling airport, which began in 1995, fit well with the chamber's Jobs for Our Valley program. '[State political leaders] brought the vision to the Valley and said this is what the airport can mean for you,' Dulberger says. 'This can be a hub for industrial growth. We've been trying to build it ever since.'
Phase II, the creation of Aero Park, began in 1997 with the pursuit of financing. The flip side of having so many untouched acres was the lack of physical infrastructure and the need for road improvements. There were plenty of industrial sites along state Route 11, but no access. The airport itself needed major work: extended runways, a parking ribbon for aircraft and a cargo building. And the area needed general amenities such as electri-city, sewage systems and water supply.
Securing the money was a test, Dulberger says. 'It's not as easy as we thought it would be, but in the last few years it's come into its own,' he explains. 'We were very fortunate in working with local and regional leadership, like NEOTEC [Northeast Ohio Trade and Economic Consortium]. One of their first projects was to lobby the Federal Aviation Administration to expand and enhance the airport itself. It took a concerted effort ... to put a lot of money into a small airport and secure those kinds of improvements.'
To date, the chamber has gathered $52 million in public financing. The Kings Grave Road ramp to state Route 11 opened in November, a year ahead of schedule. 'What we think gives us a leg up is that you can have direct aviation and highway access,' says Dulberger. 'The ability to have your plant adjacent to the airport, [and a] new interchange, is just not available for an airport this size. It affords an ability to lower the cost of doing business, because product isn't sitting at a red light all day.'
So far, three corporations have agreed. Timken Latrobe Steel's distribution center opened in June 2001, despite being heavily recruited by western Pennsylvania. The state and the Western Reserve Port Authority fought hard to keep the Canton company. Delphi Packard Electric Systems was next. The Delphi Automotive Systems division had been leasing a nearby building, but decided to build a 193,000-square-foot building scheduled to open next fall. 'Ohio can't afford to lose a world-class company like Timken,' says Dulberger. 'To follow that up with Delphi is like having a corporate seal of approval on this site.'
Timken Latrobe, Delphi and auto-parts manufacturer Android Industries, which renovated the former Delphi building, have invested a total of $96.7 million at Aero Park, bringing 475 new jobs with them.
Phase III is the ongoing effort to market 500 acres west and north of the airport. Dulberger expects at least one announcement within three months.
Ultimately, the chamber projects the effort will yield 3,500 new jobs with payroll totaling $70 million and a total investment of $550 million. It's a complete reversal of fortune for the Youngstown- Warren Regional Airport, and the result, says Dulberger, of unprecedented political support in the Valley. 'When problems arise, we've always been able to go back to this core group.'
The Association for Better Community
Development Inc., ABCD Homes II
In Canton, ABCD spells improved housing. The ABCD Homes program is rejuvenating Canton low-income housing one neighborhood at a time.
ABCD (The Association for Better Community Development Inc.), a faith-based nonprofit founded in 1973 and affiliated with the Office of Community Developers of the United Methodist Church, focuses on neighborhood revitalization, families, economic and housing development, and job training and transportation in Stark County.
ABCD Homes began nine years ago, when ABCD began acquiring and rehabbing properties. Completed in 1999, ABCD Homes I included 20 new homes and two rehabs. Tenants sign lease- purchase agreements with the option to buy at a discounted price in 15 years. So far, only two tenants have moved out of ABCD homes, while at least 20 prospective families are on a waiting list.
Partnering with developer NRP Group, ABCD Homes has pooled $4.25 million in federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding. Intermediaries such as Freddie Mac buy tax credits and underwrite the cost of a typical $96,000 home for about $60,000. Residents who meet certain income guidelines can rent a four-bedroom home for $427 a month.
ABCD Homes II built on the success of the first phase and added 35 scattered-site homes and three rehabs to the community, an investment totaling $3.5 million. The focal point of phase two is Gateway Estates, which consists of nine new homes built in a neglected wooded area owned by the city. Completed in May 2000, ABCD Homes II brought nearly $3 million into the community through taxes and land appraisals.
Community pride is on the rise. In southwest Canton, where ABCD has completed some scattered-site housing, neighbors have gathered to form SWAN — the Southwest Association of Neighbors.
'We're doing more development in that area, and SWAN is excited about us being there,' says Desmond D. Carpenter Sr., director of housing and community development. SWAN's efforts to improve the area include an adopt-a-school program with Lathrop Elementary, located in the neighborhood.
Funding a third phase is next for ABCD. 'The success of ABCD Homes II will lead to the success of more housing ventures, including ABCD Homes III and some other projects that we're taking a look at,' Carpenter says.
Common Wealth Inc., Youngstown
Sheet and Tube Historic Worker Housing
Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. closed its Campbell Works in 1977, stranding 5,000 workers and leaving behind more than 200 units of worker housing built in 1918. Twenty years wore hard on the historic homes, but thanks to Common Wealth Inc., the face of Campbell is improving, house by house.
