Leaders hoping park can #039;Point#039; way to a bright future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 18, 2004

SOUTH POINT - The Point's name reflects its geographic location, but economic development leaders believe the moniker also symbolizes the key role the industrial park will play in leading Lawrence County into a new era of prosperity.

The Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, which owns the property, hosted a ground- breaking ceremony Friday to commemorate the start of Phase I - a $2.36 million project that will construct water, sewer, storm drains and roads to open up approximately 200 acres of the industrial park.

Nearly 75 people stood in the grass field beneath the blue skies on what countless people called, "a great day for Lawrence County."

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State Rep. Clyde Evans, State Sen. John Carey, the Lawrence County Commissioners, representatives for U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine and U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland and Mayor Bill Gaskin

were just a few of the leaders in attendance.

Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the LEDC and the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce, said that the great weather is yet another sign that the county has been blessed by the project.

"I have only been on the front lines for the last six or seven months, but it makes me feel great about the community to be able to pull together and make this happen," he said. "It shows a true commitment by all the agencies and people involved."

In the works since at least 1998,

the property has been a fixture throughout South Point's history and many hope The Point secures its place in Lawrence County's future.

Looking back

Sitting on a prime location in South Point between the Ohio River and U.S. 52, the 504-acre property now known as The Point has seen its ups and downs in the past five decades.

During World War II, a company known as Buckeye Ordnance manufactured explosives there. Allied Chemical operated the plant from 1943 to 1981, making everything from fertilizers to formaldehyde. In its heyday, Allied employed more than 1,000 people from across the Tri-State.

Ashland Oil Inc. purchased the property in 1981. South Point Ethanol was born. Though it was not that long-lived, the company once employed several hundred people before closing its doors in the early 1990s.

As a South Point resident since 1936, Cecil Daniels had a front-row seat during much of the history. He worked on the property at Allied for three decades and then stayed on with Ashland another five years.

For Daniels, driving into The Point Friday brought back memories and also foreshadowed a future "that has no limitations to it."

"This is great. I just can't wait to see something materialize here. It will be tremendous," he said. "This is just opening up, it is putting South Point on the map as far as I am concerned. A lot of industry will pop up off of this."

Bill Gaskin has been a resident for nearly 45 years and village mayor for 25 years.

"I moved to South Point in 1959 or 1960. There was not much going on down there then," he said. "It went down but now is going back up. It just laid there until the LEDC bought it."

The Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, at that time following the leadership and vision of then-executive director Pat Clonch, purchased the property in February 2001. The property was considered a prime location for an industrial park because of its access to river, rail and highways.

Though mostly undeveloped land, The Point included a few existing structures, many of which were demolished. The park was basically empty at that time.

All that has changed now. Several tenants are already in place, several in old buildings that have been restored. The LEDC is making a big push to bring even more businesses.

The here and now

The Point currently has four tenants - Total Safety Inc., M&M Services Inc., Calgon Inc. and Mid-Valley Supply.

Superior Marine Inc., Marathon Ashland Petroleum and RDI Construction have a presence within the park but do not operate out of physical buildings.

Total Safety Inc. conducts workplace safety consulting, provides security services for businesses and sells safety and industrial supplies. The hometown family business, moved into an 8,000 square foot spec building in the park last February.

David Dillow, vice president of operations for the company, said the move to the park has been tremendous.

"It has been a great experience for us," Dillow said. "We are a small, family-owned business that is growing in leaps and bounds."

When Total Safety relocated to The Point, the company employed about 20 people. Now, the payroll has bulged to include in excess of 40 employees, Dillow said.

Plus, the Dillows are not content to stop there.

"The Chamber is working with us to look towards manufacturing

a product," he said. "They are helping us push the bar a little higher."

The location of The Point, has been a benefit to the company and will only improve as more businesses locate there. Infrastructure improvements will just make it more attractive and give them some new neighbors, Dillow said.

"It is nice to be in here on the ground level," he said. "For any business to move in and take charge in a new area and to see things grow around us is very exciting. Plus, a friend of ours is doing the construction."

