9 big business stories that shaped 2019 in Butler and Warren counties

The past year has seen a wide array of moves made across companies in Butler and Warren counties.

Here’s a look, in no particular order, at some of the top business stories of the year.

AK Steel acquired by Cleveland-Cliffs

A merger agreement announced Dec. 3 would see AK Steel acquired for $1.1 billion by Cleveland-Cliffs, the largest producer of iron ore pellets in North America.

Cliffs will get access to AK Steel, a leading producer of flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products. The combined company is expected to benefit from a larger and more diversified base of customers, with less emphasis on commodity-linked contracts, officials said.

“Together, we expect to be able to take advantage of growth opportunities faster and more fully than either company could on its own,” said Roger Newport, who will retire as CEO and a director of AK Steel. “With AK Steel’s 120-year heritage, which began in Ohio, and expertise in steelmaking, AK Steel and Cliffs make an excellent combination, which we expect will facilitate a smooth integration process.”

AK Steel will become a subsidiary of Cliffs and will keep its branding and corporate identity. Cliffs will continue to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It will keep a “significant presence” at AK Steel’s current offices in West Chester. AK Steel’s Research & Innovation Center in Middletown would remain open.

AK Steel is the third-largest private employer in Butler County, with 2,421 employees, the majority of whom work at Middletown Works facility.

MORE: AK Steel deal: 2 ‘cornerstones of the American steel industry’ agree to sale

Spooky Nook construction ‘full speed ahead’

Steel that will be used to build the Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill indoor sports complex started arriving on the property in late November in the latest sign the project is making progress.

“Obviously, it means the project is full speed ahead,” said Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, previously told this news outlet. “They wouldn’t be delivering steel if they weren’t building the complex.

The estimated $144 million project, which is expected to be an economic engine for not only Hamilton, was highlighted during Hamilton’s State of the City in October.

Following its planned opening in late 2021, its expected to attract more than 10,000 athletes and their families from a several-hour drive some weekends. The original Spooky Nook facility in Pennsylvania filled 61,000 hotel rooms in 2017. The Hamilton facility should employ 100 full-time staff, plus more than 400 part-timers.

MORE: Newest signal of Spooky Nook progress in Hamilton: Truckloads of steel

Kroger breaks ground on $55M ‘shed’

Kroger and Ocado celebrated the official groundbreaking for the first-ever U.S. high-tech customer fulfillment center at 6266 Hamilton Lebanon Road in Monroe this summer.

The 335,000-square-foot facility with digital and robotic capabilities will be a collaboration between the company, America’s largest grocery retailer, and U.K.-based Ocado, which is one of the world’s largest dedicated online grocery retailers.

Referred to as “the shed” the $55 million facility will be the first of 20 in America. It is expected to create more than 400 new jobs when it opens in spring 2021.

Ocado Solutions’ Ocado Smart Platform will allow Kroger to assemble an order of approximately 50 items in six minutes with robotics in the automated warehouse. In contrast, it takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes for a grocery store employee to pick up those same items from various areas of a brick-and-mortar Kroger location

MORE: What robots and 400 new jobs will do inside Kroger’s new $55M Monroe facility

Pilot Chemical moves headquarters to West Chester

Pilot Chemical Company, one of the largest privately held companies in Greater Cincinnati, moved its headquarters into about 36,000-square-feet of office space at 9075 Centre Pointe Drive, West Chester Twp.

The company’s revitalized corporate strategy is designed to increase growth and innovation and put a deeper focus on Pilot Chemical’s employees and customers. It invests millions in the development and commercialization of new products and technologies over the next four years.

Located in the Centre Pointe Office Park, the company’s new headquarters occupies the entire fourth floor and a portion of the third floor of the 121,000-square-foot Centre Pointe III building. Its new space features light-filled, open collaboration spaces; conference rooms and private offices; a central staircase; and a variety of options for private and group work.

MORE: One of the area’s largest privately held companies moves HQ to West Chester

80 Acres moves to Hamilton, signs international deal

80 Acres Farms produced its first crops at its two Hamilton facilities and relocated its headquarters to the city this year, creating 125 new jobs.

