Economic directors paint positive picture for Butler County

Three Butler County economic development directors said there was much to celebrate in their cities last year and those successes will continue in 2017.

Middletown’s Jennifer Ekey, Trenton’s Jim Foster and Monroe’s Jennifer Patterson made short presentations Thursday during the Chamber’s annual Economic Forecast Lunch at the Windamere Event Center. They predicted continued economic growth in the region and a need for better workplace development to attract manufacturing businesses.

Ekey said the downtown saw 23 businesses open in 2016, up from eight in 2015. She said other restaurants and bars are expected to open this year, including inside the Torchlight Pass.

But the city’s major downtown building, the Manchester Inn, has been closed for several years. She said the owner of the historic hotel continues to apply for tax credits, and while the project has suffered “set backs,” Ekey promised it would “come to fruition.”

The goal, she said, is for the Manchester to “elevate its level of activity.”

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Middletown also is seeing a demand for housing. She said the Goetz Tower hopefully will be converted into apartments for those looking for the “urban experience.” There are at least two other possible housing developments in the city, she said.

Ekey praised Atrium Medical Center for celebrating its 100th anniversary, noted the AK Steel Research and Innovation Center is nearly complete on Interstate 75, and marked the growth at Towne Mall Galleria.

When business owners call about possibly relocating in the city, their first question isn’t about tax incentives or highway access, Ekey said. It’s all about workforce, she said.

“The people, the talent are key,” she said.

Patterson agreed, calling workforce development “a common thread” throughout the region.

The Goetz Tower stands at the intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue in Middletown. The city is seeing a demand for housing and hopes to covert the historic building into apartments, according to Economic Development Director Jennifer Ekey. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF (Staff Writer)

She said the city is working with one of the company to see if the district’s curriculum needs to add classes to meet the demands of the manufacturing industry.

After the presidential election, Patterson said December was the busiest time for the city’s economic development. She said a 1 million-square-foot facility opened in Park North and a 144,000-square-building is under construction in the same industrial.

The largest building will house Hayneedle, an e-commerce retailer of home furnishings and décor.

The massive expansion of Hayneedle is expected to create 104 full-time jobs, generating $3.2 million in annual payroll and helping the company retain 80 jobs, or about $2.7 million in existing payroll, according to the Ohio Tax Credit Authority.

There also is talk about constructing a 755,000-square-foot building, what Patterson called “a very flexible space.”

Presto Foods is expected to expand its presence in the city by 46,000-square-foot and possibly another 40,000-square-foot in a few years.

In Trenton, Foster said the city’s industrial park recently was re-certified by the state as a manufacturing site.

the city celebrated its bicentennial last year and used to anniversary to showcase its business community in a positive way. The certification guarantees potential businesses that the utilities and services are available at the park at the corner of Wayne Madison Road and Kennel Road.

He said the 184-acre site has one tenant, the Army Reserve Training Center, but he said the city has received two pending offers. He refused to disclose those potential occupants.

Trenton, he said, also is making an effort to reuse some of its vacant downtown property. He said the MidPointe Library Trenton moved into a closed day care center that received extensive upgrades and “nasty” downtown buildings are being rehabilitated.

Those improvements increase the property value and reduce the “negative vibe” dilapidated buildings create, Foster said.

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