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Published: 3/23/2010

Bright spots in economy of Toledo area region highlighted

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Even as dozens of employers across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan turned off the lights for good last year, expansion by firms like Michigan-based Palm Plastics Ltd. shows that the region's economic outlook isn't completely dark.

The manufacturer of plastic pallets announced that it would invest $5 million in a vacant factory in Bowling Green, where it expects to employ 105 people.

The development demonstrates that there is plenty of life left in the economic engine of the Toledo region, Steve Weathers, president of the nonprofit Regional Growth Partnership, told 200 supporters of the organization yesterday.

"We're on track," he said during the annual meeting of the economic development group held in Dana Auditorium at the University of Toledo Health Science campus, formerly the Medical College of Ohio.

Among major accomplishments last year, he said, was the creation of 1,200 jobs at 29 firms as part of investments totaling $300 million. And employers continue to consider the region for expansion and relocation, he said.

The partnership's development "pipeline" includes 60 firms with the potential to create 9,800 jobs and invest $2 billion.

The companies, most of which have sent representatives to the Toledo area to scout potential sites, include a European manufacturer of wind turbines and blades, a European producer of solar fields, an auto manufacturer, a company looking for a site for its corporate headquarters, and a firm involved in distribution.

In an attempt to boost economic development in the southern end of the region, the partnership is in talks with a group of investors in Findlay to establish a venture capital fund to finance early stage technology-based companies.

The fund, called Millstream Ventures, would begin with $4 million, with half the funds coming from private investors and the other half from the growth partnership, using funds from the state, Mr. Weathers said.

Larry Davenport, chairman of the partnership's board, told boosters that the organization is close to meeting a goal set in 2005 to create 8,000 jobs within five years. So far, 7,000 jobs have been added, he said. "We seem to be right on track," he said.

However, the recession has taken a bite from the region's labor market.

In the four-county Toledo area alone last year, employers shed 16,600 of the metro area's 314,100 jobs, the Labor Department reported.

Even so, over the past five years, by one measure, the Toledo area has gone from last to first in the creation of technology companies, Mr. Davenport said.

Aiding in the effort are programs like the partnership's Rocket Ventures fund, which was established in 2006 with a $15 million grant obtained through Ohio's Third Frontier Program, he added.

Partnership officials touted marketing efforts such as a glossy brochure which promotes Toledo as "Solar Valley" and notes that the area is the birthplace of the world leader in thin-film solar panel manufacturing and site of leading industry research and manufacturing expertise.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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