Butler County communities looking to add 2,000-plus jobs soon. But will the workers be there?

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, several Butler County communities are welcoming new developments that will add more than 2,000 job opportunities and renew the question of whether they be able to find workers.

The county commissioners last week took steps to further economic development in the county, hiring a new development specialist.

Director David Fehr told the Journal-News they have a database of sites ripe for development they just haven’t had staff to optimize the information and analyze workforce trends, job training needs, and other crucial information to be able to sell Butler County. He said they need someone who “can really get into the weeds on the data.”

“We are in competition with not just other communities here in Ohio but the rest of the country,” Fehr said. “I think we really need to be looking at what are the jobs of the future and do we have those sites available. Do we have workforce available? Do we need to work with the Butler Techs of the world to make sure we are training the workforce for the jobs that are coming?”

New jobs are already flooding to the county but an exact count is difficult to calculate. REDI Cincinnati, an organization that promotes economic development in the region in 2020 reported 732 new jobs were created in the county with a total payroll of $30.3 million.

One of those companies was Carvana, the online used car giant, which just broke ground in the Trenton industrial park and will bring 400 new jobs over three years and payroll that will exceed $13 million annually. The commissioners last week approved a 200-acre annexation so Trenton can expand the park.

New jobs are important for job seekers but the income tax they generate is the main revenue source for cities and some townships. Trenton Finance Director Mike Engel told the Journal-News the Carvana jobs could mean around $504,000 in income tax revenue for the city, not including wages earned during construction.

Another big development is also in the works for the Trenton industrial park. During the commissioners’ annexation, public hearing attorney Charles Baverman revealed his client Magnode Corporation is negotiating with the city to buy 50 acres in the expanded industrial park to manufacture car parts components. He said the facility would bring around 170 new jobs and have an economic impact of $50 to $70 million.

Other cities and townships are also in job growth mode. Hamilton Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson said the city is a “strong contender” for a number of new projects he can’t yet discuss. The massive Spooky Nook sports complex and convention center is projected to bring 225 new full-time jobs when it is fully operational with a payroll of nearly $7 million. That would generate $138,000 in income tax revenue.

Saica is a paper company moving into Hamilton’s Enterprise Park this fall with 64 employees and a payroll of $4.68 million, generating $93,600 for the city.

Liberty Twp. has a new rehabilitation hospital under construction that will hire about 120 people with an $8 million payroll. There are also new businesses moving into Liberty Center, such as Elevate Office Suites, that will provide workspace for 100-plus workers, according to Economic Development Director Caroline McKinney. Both areas are within Joint Economic Development Districts so those employees will pay the township income tax. Generally, townships don’t charge earnings tax.

Fairfield officials say about 600 new jobs are expected at the new development at Fairfield Commerce Park on Seward Road. Middletown has a number of things in the hopper including revamping the area around the Towne Mall off Interstate 75 and a feasibility study for a $75 million riverfront convention center and hotel development is scheduled to be completed in July.

West Chester Twp. has a bevy of new businesses moving in, like the new 142,776 Amazon distribution center under construction on Cincinnati Day Road. The online giant hasn’t shared details with the township as to jobs or anything else. Kemba Credit Union is building a new corporate headquarters and adding about 40 new jobs with the potential for many more. There are a number of other smaller new businesses arriving, like Planterra Foods which is bringing 150 jobs to the township.

The biggest indicator that this is a hot job market is the West Chester Trade Center development by NorthPointe at Ohio 747 and Union Centre Boulevard, a $86.6 million construction project for seven buildings, is almost 70% leased already.

“The way we see it, if a private company is willing to build two million-square-foot of space on spec in this area, it means there is a big demand still for job growth,” Economic Development Director Aaron Weigand said.

Miami University Economics Professor Bill Even said the total number of jobs in Butler County has dropped by 6,800 between February 2020 and two months ago, which suggests there are available workers.

“There’s fewer people employed but not all of the loss of jobs is showing up in unemployment, some people left the labor force. There’s actually 5,000 fewer people working or looking for work, some people have just dropped out entirely...,” Even said. “There’s definitely room for more jobs, one of the issues though is whether the people who don’t have jobs and are willing to work have the skills these new businesses want.”

Employers have found federal COVID-19 relief in the form of stimulus payments and extra unemployment benefits have compressed the number of job seekers.

Weigand said the workforce issue was present before the pandemic struck last year.

“I believe that the federal impact might be playing a role in that, but we’re foolish as area leaders if we think that’s the only reason,” Weigand said. “Before COVID hit employers were struggling to find workers, at least in West Chester. Training, available talent, these types of things are issues that didn’t just show up four months ago. They’re prevalent in our area and there’s people working on that.”

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