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Published: Saturday, 2/16/2002

Walgreen plant to help boost area economy

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - The director of the Wood County economic development commission keeps a score book of new developments that are announced in the county.

Last year, that score book included a home run, thanks to Walgreen Co., which announced a $380 million distribution facility in Perrysburg Township.

Walgreen's plan is one of a string of accomplishments last year for the four-member staff of Wood County's office of economic development.

Tom Blaha, the Wood County agency's director, is optimistic that the drug company's promise of 318 jobs will more than offset losses caused by the closings and layoffs announced last year by Toyota, Crown Cork & Seal, and Processing Technology.

“It's pretty much been break even,” he admitted.

Walgreen in 2001 was one of 14 companies that announced plans to begin or expand operations in Wood County, a sign that economic development is holding its own there.

“That stands like a beacon on our scorecard,” Mr. Blaha said.

The Walgreen distribution facility is under construction at the State Rt. 795 and Oregon Road, a fast-growing, northern Wood County location that's home to a multitude of warehouses, manufacturers, and other commercial tenants.

A year ago, the county commissioners approved a 10-year, 100 percent abatement on property taxes in exchange for agreements to award cash grants two school districts and the Perrysburg Township fire department.

Walgreen will pay annual salaries that average $31,000, Mr. Blaha said. An additional spinoff is the hiring of 12 companies as subcontractors on the project.

If this region takes off as Walgreen expects, the company could employ up to 800 people, he said

One goal of Wood County's economic development program is to attract businesses involved in bringing in manufacturing or distribution jobs because they bring “new money” into a region.

Wood County's economic development office seeks out prospective firms by sending out feelers to prospective companies, building a Web site www.woodcounty.com, contacting current businesses, and participating in an overseas trade mission with Gov. Bob Taft.

Even during recent prosperous times, the agency never stops looking for new business. Mr. Blaha said the gestation period for developing a lead into an announcement of a new business prospect is often quite lengthy, which reinforces the need to take a long view toward job development.

“The best rule of thumb in economic development is to start with what you've got and reinforce it,” he said.

The Wood County office will cast its job-searching net into Europe in April, when Mr. Blaha joins Governor Taft's spring trade mission to Germany. Mr. Blaha said his goal is to pay courtesy calls on five German companies that have operations in Wood County, and attend the Hanover trade fair with the goal of speaking with prospective companies.

Joining Mr. Blaha will be Dr. Heinz Bulmahn, interim vice provost of the Graduate College at Bowling Green State University, who will serve as translator.

The trip, which runs April 9-16, will take the group to Stuttgart, Munich, and Hanover.

Not all of Wood County's efforts are concentrated on the northern part of the county. The economic development agency has 90 members countywide.

For example, Equity Meats, a meatpacker, expanded last year, spending $13 million to add to its facility near North Baltimore. Keystone Foods, a major supplier to McDonald's, planned to consolidate its operations and was considering Wood County and Wisconsin for the work that was performed in Philadelphia.

Near Bowling Green, Woodbridge, a 130-acre industrial park east of I-75, is nearly filled. Tochigi-Fuji America announced last year it will spend $12.2 million to expand its manufacturing facility there, adding 17 jobs.

Helping to power this will be a peak electricity generation plant near Pemberville, by Dominion Resources.



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