The partnership began in 1996, when Common Wealth, a nonprofit organization that builds affordable housing, helped the city of Campbell apply for funds through the Ohio Department of Development's CHIS program (Comprehensive Housing Improvement Strategy). Campbell was awarded $700,000 in 1997 and $500,000 in 2000.
'As we started to get to know the community and see the potential, there was a lot of property that had been subdivided but had never been built on because of the bankruptcy of a local developer,' says Pat Rosenthal, executive director of Common Wealth. Over two years, the organization built 68 single-family homes on abandoned sites scattered around Campbell.
Some of the new homes were built across the street from the Youngstown Sheet and Tube worker houses that desperately needed attention. 'From the beginning,' says Rosenthal, 'we hoped that we would be able to have an impact on these historic houses, but it took us a couple of years to evaluate whether it would be feasible and to acquire a group of them.'
Built by the Buckeye Land Co., the old homes rented to Sheet and Tube workers for $15 a month in 1920. They were among the first homes built anywhere that used precast-concrete pieces. Project leader Mark Whipkey made sure the renovations were true to their historical value, keeping the project eligible for tax credits.
Common Wealth overhauled 17 units with financing from tax credits, state money and Mahoning County. Since 1998, the housing organization has used $13 million in total equity through the Local Initiatives Support Corp. and the National Equity Fund, a nonprofit syndicate for low-income-housing tax credits, to renovate and build 141 homes in Campbell and East Liverpool.
The progress is infectious, Rosenthal says. 'We feel really enthused by the response of the people in the neighborhood to cooperate and work on improving the housing and the environment.'
Forty residents moved into the new homes in August 2001, and other investors have overhauled eight more units. The city paved nearby Robinson Road, demolished vacant buildings and rehabbed five more houses. And there is talk that a closed grocery store will reopen soon, all due to heightened community spirit in Campbell.
Maingate Business Development Corp.
Imagine the days in the late 19th century, when John D. Rockefeller launched Standard Oil Co. and his oil empire in Maingate, the industrial village southeast of downtown bordered by the Cuyahoga River, East 65th Street, Woodland and Orange avenues, and Interstate 490. Maingate's rails and shipping made it one of the nation's bustling terminals, but six highways built in the 1960s helped scare away 80 percent of the surrounding population by 1990, and inspired many companies to relocate to suburbia.
Imagine a time before people felt free to dump their garbage on Maingate's dark, dilapidated streets. 'This was truly a dumping ground,' says Constance I. Perotti, executive director of Maingate Business Development Corp., formed in 1990 to lead private initiatives for re-creating the industrial district.
The turnaround was visible by 2000, when the nonprofit had completed 30 demolitions, swept out dumping and crime, installed new lighting and roads, and acquired seven parcels for development. 'We used a lot of different tactics to get it done,' says Perotti (pictured above with Maingate president Dan LoPresti).
One of the biggest challenges has been reversing the area's image and creating a job-friendly environment. Maingate has built a sense of community, bringing in new companies to occupy many older buildings and pushing businesses to make more jobs available. In fact, the Maingate business roster grew from 127 in 1992 to 159 in 1999. While city- and countywide jobs grew just over 3 percent during that period, Maingate jobs surged from 5,644 to 6,921.
The new businesses average 17 employees. 'High-energy entrepreneurs are doing this,' says Perotti, adding that one Maingate street has been renamed for a legendary entrepreneur: Rockefeller Avenue. 'A big part of it is the commitment of the small-business owners, many of whom have been here for a long time. We have a wonderful small-business community. They all know each other now and help each other.'
There's a lot of work to be done in Maingate. With more than 166 acres yet to be developed, Perotti says, 'We have to take the leap from filling buildings to building buildings. ... That's what we will focus on: a giant leap to new construction.'
Maingate will continue to tout its history, new amenities, industrial-friendly
zoning, and reputation as the food capital of Ohio (the Northern Ohio Food Terminal
is located in the district). Vigilance against illegal dumping is an ongoing
concern. So is the process of telling the community that Maingate is a safe,
thriving part of the region's economy.
Monroe County Office of Economic Development and Tourism
When coal mining left Monroe County, so did many residents. The southeastern
Ohio county recorded a population of 20,660 in 1920, but by 2000 that figure
had dropped to 15,180. Unemployment was the only thing growing — to 12 percent.
'We needed to bring in jobs, and the only way to do that was to hire professional economic developers,' says Vaughn J. Smith, director of Monroe County's Department of Job and Family Services.
So in December 1998, Monroe County created the Office of Economic Development and Tourism and brought two economic-development experts to town: George Couch, from New Martinsville, W. Va., and Louis Stein from Wheeling, W. Va.
By August 2001, Monroe had 400 new jobs and an extra $6 million in income. Residents receiving government assistance fell from 328 in 1994 to 46, and unemployment had fallen to 4.5 percent.
'It's partly the little things that Lou and George have done, like work with the existing businesses in a wage-subsidy program, where they were to hire low-income individuals into their work force,' says Smith. The subsidy is over, but many employers kept their new workers.
