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Published: 5/12/2008

North Baltimore rail project may put Wood County village on track

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Johnson Rubber Co. closed last month; 130 jobs were lost. Another North Baltimore company will lay off 200 at year s end.
The Johnson Rubber Co. closed last month; 130 jobs were lost. Another North Baltimore company will lay off 200 at year s end.
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Another bright spot for North Baltimore is the building of an $8 million headquarters for Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative.
Another bright spot for North Baltimore is the building of an $8 million headquarters for Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative.
Enlarge

NORTH BALTIMORE A few years ago, North Baltimore was pumped and primed to bring new businesses to town.

The village had tripled its water capacity by building a new reservoir and water tower. The Ohio Department of Transportation replaced and expanded the long-neglected interchange at I-75 and State Rt. 18. And, for the first time, North Baltimore hired a full-time administrator who could focus on economic development.

Today, the village is in a funk disappointed with the closure last month of Johnson Rubber Co. and, with it, the loss of 130 jobs. It took another hit late last month when Continental Structural Plastics announced it planned to permanently lay off about 200 of its 270 North Baltimore workers by year s end.

For a town of 3,361 people, those kinds of losses hurt.

For our finances, it s pretty tough, and when you know the people who are losing their jobs, it makes it double-hard, Mayor Ned Sponsler said.

Both the village and North Baltimore Local Schools collect a 1 percent income tax, and the village counts the local manufacturing plants among its biggest water customers.

Still, there are reasons for Wood County s largest village to be hopeful.

CSX Transportation has bought 500 acres along State Rt. 18 just west of North Baltimore and plans to begin construction later this year of an $80 million rail terminal expected to employ up to 100 people.

Lisa Mancini, senior vice president for infrastructure initiatives, said last week that CSX expects the terminal to attract warehouses and distribution centers of the Home Depot and Wal-Mart variety that could bring 2,000 to 3,000 jobs to the area.

Where we have rail terminals, development has sprung up in little bits of land around it because distribution centers want to be near it. It s cost-effective, she said.

While some local residents were opposed to CSX s plans, some say more people are beginning to see the long-term benefits the project could have on the local economy.

I think it can do nothing but good things, said John Kelley, general manager of the Chevrolet-Buick dealership his grandfather started in North Baltimore in 1926.

North Baltimore has one of the lowest household income [levels] in Wood County, and if you can add 50 to 100 jobs at up to $50,000-plus, that s got to do good things for the community, he said.

He said he lives within a mile of the CSX site and knows there will be growing pains.

Still, he said, the town was founded around the railroads, and it s fitting that its growth rests heavily on those roots.

I hope North Baltimore has seen the bottom, Mr. Kelley said referring to the recent job losses. There are a lot of positive things if council and the North Baltimore community play their cards right.

Village Administrator Kathy Healy said the village will tighten its belt for 18 months to two years while it sees what happens in the White House as well as in the local economy.

It s always tough to have families losing income. I think it just inspires us to do a little better job of soliciting other opportunities for business, but we re not unique, Ms. Healy said.

One of the things that is a blessing for us is we don t have one company that employs 80 percent of the population of North Baltimore. We ve got several companies that employ a number of people in the one-hundreds, so when one of them does have trouble, it doesn t devastate us.

Among its largest employers, D.S. Brown Co. manufactures structural bearings, expansion joints, and other parts for bridge and roadway construction. Keystone Foods, through its Equity Meats plant here, is a major supplier to McDonald s restaurants.

And Mayor Sponsler said he s hopeful the long-awaited development near the I-75 interchange will begin to materialize with the construction of an $8 million headquarters for Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative.

The co-op does not expect to add jobs it employs 35 people but the project will bring city water and an attractive complex to the south side of State Rt. 18.

I think you always need that starter company to come out there and put something out there, the mayor said. Hopefully, with Hancock-Wood putting water on the other side of the road, that might make it easier for that side to be developed.

For North Baltimore Schools Superintendent Kyle Clark, the recent economic news is a mixed bag. The 785-student district has been considering a plan to build a new school for grades 6-12.

Mr. Clark said that while it s a difficult time to go to voters for new taxes, he believes construction of a new, $20 million-plus school could give the village a well-needed boost.

It s a challenge, but it s a good challenge, Mr. Clark said. Even in all this adversity, this is a positive. This can be the rallying activity in the community that keeps everything moving forward.

The school board has not decided whether to ask voters in November to fund the local share of the project the Ohio School Facilities Commission would pick up 59 percent but has been holding community meetings to get input from residents.

I think the general feeling from community members is no one denies the fact that we need and could use a new building, Mr. Clark said. The question comes down to, What does this mean to each individual taxpayer in this economy? That we don t know yet.

Ms. Healy said North Baltimore historically has been frugal and wisely has invested in its infrastructure. She said it has money set aside for capital projects, including a $564,000 improvement of Cherry Street near the D.S. Brown plant and Powell Elementary School. It will be paid for in part with $250,000 in grants.

Right now, we re trying to decide how best to approach the maintenance and repairs so we can get the best bang for our buck, and that, historically, has been North Baltimore, Ms. Healy said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.



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