Wood County Economic Development Commission

Good news: County getting 1,000 new jobs; Bad news: Region running out of workers

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County is having a banner year in business expansions – creating nearly 1,000 new jobs. But the issue waiting in the wings is the low unemployment level in the region, wavering between 3 and 4 percent. While that low rate is great news to employees, it is also worrisome to economic development officials. “It’s a good thing. But there is going to be a time when new businesses slow down looking at Northwest Ohio,” Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, said Thursday morning during his quarterly report to the county commissioners. But right now, Wood County is reveling in the news that four manufacturing plants are expanding here: First Solar, in Lake Township, investing $400 million and creating 500 jobs. Walgreens, in Perrysburg Township, investing $80 million and creating 350 jobs. Continental Structural Plastics, in North Baltimore, creating 100 jobs. Equity Meats, in Bloom Township, creating 50 jobs. “It’s been a very busy start for the year,” Gottschalk told the commissioners. And three other businesses have shown great interest in locating in the county, making multiple visits here, he added. “There are three percolating through the system,” Gottschalk said, without revealing the business names. Wood County has an estimated 60,000 people in its labor force. So 600 jobs is about 1 percent of the unemployment rate, he explained. That means the county’s ability to attract new industry will become more challenging. Gottschalk predicted that companies with upper tier wages will still be able to attract employees, but others may struggle to fill positions. “It will make it more difficult to attract average-pay employers,” he said. Existing companies in Wood County are already having trouble filling empty positions, Gottschalk said. “The available labor force is relatively small,” he said. For years, Ohio has been attractive to prospective employers because of the strong work ethic associated with employees. “Ohio has a very good reputation for its labor force,” Gottschalk said. “It just doesn’t have enough.” The state is seeing its older population grow, and its younger population not being replenished. “There are a lot of people looking at the labor situation,” he said. “We have an aging population and a very low growth rate. There will be a smaller labor force to draw on in the future,” Gottschalk said. In order to promote…


Glass company named Corporate Citizen of the Year

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Few people know what goes on in the huge, sprawling plant on the banks of the Maumee River in Rossford. But countless people around the world look at – or through- their products every day. Corporate officials have heard the plant referred to as “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory” because of its mysterious nature. But the magic behind the walls of NSG Pilkington was revealed Thursday evening when the company was named Wood County’s Corporate Citizen of the Year. The company, one of the largest manufacturers in the glass industry, started out as Libbey-Owens-Ford – the last names of three inventors in the glass business – Edward Drummond Libbey, Michael Joseph Owens and Edward Ford. The earliest roots reach back to 1818 in England. Todd Huffman, plant manager, accepted the Corporate Citizen of the Year award and talked about the float glass and advanced assembly plant that sits on 148 acres in Rossford. The mission of NSG Pilkington, the company’s current name, is to produce quality glass with world-class yields, he said. “We focus all of our efforts to satisfy our customers,” Huffman said. The company has 350 employees at its highly robotic Rossford plant, and another 120 engineers and finance employees at its Northwood location. Many of the workers are multi-generations of the same families. “We have an outstanding workforce,” he said. And the company has a great safety record, he added. “These are some of the best glass people in the world.” The company sells to automotive customers around the world, as far away as South Korea and Turkey. The glass is also used in architecture as windows and shower doors, Huffman said. Some of the newer uses for NSG Pilkington’s glass are found in electronics, such as touchscreens and TV displays, as solar panels, and as refrigerator doors. Since the high heat furnaces can’t be shut down, work at the Rossford plant goes on day and night, every day of the year. “We work around the clock,” Huffman said. Huffman said that he briefly left the company in 2012, but returned in 2015. “This is a company that really does the right thing for our employees, our communities and our customers,” he said. “I’m proud to say that I work there.” Huffman thanked the county economic development commission for the award. “It’s humbling. It’s much…


More jobs may be headed for Wood County – but are there workers to fill them?

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County has an enviable good news-bad news dilemma. The good news – Wood County is being eyed by companies that would create 1,400 new jobs here. The bad news – Wood County may have a hard time filling those jobs. Wade Gottschalk, director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, met with the county commissioners last week to give them an update on projects in the county. “We’ve been very busy,” he said. But the potential for so many new jobs has county officials worried about an unusual dilemma. With its low unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, that means there are just over 2,000 unemployed adults in Wood County. “Our current issue is workforce,” Gottschalk told the county commissioners. “It’s really a matter of we need people to move to Northwest Ohio.” The state overall is experiencing the same problem. “They are working to find bodies for these companies,” he said. Two of the biggest potential projects in Wood County are in the Perrysburg area. Gottschalk predicted those companies won’t have difficulty filling positions since they will be offering high-paying jobs. However, the new openings may drain employees from other lower-paying companies. “We’re going to work very hard on the backfill,” he said. Wood County benefits from having a variety of industries, such as solar, machine shops and robotics. “We have a very diverse base of companies,” Gottschalk said. The region’s low cost of living coupled with relatively easy commuting patterns help by drawing workers from a broader region outside Wood County. “It gives us a larger area to attract from,” he said. Gottschalk briefed the commissioners on the companies looking to possibly add jobs in Wood County. The Walgreens distribution center, at Ohio 795 and Oregon Road in Perrysburg Township, is considering an expansion that would add approximately 350 new jobs. “It would be a substantial investment,” creating good paying jobs, Gottschalk said. But Gottschalk cautioned that the expansion is not definite. “This isn’t a done deal, by any means,” he told the commissioners. Perrysburg Township Planning Commission has approved the site plan and variance for parking. If the project proceeds, the company will seek tax abatements, Gottschalk said. “They are basically in the decision mode, to see if this will work,” he said. If the expansion proceeds, “we would likely see dirt moved this…


