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Ottawa County puts effort into `jobs store'


Vince Wesney installs the framing for the Ottawa County Community Resource Center near Oak Harbor. Mr. Wesney is employed by Halker Drywall & Plastering, Inc., of Columbus Grove.


OAK HARBOR - Hoping to retain employers, attract new businesses, and assist its work force, Ottawa County is building a one-stop job facility that will include space for employee training.

County officials say the Community Resource Center, which is going up next to the Lake Winds Industrial Park along State Rt. 163, is a centerpiece in their economic development efforts.

The $2.46 million building, with 25,700 square feet, is scheduled for completion by July, county Administrator Jere Witt said. “We hope it will be an attraction for other industries to come into Ottawa County,” he said.

When completed, the facility will house the Ottawa County department of job and family services, the county's Community Improvement Corp., and a “jobs store” that will help match employers and job-seekers.

More than 50 county employees will work at the center.

Doris James, director of job and family services, said the center reflects the evolution of her department's role since welfare reform took effect in 1996. Once a welfare agency that doled out benefits to the jobless under a different name, job and family services has a broad mission that includes aiding the underemployed and helping workers to remain employed.

“We hope to have everything in one location for job retention in the county,” she said.

Ottawa County's jobless rate was 4 per cent in October, according to the most recent state figures.

The county is financing construction of the center with a one-year note and plans to sell bonds next year to pay off the note, Mr. Witt said. Job and family services, a state-funded agency, will provide much of the revenue to cover debt service through lease payments to the county, he said.

The county expects to spend an undetermined amount from its general fund next year to get the center up and running, the administrator said. Such spending, he added, “is another part of our economic development efforts.”

Moving county agencies into the new building will free up badly needed space in other county buildings, Mr. Witt said. The county board of elections and the board of mental retardation could move out of leased office space into the current job and family services building on Route 163, he said.

“Our goal for a long time has been to get everyone out of a leased building, and this should just about do that,” Mr. Witt said.

The county agencies will take up about 80 per cent of the building; the remainder will be classrooms and training space, Mr. Witt said.

The classrooms are being included at the suggestion of employers who want a facility where they can join other businesses to provide low-cost training for employees. Often, local businesses have to send workers out of Ottawa County for technical or safety training, Mr. Witt said.

“Our employers were saying, we need training and would rather do it locally than send them to Columbus or Cleveland,” he said. “I think the goal is, if there's a dozen companies out there with employees that need OSHA training, we'd like for them to do it here.”

Mr. Witt and Darrell Opfer, county economic development director, said businesses in the industrial park cited plans for the Community Resource Center as a factor in their decision to move there.

“It's a marketing tool,” Mr. Opfer said.

Besides employee training, the county envisions seminars taught by instructors from regional vocational schools. Ottawa County has no vocational school.

In fact, while construction is under way on the job center, the county has begun scheduling employee training sessions in a new exhibit hall across Route 163 at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds, said Denise Ventrone, work force resources director. The county paid to complete construction on the fair building in exchange for a year's use of the structure, Mr. Witt said.

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