Speculative developments part of why hundreds of jobs headed to Fairfield

Construction continues Friday, April 1, 2022 for new buildings at Fairfield Commerce Park off of Seward Road in Fairfield. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Combined ShapeCaption
Construction continues Friday, April 1, 2022 for new buildings at Fairfield Commerce Park off of Seward Road in Fairfield. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Several hundred new jobs are expected to open up in Fairfield between now and in the next few years, according to tax incentive deals companies made with the city.

And if the number of market-driven speculative building projects pan out as anticipated, the injection of new workforce could easily surpass 1,000 new jobs.

The workforce in Fairfield comes from as far north as Dayton to as far south as Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky by way of Interstate 75. Employers have also said they are able to pull workers as far west as Indiana and as far east as Clermont County via Interstate 275.

“We’re kind of in the middle of all those areas, so we can pull from a wide range,” said Fairfield Development Services Director Greg Kathman. “(Companies) can spread the word wide as they’re targeting workforce. That is why, I think, the industrial submarket is really strong.”

Outside the few hundred new jobs expected at Koch Foods, the speculative development market is driving job creation. There are nine speculative industrial projects either announced or underway that equate to a $175 million-plus investment. Hilco Vision leased last year a speculative development building at Fairfield Commerce Park and officials said they’ll have 150 new jobs by the end of its first year of operation, and have as many as 200 jobs by the end of 2024, according to the company.

Fairfield Commerce Park off Seward Road was the first speculative development project in the city, taking over the former Liberty Mutual land after the insurance company moved out of the city, taking 800 jobs with it. And in the months after Fairfield Commerce Park began its project in 2020, others followed suit.

Speculative developments are when companies construct large buildings with the anticipation they would be quickly filled. It can be risky because there are no clients waiting, but it is currently a builder’s market.

Fairfield Commerce Park has completed two speculative buildings and a third one under construction, all of which have been acquired by Ares Management Corporation (formerly Back Creek Group), said Stephen Lindley, vice president of development and market officer at Ambrose Property Group. Construction on a fourth building is scheduled to begin this spring, he said.

“Interest in the building is high, and we anticipate (that fourth building) will be leased before construction is complete,” Lindley said.

The recent surge in industrial demand, specifically speculative development, is due to a number of factors, said Jeremy Kraus, senior vice president with the real estate company CBRE Group.

“As consumers, we’re growing more and more accustomed to near-instantaneous gratification. Who doesn’t look forward to those boxes on your porch the same day or the next day after you’ve placed an order? As e-commerce takes deeper root in our lives, companies are being forced to reinvent their supply chains and delivery models, which is driving significant demand for more modern logistics facilities,” he said.

Kraus said then there are lessons learned as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of companies learned that their inventory levels were ― quite frankly ― not large enough to respond to quick shifts in consumer demand,” he said. “Remember what it was like trying to find toilet paper in March of 2020?”

For some, the run on toilet paper and other goods was a production issue. More production equates to more space. But for others, Kraus said they learned they were too reliant upon overseas production and port deliveries to get their product into the U.S.

“These companies are now onshoring some of their production facilities, putting even more pressure on available space in Greater Cincinnati and the U.S. as a whole,” Kraus said. “Speculative development has been the beneficiary of these shifts because having a building available that can be easily adapted to a particular company’s use drastically reduces the timeline for these evolving companies to implement their new strategies.”

A custom-built facility in today’s environment could take more than a year, and a lot of companies don’t want to wait, especially when there’s quality speculative space available.

“Northern Cincinnati suburbs along I-75 have seen a lot of speculative development recently because there is good infrastructure in place to support these projects and, up until recently, abundant land available that was specifically earmarked for industrial or logistics applications,” Kraus said.

As the market is a builder’s market, it’s also a job-seeker market. Companies will need to fill several hundred new jobs, if not more, over the next few years and they’re jockeying for position to attract talent.

In doing that, they’re looking for creative ways to bring in new talent.

Tim Derickson, a former state legislator and director of JobsOhio’s Food and Agribusiness, said finding people to fill the jobs “is really a challenge across the country.”

Businesses are making “some pretty significant investments” in attracting employees, such as offering higher pay, better healthcare, tuition assistance, transport to and from work, and onsite benefits like meals.

“I think as a state, all of these things are attractive. Continued education is really the best, so folks can not only learn existing jobs but other skills that qualify them for higher-paying jobs, and that’s really attractive for those of us who are helping companies create jobs throughout the state,” said Derickson, adding he’s “not surprised” with an influx of jobs being created in Fairfield, and beyond.

“I think our community, right here in Butler County, just has a lot to offer folks with their quality of life,” he said. “I’m confident the desire to live here, raise a family, and go to school here is what’s driving it all. I believe that’s a factor considered by the companies who are not only located here but others who are considering locating in our state.”

The city of Fairfield, Fairfield Chamber of Commerce and REDI Cincinnati are working collaboratively, along with OhioMeansJobs-Butler County, to fill the growing surplus of new jobs.

Kert Radel, Fairfield chamber president and CEO, said they’ve showcased programs ― specifically Work Plus at Miami University, Cincinnati State’s co-op, and Butler Tech ― and have suggested internships, which all “gives the companies opportunities to look at other alternatives on how they can find some people.”

“We’ve been able to find ways for the employers to look at another avenue of finding talent that would be interested in applying for jobs,” Radel said.

Business growth “is a good problem to solve,” he said, and believes when it comes time to fill these jobs, “we’re going to get people there for them in terms of having the talent that they need.”

REDI Cincinnati Director of Regional Talent Adam Jones said posting a job on Indeed, Monster, or some other job-search site “isn’t going to work. It’s a strategy, not the strategy, and everybody’s doing that.”

“You’ve got to develop the future talent. You can’t just say, ‘I need people with six years of experience, and I can’t find them.’”


THE EXPANSION OF FAIRFIELD’S ECONOMY

The City of Fairfield saw a large number of jobs promised in 2021 as a result of tax incentive deals with a variety of employers. The Journal-News is taking a deep dive into Fairfield’s looming economic expansion as new employers are moving into the city and existing employers are expanding and adding to the workforce.

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