Study to see if sports complex could score big here

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Parents of young children often pack up the vehicles several weekends of the year to head out to travel ball tournaments. Local economic development officials want to see if they might be able to get a piece of that action. Four entities – Wood County Economic Development Commission plus the cities of Perrysburg, Rossford and Maumee – have invested $15,000 each to have a study conducted on whether or not this area could support a massive sports complex. “I think there is a demand,” said Wood County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Wade Gottschalk. “We all know parents who drive kids to tournaments every weekend. We want to see if there’s enough demand for something of this scope.” Perrysburg Mayor Mike Olmstead suggested the feasibility study after visiting the Grand Park sports campus near Indianapolis. That 400-acre facility includes more than 31 multipurpose and soccer fields, 26 baseball diamonds, and an indoor soccer and events center. “It’s a great idea,” Gottschalk said. That’s why experts in the field have been brought in to do impartial evaluations, he added. If the study finds that such a sports complex would be feasible in this area, then the next question is where, Gottschalk said. Some suggestions have been made that acreage in between Perrysburg and Bowling Green, somewhere along Ohio 25, would be considered. “But we’re not to that point yet,” Gottschalk said. Some signs point to a large sports complex being successful here, he added. There is ample open land, a large population, and good transportation access. “We’ve got better interstate access,” Gottschalk said. The study will look at the number of people likely to be drawn here for tournaments. “How much can we attract from the outside,” he asked. A local sports complex would benefit area residents by shortening their weekend drives to some tournaments. But the big win would be attracting business to the region from those families. “These tournaments draw thousands,” Gottschalk said. “You’ve got hotels being booked. You’ve got restaurants being used. You’ve got stores being shopped at. Those would be new dollars coming into the county.” Gottschalk doesn’t expect the feasibility study to be completed before the first of 2018.


Home Depot – big building, big workforce handle big chunk of dot-com sales

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Just about every detail of the Home Depot Direct Fulfillment Center in northeastern Wood County is massive. Walking around the perimeter of the store would put 1.3 miles on your pedometer. The site is staffed by 572 hourly employees and 68 salaried staff – all who wear the recognizable orange Home Depot aprons. The facility also uses about 45 contracted employees for services such as security and tech maintenance. Towering racks allow products to be shelved 33 feet high. Employees use 170 hydrogen fueled forklifts to move the items after customers order them online. On the average day, the facility in Troy Township ships out 28,000 to 30,000 units. That could be anything from a drill bit to patio furniture. The number of shipped units could jump as high as 70,000 on Black Friday. On this past Friday, the Wood County Economic Development Commission and Wood County Commissioners visited the vast Home Depot facility for the annual “state of business” tour. They learned that the distribution center grew a bit this year – adding 32,000 locations for different products to the 300,000 locations already existing in the facility. The company made a $4 million investment this year in fire suppression, electrical and expanded racking. And the local site saw its annual sales increase by 9 percent. The Home Depot facility, which sits in the middle of farm fields in Troy Township, handles 40 to 45 percent of the company’s dot-com business. Currently about 6.4 percent of Home Depot sales are online. Despite its mammoth size of 1.6 million square feet, the direct fulfillment center is quite nimble. Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, reported to the Home Depot officials that he recently ordered ceiling fans on a Tuesday, and they were delivered to his home on a Wednesday. Lance Hunt, general manager of the Troy site, said the facility works smart to speed up the deliveries. Items are “profiled” based on whether they are hot sellers, seasonal favorites, or on sale. Those items are then located closest to the conveyors. The company sells more than a million different items – from hammers, lawnmowers and grills, to faucets, garage door openers and toilets. Some of the bigger items include bath tubs, hot water heaters and refrigerators. The fastest moving product is consistently the…


County hears pitch for business incubator to hatch inventors’ ideas

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A business incubator may be set up in Wood County to help local inventors hatch their ideas. The Wood County Commissioners heard a proposal Tuesday morning from Rene Polin, president and founder of Balance, a company that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality. “You can’t just be a dreamer. You have to be a dreamer with a business plan,” Polin said. And that’s where Balance would come in to the picture. “We want to bring our panache in the industry from Cleveland to Wood County,” Polin said. To do that, Polin needs some type of very basic workspace – something with office space, power and connectivity. “I know that sounds primitive,” but that’s all that’s needed, he said. The firm’s Cleveland space is an old factory building. The firm works with entrepreneurs, helping them assess their plans, fill out necessary paperwork, and determine if the project is worth their time and investment. After all, most inventors aren’t good business people, explained Doug Miller, of the Wood County Economic Development Commission which is working to bring Balance here. “They don’t have any idea how to run a business,” Polin agreed. “We bring the management acumen.” The business incubator can help entrepreneurs determine if there is a market for their product, Miller said. “People get focused on their invention,” but if the public won’t buy it, the idea isn’t going anywhere, he said. Sometimes, the dreams need to be tweaked. “We ask the hard questions,” Polin said. “We don’t kill the dream, but we change their idea of what their dream can be.” By using consumer research and focus groups, the incubator can help gauge the success of a product. The Balance firm has seen its own success – just by helping others achieve their dreams, Polin said. One such story is the Comfort Adjust Pillow that is currently being sold on the QVC shopping network. Several other ideas are being worked on now at the business incubator in Cleveland, including a pet grooming device. Polin said the inventor is being assisted with getting a patent, refining a prototype and testing it on different animals. The incubator also helps entrepreneurs decide if they want to produce the item themselves or license their creation to someone already in the business. Other inventions being tinkered with at the incubator now…