The development team built a Web page and provided grants for companies to build their own Web sites. Also, Stephanie Rouse was hired as director of tourism. Her office has received hundreds of requests for the county's first tourism brochure.
But the biggest change has been the new business that Couch and Stein helped bring to Monroe County. Safe Auto Insurance Co. has 90 new employees working in a temporary building and will add 60 more jobs when its new facility is ready in early spring. Slay Industries of St. Louis will add 120 jobs, and Century Mine, 500 more. Ultimately, there will be more than 800 new jobs for the Monroe County work force, which fell from 5,900 eligible workers in January 2000 to 5,400 in September 2001. Vaughn says the county now must focus on growing to at least 22,000 residents.
Of the economic-development efforts to date, Vaughn observes, 'You can't be too picky when you're bringing in companies, but we wanted to make the county a balanced plate of different businesses.' With 800 new jobs and several more potential newcomers, Monroe County is better prepared for tough times.
Painesville City Improvement Corp.,
Renaissance Business Park
In 1998, the city of Painesville had grown too big for its industrial britches. Its major industrial areas had matured over 10 years, and the only land that remained for development was a smattering of 3- to 5-acre sites, none large enough for major corporations.
'We like to tout ourselves as a small town with all the big-city services,' says city manager Rita McMahon. 'We realized we needed balance, so we started looking at what we could do to attract larger companies ... and bring new jobs to the community.'
The catalyst: Painesville City Improvement Corp. (PCIC), which since the 1970s has worked with local businesses, created events such as 'Spirit of the Season' and 'Party in the Park,' and helped the city change downtown streets back to two-way traffic.
Painesville and PCIC moved quickly, acquiring in December 1999 42 acres of agricultural land off state Route 44 near state Route 2 in Painesville Township. The annexation was completed in February 2000, and the Renaissance Business Park was born.
Painesville installed the necessary utilities and infrastructure, rezoned the land for industrial use, and hired Gutoskey and Associates to design a parkway in the development. In late 2000, Painesville broke ground for the parkway and found its first two tenants for the business park, Core Systems and Cintas Corp.
Cintas, the Cincinnati-based uniform-services company, was the first to sign a letter of intent. In March it will open a 53,000-square-foot facility with office space on 8 acres. Core Systems soon followed; the manufacturer of engineered parts for plastic injection molding consolidated four Northeast Ohio locations when it moved into its 94,000-square-foot building in June 2001.
'The impacts are multiple,' says McMahon. 'These are good, solid jobs that we're bringing into the community. There are marked increases in our water, sewer and electric sales. And we'll see an impact in income tax beginning next year.' In fact, Painesville projects a three-year total of 392 new jobs and additional income-tax generation of $140,000 from Core Systems and Cintas alone.
This January, PCIC will add targeted mailing to its campaign to sell the remaining 20 acres at the Renaissance Business Park and to attract new companies to Painesville, one of only 84 municipalities in Ohio that generates its own electricity.
'Because we have two visible companies,' McMahon says, 'the spin-off effect is that other people are considering Paines-ville [as a place] to move their businesses.'
Stockyard Redevelopment Organization
West 67th Place was once the back door into Cleveland Union Stockyards, at one time the seventh-largest cattle yard in the nation. But in recent years, the once-bustling livestock center suffered from neglect. With sewer and water lines failing and pavement crumbling at the century-old stockyard, there was concern that industrial mainstays such as Blue Ribbon Meats — one of only 80 Angus beef distributors in the nation — would leave for cleaner pastures.
Ward 17 councilman Timothy Melena joined forces with WIRE-Net (Westside Industrial Retention and Expansion Network) to do something about it. They commissioned an independent study by engineering and architecture firm URS Greiner in 1998. 'One of the identified needs was a viable community-development organization that would serve partially as an ombudsman for development but also work on concerns in the community,' says Alex Brazynetz, executive director of Stockyard Redevelopment Organization (SRO), which began operating in September 1999.
SRO quickly set out to retain and recruit existing businesses and enhance the stockyard's regional image. 'If the area was characterized by an image, it would have been an image of increasing blight and disinvestment,' says Brazynetz.
The first initiative: a $1.9 million face-lift for West 67th Place, designed to maintain the interest of the business owners. SRO and WIRE-Net met with economic-development officials at every level, and the result was $1.25 million in federal funds, $200,000 from the state and $450,000 from the city secured by September 2001.
Now that the design of new water lines, road surfaces, curbs, sidewalks, lighting and sewage is complete, the work will begin this spring, when commercial Realtor Batac Corp. dedicates ownership of West 67th Place to the city.
The biggest change may be the mended spirit of the business community. The stockyard's 18 resident businesses, including four meat distributors and two other food distributors, employ 230 workers. Up to 100 jobs will be added over the next five years, and the businesses have committed about $3 million in capital improvements.
'My greatest hope for the area is turning around its image,' says Brazynetz.
'I don't mean that in a feel-good sense of the neighborhood but in a bricks-and-mortar
sense that people are building their businesses and are offering employment
in the city. Keeping those jobs in the neighborhood is priceless.'