County’s strategy captures plants, jobs

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 30, 2000

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a series of two stories on economic development and unemployment – and how other counties have managed to fight back.

Sunday, January 30, 2000

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a series of two stories on economic development and unemployment – and how other counties have managed to fight back. The second part will appear Monday.

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It’s no secret why Madison County’s unemployment rate remains the lowest in Ohio – literally.

"There’s nothing special about us," Herbert Markley said. "I don’t think we do any better providing jobs, although we have some light industry here."

For the best answer, the Madison County Commission president points toward his county’s borders – specifically toward Springfield, Dayton, Marysville and Columbus.

"It’s more the fact we are in the area where we’re at," Markley said.

Springfield’s old International Harvester plant, now Navistar, boasts about 6,000 employees just to the north, he said. Columbus companies, like General Motors, add jobs almost every month. And it’s only 28 miles to the Honda plant in Marysville.

Such nearby job opportunities would be a blessing to Lawrence County, which faces an above-state-average unemployment rate of 7.2 percent – 1.5 percent higher than one year ago.

And that rate is expected to increase once 600 Ironton Iron workers are counted as jobless in February.

Yet, jobless numbers are no reason to panic, especially if a community bands together to meet future industries’ needs and adopts a we-can-do-it attitude, Madison County Chamber of Commerce director Nancy Morcher said.

"We were there at one time," said Mrs. Morcher, who has helped develop the London area for the past 25 years. "I well remember 11 to 13 percent unemployment here."

Madison now boasts a 2.0 percent rate – a trend rate from the last several years.

The reason? Location, location, location – and hard work, Mrs. Morcher said.

"We are primarily an agriculture community and we brought in other types of industries," she said, adding her thanks to Honda for its plant.

Four major Honda suppliers set up shop near London, to the tune of from 400 to 650 employees per plant. Stanley Electric, which provides Honda headlights, has expanded nine times.

"At first, they told us to be happy because you won’t get another Honda supplier because they don’t like to compete for employees," Mrs. Morcher said.

Three other plants moved in after the first.

Again, the shops chose Madison, but also liked the county’s agrarian workforce, and aggressive job strategies, she said.

"We rely heavily on our technical school for training, to offer prospects really highly-trained employees or to develop programs specifically for that company."

For example, a plastics company a few years ago needed workers after buying an abandoned plant. The technical school secured a grant and started a plastics injection molding course.

The plant stayed, taking advantage of the custom work force, Mrs. Morcher said.

The county also has been working with a new company that’s supposed to open a plant in April, she said.

At first, London was competing with another community for that industry’s interest.

"We built a new athletic facility at the high school, done without tax dollars, took our prospect out there and when we told them how we built it without tax dollars, it gave them a feeling of what our community was all about," she said.

That impressed the company enough to choose Madison County.

"We emphasize special things like that," Mrs. Morcher said. "This is America, everyone’s got good schools, good housing and everything, but if you find out one thing that makes you a little unique from everybody else, that’s what helps."

In fact, Lawrence County’s status as a river county could be its most important asset, she said.

"I see a lot of ‘confidentials’ (companies looking for sites) come through the state that say they only want a location beside a river," she added. "I always say someone’s going to get a nice project, but not us because were not on a river."