Plant in high-unemployment southern Ohio county getting a new life, new jobs


WAVERLY, Ohio — New owners of the site of closed cabinetry factory are planning on bringing new businesses and jobs to the southern Ohio county with the state's highest unemployment rate.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that officials in Pike County are enthused about the new uses for a 57-acre plant that closed nearly two years ago and took some 1,200 jobs. At its peak, it had employed 3,000 people.

Pike's unemployment rate in November was 11.9 percent.

Two real estate development partners with experience with finding new uses for such sites bought the former Mill's Pride plant this month for $5 million from Masco Corp.

The partners are Christopher Semarjian, who runs Industrial Commerce Ltd., near Cleveland, and Stuart Lichter, who heads Industrial Realty Group, near Los Angeles. They were joined in this project by Everett Hannah, owner of Gilco International Lumber in Varney, W.Va.

The company exports lumber to furniture and flooring manufacturers, and there are plans to start up a lumber operation at the Waverly plant in about six weeks. It initially would employ up to 28 workers. Gilco also is in talks with a Chinese furniture maker about using the Waverly plant.

Lichter said that he couldn't predict how many companies would lease or buy space at the large industrial property or how many jobs could be coming.

But he pointed to the former Hoover Co. campus in North Canton that he and Semarjian bought in 2008. They have brought in a half-dozen companies that include makers of heaters, vacuums and electrical equipment, a drug company and office tenants. He said the space in about 50 percent occupied, and they also hope to renovate some older buildings for loft apartments.

The longtime partners also have bought other industrial properties around Ohio, including the Ford Motor Co. van assembly plant in Lorain, and the Lockheed Martin Corp. complex and the Goodyear corporate campus, both in Akron.

The cabinetry plant had long been the largest employer in the Appalachian county of some 28,600 people has been reeling since the factory closed in early 2011. Workers made ready-to-assemble products sold at home-improvement retailers.

Waverly Mayor Greg Kempton was a manager there for nearly 20 years, and he is hopeful about the plans to bring in a mixture of businesses.

“If they fill it, we will have diversification there,” Kempton said. “It should be more steady, more evened-out, as far as employment.”

The plant's closure was “devastating” to Waverly's tax base, Kempton said. That meant fewer services in the community, with an annual operating budget of $2 million, he said.