South Point-based company Bill Enyart & Sons Contracting Inc. has already begun work on the infrastructure project. Weather permitting, the company will really hit high-gear this week, Enyart said.

The entire 180-day project is expected to be completed in September.

Enyart & Sons will install an 8-inch water main, 10-inch sewer lines and build more than 2 miles of two-lane blacktopped, 24-foot wide roads.

On the other side of the park, Portsmouth-based company Portco Inc. is building the foundation of a 42,000 square-foot steel shell building that should be ready to be occupied by the end of May.

Having a marketable building and park is a key tool to attract and retain industry that may have outgrown its current location, said Senator Carey (D-17th).

"In order for Lawrence County to compete for industry, we have to have a legitimate industrial site," Carey said. "Having a spec building and an industrial site ready to market is probably the number one thing a community has to do in terms of economic development."

It may take some time before the true results are seen, but it will eventually pay tremendous dividends, he said.

"I think this is absolutely essential, a resource you have to have in the community," Carey said. "If I am an employer, you could have the best schools, beautiful scenery and good work force but you still have to have a place for me to go."

"Companies will go to a community that has done the preparation work. … All the work done over the years in Lawrence County is paying off now and will continue to pay off."

Much of that preparation came in terms of funding. The Point has received funding from a variety of state, local and federal sources including the U.S. Economic Development Authority, the Ohio Department of Development, the Governor's Office of Appalachia, the Ohio Tobacco Settlement, Huntington-Ironton Empowerment Zone, just to name a few.

On the horizon

All the progress feeds into the park's national marketing efforts to attract business and industry. Ideally, the park will attract industries that employ 50 to 75 jobs and pay an average of $12 to $15 per hour plus benefits, Dingus said.

"Realistically, the number of jobs could range from many hundred to a few thousand," he said. "If The Point, in time, does not have in excess of 1,000 jobs I will be surprised. The park can probably support a few thousand."

The Point's highway access, 7 miles of railroad and 3,300 foot of riverfront property makes it "one of the best opportunities in the Tri-State," Dingus said.

Mayor Gaskin likes the approach the LEDC has taken.

"(The park) will mean a lot of jobs. That is what it is all about. Good-paying jobs," Gaskin said. "Getting smaller companies in there is a good idea, that way if one big company leaves, you are not kaput. This should brighten up the future for the town."

But no one is content to just pat themselves on the back and stop here. The Point was always envisioned as a three phase project.

Phase 1 has begun. Phases 2 and 3 would open up more of the park, especially the riverfront.

At least one new tenant is already working on making the move to the park.

Ohio University Southern's plans to build its Center for Leadership and Training is a visible project that will continue to take shape in coming months.

Situated on a five-acre plot of land adjacent to U.S. 52 that will be called 1 University Place, the facility will house the university's leadership institute and training center.

"One of the most exciting things for any university is to see the graduates of the programs find opportunities in the community," said Jim Crawford, director of OUS' Center for Innovation and Leadership. "We look at The Point and see that it will provide even more opportunity for good jobs with the companies that locate there."

The university planned the expansion as a three-phase project. In the planning stages for three years, the $1.12 million Phase 1 of the project goes to bid this week and should be completed in November.

The 6,500 square foot brick training facility will be able to accommodate more than 150 people at a time. The design includes two computer rooms, two regular classrooms, a small conference room and office space for individuals working with OUS' business incubator.

Phase 2 will construct an industrial training center to handle heavy machinery and work with park tenants. Phase 3 will add an auditorium.

The university feels strongly about its commitment to the betterment of the community and believes it is "what we ought to be doing," Crawford said.

Once completed, the training center will work hand-in-hand with companies that are either looking to move into an existing building or build their own.

"By the time companies reach opening day, the training center will have given people in the community the ability to meet their needs," Crawford said. "It also gives The Point the opportunity to say, 'if you come here we will provide the kind of skilled workers you need.'"

Overall, Friday's ground-breaking was only the beginning of something that could eventually mean so much, to so many.

Dingus may have summed it up best when talking about the reworking of some of the designs.

"The beauty is, this project as it is finished, will be far better than we ever dreamed."