• 59°

Overcoming means work

The economic effect sounds staggering.

Saturday, December 11, 1999

The economic effect sounds staggering. More than 400 jobs vanished when Cabletron closed earlier this year. More than 600 will disappear at Ironton Iron by February.

Then, take into account a developer’s old rule of thumb that states for every 100 manufacturing jobs there are 68 jobs created in the immediate communities, said Pat Clonch, executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation.

The City of Ironton, when considering it conservatively, could lose as many as 1,500 full-time equivalent jobs, when adding the direct losses at the plants to the indirect losses in the community, Mrs. Clonch said.

"When looking at a city with 12,700 population, that is a tragedy, really," she said.

So, the question becomes can the city, organizations like the LEDC, or state and federal officials pull Ironton up by its boot straps to avoid that tragedy, which Intermet made so apparent this week with its decision.

"We’ve done everything possible and so has Intermet but they’ve told us they will not stay," Mrs. Clonch said. "That’s in the past. Now, we’ve got to look ahead. We’ve all got to marshal our efforts."

Looking ahead means working with clients already interested in the Cabletron, South Point Ethanol and AlliedSignal industrial sites, bringing local agencies together on common job creation goals, and seeking full federal funding for the $100 million Huntington, W.Va.,-Lawrence County Empowerment Zone grant, she said.

First on the agenda, however, is a Dec. 21 meeting in Columbus with the governor’s office, Ohio Department of Development, Appalachian Regional Commission, state legislators, Congressman Ted Strickland, City of Ironton officials, county commission representatives, the LEDC and others.

"That’s the first letter that went out – to set that meeting," Mrs. Clonch said. "There is a great deal of information that has to be compiled and put together, but everyone sitting at that table will be sitting there for the same purpose."

That doesn’t mean Ironton Iron will remain open, or that a new company will come visit the next day, she said.

"It will mean we’re doing something quickly, and when you can bring that much talent to the table, you’re bound to accomplish something."

Incentives for an Ironton Iron replacement do exist and the LEDC will recruit, although it’s premature to discuss details, Mrs. Clonch said.

"If we had an employer to put these folks back to work, we would sit down at the table and talk," she said.

Finding out if the Intermet plant’s for sale, conducting plant site assessments, and asking Intermet’s permission to show the plant need to occur first, she said.

"We’re in the process of seeking that."

The plant is not something the LEDC owns, as in Cabletron’s case, Mrs. Clonch added.

"They will agree to let us use it, but we can’t dictate to Intermet," she said.

In the meantime, there are companies interested in city industrial sites, which the LEDC will not disclose for confidentiality reasons, Mrs. Clonch said.

There are two clients for the more modern Cabletron facility, she said.

"I certainly hope (Ironton Iron’s leaving) won’t in any way affect their decision," she said, adding that the area has a skilled and reliable workforce, and Ironton Iron’s employees did not contribute to Intermet’s decision to leave.

The old Allied site is an excellent site, and the LEDC is working on it with Allied’s help, Mrs. Clonch said.

"But even that will not be sufficient to meet the need," especially in the near future, she said.

Even if prospective companies are interested, developing sites can become long-term projects when companies must build a facility, Mrs. Clonch said.

The LEDC can construct "spec" buildings up front for industries to fill, but then that can be risky, especially if an interested company doesn’t want the type of building available, she said.

New companies are likely to be expansions, too, meaning they probably will be looking at long-range plans, she added.

Still, if the LEDC markets to five, for example, and they build Ironton into their long-range plans, then that could mean future job security.

"Never sell a facility first, sell the community," Mrs. Clonch said.

That’s the way the LEDC markets available industrial sites and buildings like the old Kroger’s every year by using contact letters and company visits, she said.

"That building may be gone in five years, but if they like the idea and put us in their expansion plan, we’re set for the future."

Development strategy centers on what companies want – education first, availability of cultural and recreational activities second and then industrial sites, Mrs. Clonch said.

"Low crime rate, a good work ethic, proximity to lots of recreation Everything a family could want is what they’re looking for, and that’s here," she said.

One company stayed 11 years (Cabletron) and the other stayed 13 years because of those attributes, Mrs. Clonch said.

Ironton now has become a victim of a trend – companies are basing their business more on technology and changes in manufacturing systems, she said.

"They didn’t leave because this is not a good community or the labor force wasn’t here," she said. "These are the times."

In the face of the foundry shutdown, reliance upon working together will be another key to replacing lost jobs, Mrs. Clonch said.

"It would be better if it were a concentrated effort," she said, adding that the LEDC board already brings together local governments.

Bringing together all parties concerned about attracting new industry begets a greater use of already limited resources, Mrs. Clonch said.

Each LEDC partner has particular strengths, knows different people with different influences, so together they become more efficient, she said.

And the local economy needs such strength to gain full funding for the Empowerment Zone grant, Mrs. Clonch said.

The first phase of the 10-year, $100 million, dual-state grant is moving rapidly but the federal government gave just over $3 million for the grant this year,

The shortfall can damage the South Point industrial park’s future.

"We have been working with federal agencies to pick up that gap in funding," Mrs. Clonch said. "This makes it more imperative to secure more funds to move the South Point area ahead quicker."

The LEDC, Chamber of Commerce and local officials will continue lobbying legislators to make sure the funding bounces back in remaining years of the grant, she said.