Park now a trade zone

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

SOUTH POINT— It is being hailed as the start of something very, very big.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has approved the Lawrence County Port Authority’s application for the establishment of a foreign trade zone at The Point industrial park.

The announcement was made jointly Friday afternoon by Ohio’s two U.S. senators, Mike DeWine and George Voinovich and U.S. 6th District Congressman Ted Strickland.

Email newsletter signup

The news was hailed as an important step in bringing Lawrence County out of its economic doldrums.

“This is going to be a big tool in our economic development tool box,” said Jason Stephens, Lawrence County Commissioner. “Any incentive that sets us apart from other areas and helps us compete in a global economy is a good thing.”

Strickland agreed.

“This is very good news for Lawrence County,” Strickland said. “The Port Authority has gained a valuable economic development tool with the Foreign Trade Zone designation, and the Authority’s leaders are to be commended for their foresight.

“We live in a global economy, and I am glad southeastern Ohio will have this opportunity to better compete on a global scale.”

Lawrence County now joins a rather elite club. There are 250 FTZs in the United States, only two of those — Cincinnati and Columbus — are in Ohio. Lawrence County Commissioner George Patterson said he thought federal officials realized that this area has tremendous potential and that federal trade zone status would enhance the area’s assets for maximum benefit.

“I think they (commerce officials) realized what a great tool this would be. We already have a lot to offer: The land, rail, the river — especially the river. I think they looked at it that way,” Patterson said.

Fellow Commissioner Doug Malone agreed that The Point has strategic advantages other such facilities do not have and this point hit home with commerce officials.

“I think The Point is really ready to take off and I think they realize it can handle a lot of commerce coming in off the river,” he said. “This (FTZ status) is a major plus for The Point, for our county and really for the whole area. I’m tickled to death.”

Local officials said one of the most important factors in getting the approval from the federal office was apparently the cohesive effort put forth by local officials who testified recently in support of the FTZ application — a point acknowledged in Friday’s media statement.

“The application had the overwhelming support of the community and local school board officials and was expedited as a result of the collaborative efforts of DeWine, Voinovich, and Strickland in sending a letter to Commerce officials. As a result, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez quickly approved a board order that will ultimately lead to increased economic investment, development, and opportunity in the area,” the statement read.

Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, concurred.

“I think it was truly impressive to those in Washington when they saw such a staunch group of people standing solidly together in support of this,” Dingus said.

Dingus also gave great credit to Ralph Kline, assistant executive director for the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, and his staff for their work in making the idea of an FTZ in Lawrence County become reality. The CAO assembled much of the information for the application and used its resources to navigate governmental red tape to expedite the process, local officials said.

“I don’t think the people of our county realize how fortunate we are to have Ralph Kline and his team. I think the county commission sees it; others do. But truly, Lawrence County is so much better off. … A lot of growth and development we have had is because of incentives programs Ralph and his team were able to leverage. And if we’re ever going to make it, it is because we are all truly working together as a team: The city, the county, the LEDC, the CAO and people in both the public ands private sector,” Dingus said. “And I think that’s happening.”