- Eric Schwartzberg Staff Writer
More than a handful of business projects slated to start, progress or finish here in 2017 are projected to be the hot spots of each community’s economy-improving, job-creating growth.
The new $36 million AK Steel Research & Innovation Center just off Interstate 75 and Union Road in Middletown is expected to have a major impact during its first calendar year of operations, according to Jennifer Ekey, the city’s economic development director
The 135,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility provides a new “front door” to the city and is a testament to both the company’s history in Middletown and its future there, Ekey said.
“This project was not only a major investment for AK in terms of the dollars, but they have also added about 30 jobs in the facility which brings new workforce opportunities to Middletown,” she said. “The project really speaks to the growth and revitalization of Middletown and secures our place in the region. It represents a renewed attitude that we are open and ready for business; that we want to work with companies who are looking to expand or relocate; and that we have the tools and resources to do so.”
Regionally, Middletown gets a “bad rap” sometimes based on past history or past perceptions, she said.
“I think if folks will take a moment and think about this investment and what a project like this entails in terms of coming full circle, you would immediately realize that the Middletown of today is vastly different from those past perceptions,” Ekey said. “I also think this project represents a true collaboration between parties including the city of Middletown, JobsOhio and Warren County to help this project come to fruition.”
Employees started moving into the facility late last year and continue to settle into its new offices, laboratories and pilot production areas, AK officials said.
“It’s terrific to see this center come to life to provide technical support to our valued customers, and develop innovative new and improved steel solutions for the marketplace,” said AK Steel CEO Roger Newport.
Also of note to the city’s business revitalization efforts are continued renovations at Towne Mall Galleria and progress made in Downtown Middletown, including the opening of 32 storefronts there in 2016.
“Not only are buildings in downtown being rehabbed, but that revival provides more of a sense of place than anywhere else in town,” she said. “People are emotionally connected to downtown.”
In Hamilton, BarclaryCard’s continue growth is expected to continue the city’s groundwell of job growth, which also include StarTek, ThyssenKrupp Bilstein and ODW Logistics. Together, the four companies created more than 800 jobs in 2016.
Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said that BarclaryCard’s growth is incredibly vital to the city.
“They have proven already to be great corporate citizens, and with their continued growth in employees over the next few years will be a benefit to our small businesses,” Smith said. “They will be our largest private employer by 2019 and I look forward to working with them to welcome their workforce into our community, and showcase our great neighborhoods, schools, parks and businesses.”
Also of note in 2017 will be CMC Properties of Blue Ash construction of a Marcum mixed-use project with approximately 100 apartments and 15,000 square feet of commercial space immediately south of the under-construction Marcum Park and immediately east of Courtyard by Marriott downtown.
The $12 million to $15 million project is “truly a culmination of what we have been working towards the past five years” and one that “builds immediate human density into the core part of Hamilton, and bridges our traditional downtown to historic German Village,” Smith said.
“Without Marcum Park, Rotary Park, Municipal Brew Works, RiversEdge, ArtSpace, Mercantile Lofts, our small businesses and the bike ramp/trail, we would not have seen this development,” he said. “I give credit to Council for their vision and perseverance to pave the way, to our small businesses who invested their blood, sweat and tears to keep going during tougher times and to our residents for loving our community and showing their support more each day.”
WEST CHESTER/LIBERTY TWPS.
West Chester and Liberty townships are set to see a series of big-name projects start, continue or come to fruition this year, including Christ Hospital Medical Center nearing its winter 2017-2018 completion just west of Cox Road in Liberty Twp., Miller-Valentine Group potentially launching an 89-acre mixed-use project across the street, retail growth at the Streets of West Chester and Liberty Center and continued hotel construction in both townships.
That confluence of growth is the result of the communities’ location off Interstate 75 and “a domino effect” caused by the success of other projects in the area, according to Joe Hinson, president and CEO of the West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance.
“There’s two factors that have added to this,” Hinson said. “One was the infrastructure early on of being able to develop some key areas of east-west access. What that has created is this area surrounding the West Chester-Liberty area is able to come and … I-75 is like a magnet. It just kind of pulls and it brings in more than just north-south (growth). It kind of gives you a full radius of a customer-base, a patient base, a residential base in which to service.”
The second part, he said, is something experienced by companies like IKEA, which recognized they could pull customers from far beyond Cincinnati and Dayton markets, drawing business from Indianapolis, Columbus, Louisville and Lexington.
“You have others that are doing the same thing,” Hinson said. “You’ve got Topgolf, you’ve got Liberty Center, you’ve got the (Voice of America Athletic Complex) for tournaments. You’ve already had Frontgate with the (West Chester) outlet.”
The same can be said of health care growth in the two townships, because people will now travel for health care options.
“We’ve created this destination location that more than doubles the population outreach of this particular area,” he said.
In addition, Liberty Twp.’s efforts to develop a Cox Road extension and create a Millikin Interchange to open hundreds of acres to potential business and industrial growth are expected to advance this year, Hinson said.