It also took steps to broaden the reach of the state-of-the-art vertical farming operation it already employs there and in Cincinnati. The company in June launched Infinite Acres, an independent joint venture aimed at providing large-scale indoor farming facilities worldwide.

The venture also includes UK-based online grocery retailer Ocado Group and Netherlands-based Priva Holding BV, a leading provider of technology solutions, services and automation systems to horticultural and other industries.

Infinite Acres will use 80 Acres Farms’ technology-assisted vertical farming techniques to grow clean, pesticide-free vegetables, leafy greens and fruits near population centers throughout the world. That includes places where year-round nutritious produce is in short supply because of adverse climate and growing conditions or locations where food must be transported long distances.

MORE: Hamilton’s large indoor growing operation is so advanced they want it around the world

Amazon opens new fulfillment center

Amazon opened fulfillment center of more than 1 million square feet just off Interstate 75’s Monroe exit with 750 full-time associates who will handle larger items available on Amazon like household decor, sporting equipment and gardening tools.

Employees at the $30 million facility at 100 Exploration Drive near Interstate 75 in Park North at Monroe join a network of two existing fulfillment centers in the Columbus area (Obetz and Etna) and one scheduled to open later this year near Cleveland (North Randall).

Amazon, which employs 575,000 nationwide, said it would continue to hire for the Monroe facility for the remainder of the year and beyond .

MORE: Amazon’s new Monroe facility launches with 750 jobs, seeks more

Miami Valley Gaming announces expansion

Warren County’s Miami Valley Gaming & Racing is betting on its continued success with a $100 million expansion project, its second expansion project since opening in 2013.

The racino at 6000 Ohio 63 in Turtlecreek Twp., east of the Interstate 75/Ohio 63 interchange, is planning to add a hotel, restaurant, parking garage and more gaming machines. The proposed 11-story hotel will have 194 rooms, while the four-floor parking garage will have spaces for about 1,000 vehicles.

The expansion is projected to create approximately 300 jobs during construction and approximately 100 permanent positions when complete in the first half of 2021, according to MVG officials.

The facility, which added 25,000 square feet during a 2017 expansion, would add another 10,000 square feet of gaming floor space under the proposed expansion.

MORE: Miami Valley Gaming plans to spend $100M on expansion. Here’s what it would bring.

Medical marijuana dispensaries open

Butler County’s two medical marijuana dispensaries opened in October, and state officials say there could be more coming across the state if demand increases.

Bloom Medicinals opened at 403 S. Main St. in the village of Seven Mile on Oct. 24 and Strawberry Fields opened at 300 N. Main St. in Monroe on Oct. 25. The openings gave Butler County its first foothold in the state medical marijuana business.

The dispensaries are among 56 which received provisional licenses to operate in Ohio. With demand strong so far in the program, officials say they’re closely monitoring the supply.

MORE: Butler County’s 2 medical marijuana shops are now open. What’s next?

Mason scores two big deals

Two deals reached in the latter half of the year are expected to create hundreds of jobs in Mason and further solidify the city’s business-friendly image.

City officials reached a deal Sept. 10 with Rhinestahl Corporation, one that will expand the company’s Mason footprint a third time, doubling its existing headquarters facility from 100,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet and securing 100 jobs over the next five years with a payroll of more than $14 million.

Rhinestahl Customer Tooling Solutions is the world’s leading solutions provider of OEM-licensed turbine engine tooling, ground support equipment and aftermarket services across commercial and military aviation markets.

In December, Precision Castparts Corp., said it will construct in Mason a new concept research and development integration center for its PCC Aerostructures division and a manufacturing innovation center for its SPS Technologies business. The company, one of the largest made-to-order manufacturers of aerospace industry parts in the world, is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.

The new campus is expected to create 190 jobs within four years with a $14.55 million payroll and overall investment of $128 million. It will anchor the U.S. 42 entrance of the new 400-acre Mason R&D Park East, where PCC will invest $128 million in two facilities on 31 acres.

MORE: Deal paves way for $128M investment in Mason, creation of 190 jobs

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