Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017
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Ohio program puts development in its sites

SiteOhio system lays groundwork for parcels to be ready; 1 in area on the list

To land that big industrial project, your site first has to get noticed. Then come the questions.

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Wade Gottschalk says the 226-acre portion of the 750-acre Eastwood Commerce Center in Wood County has received the SiteOhio authentication. The site is just off U.S. Route 20.

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How is the access to rail? Is there enough water? What about electricity? Are there potential zoning issues?

Success comes down to how thoroughly — and how quickly — you can provide answers.

“Everybody calls it site selection. It’s really site elimination,” said Gary Thompson, the chief operating officer of the Regional Growth Partnership. “Lack of information or not being able to get information about a site in a timely manner is one of those reasons to be eliminated.”

JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development group, is trying to make sure local officials not only have those answers but have documentation to back them up.

A little less than two years ago, JobsOhio launched the SiteOhio project to certify — or authenticate, in its own words — development sites around the state as being 100 percent ready for industry.

“SiteOhio was established to get inventory that we could put on the market and feel confident and comfortable with a company locating on it and being able to build tomorrow,” said Kristi Clouse, director of operations at JobsOhio.

To date, eight sites have received the SiteOhio authentication, including a 226-acre portion of the 750-acre Eastwood Commerce Center in Wood County.

That site, owned by Dominion Energy and located just off U.S. Route 20 in Troy Township, already had drawn one tenant before its authentication: Home Depot completed a 1.6 million-square-foot warehouse there in 2015 that is used to fulfill online orders.

Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, said the SiteOhio authentication could help lure in the next user.

“It’s not so much the certification, it’s being able to get the information that goes with that certification and get that to a company in a pretty quick manner,” Mr. Gottschalk said. “It’s going to make a site consultant coming to it feel a little bit more comfortable.”

There are no shortage of certification programs for development sites. Several states have an internal program, and many consultancies have built their own set of criteria.

But JobsOhio officials say based on their own research and conversations from InSite Consulting, the third-party partner they’re using to conduct the authentication, they believe the depth of their certification process is unique.

“There is no other entity or state going to this level for authentication that all capacities are there and all due diligence is done already,” Ms. Clouse said.

Not only are they checking on utilities and transportation infrastructure, they’re looking into zoning and even ensuring archaeological and wetlands studies have been performed. JobsOhio does not provide funding for the studies, but it does help facilitate and direct them and can at times help property owners or municipalities find consultants willing to do the work for a discount because they are fed a steady stream of work.

Development officials say that research is worthwhile.

“You have to have studies done for a site,” Mr. Gottschalk said. “Geotechnical, environmental, historical, and endangered species. Those are all things that can impede or kill a project.”

JobsOhio officials say the program is meant to provide answers to nearly any question a company or site-selection consultant might ask, and do so with documentation.

“When you produce a letter from Columbia Gas that says ‘we have a six-inch gas line at this depth,’ it means a little bit more,” Mr. Thompson said. “You get the third party or independent documentation about all the infrastructure that’s attached to that parcel.”

SiteOhio also seeks to tell a potential user how much capacity there is. A water line running through the property is great, but if it’s going to another site that uses 95 percent of that water, it doesn’t mean anything. Economic development officials say that idea of certifying how much excess capacity there is is relatively new, but it is crucially important.

There are no capacity concerns at the Eastwood Commerce Center.

“It’s a large site and it has large utilities — gas, electricity. It has unlimited gas capacity, and all the power you would ever need. It also has dual CSX main lines as its boundary. This one can do things that some sites can’t,” Mr. Gottschalk said. 

“If you have a Foxconn come, this is what they’re going to want to see. Most projects we work on will work on many sites. But if you need supersized utilities this is going to be a site you seek out,” he said.

The property has long been owned by Dominion, though it’s only been actively marketed as a industry park for a few years. Dominion spokesman Peggy Ehora said the site had received other certifications, but they were eager to get the new authentication on the site.

“It’s really suited for development and suited for business, and that’s what we’re hoping will happen with this SiteOhio program,” she said.

Though Dominion had done its own due diligence on the property, having that documentation on file and signed off on by JobsOhio was important. So too is being identified by the nonprofit agency as one of the best potential development sites in the state.

“We’ve seen a lot of traffic there in the last six to eight months, a lot of interest,” Ms. Ehora said. “I think part of the fact is that it’s all of a sudden on a bigger radar than what it was prior to the certification program.”

The Wood County site did well across the board in its SiteOhio authentication project. It’s close to I-280, which provides access to both I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike. There’s rail access through CSX, and it’s properly zoned. The site also previously had been helped by a $2.6 million grant in 2006 through the Ohio Jobs Ready Sites Program. That grant helped cover significant improvements by the Northwestern Water and Sewer District and other infrastructure projects.

With Dominion already having performed many of the studies, it was a simple process for the site to get the authentication. They also believe it’s coming at a good time.

“Ohio’s had a lot of interest in the last few years, and it seems to be pretty steady still,” Ms. Ehora said. “We want to be able to do everything we can to make that easier for them. The Wood county site is special and we hope this program is going to draw a lot of business to Northwest Ohio.”

JobsOhio hasn’t set a target for the number of locations that go through the SiteOhio Authentication, though officials say there are a number of sites across the state that are in the pipeline. 

What’s more important is that they locate the state’s most competitive locations and ensure they can be marketed to their full potential. While JobsOhio still will market all sites through its database, the authenticated sites will get a special level of focus.

Once a company is interested, it’s likely they’ll still do some of their own due diligence, but the hope is that advance work done for an authenticated site will be the first thing a firm examines.

Mr. Thompson, with the RGP, said four foreign companies have made visits to the Eastwood site so far this year.

“We see they really like all the due diligence that’s been done,” he said.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com419-724-6134 or on Twitter @BladeAutoWriter.

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