This past year was a very busy year for the fledgling Portage Development Board. Industrial companies assisted by the PDB have added hundreds of new jobs and millions in payroll to the county economy, said Bradley Ehrhart, PDB executive director.
New projects ranged from the mammoth Newell-Rubbermaid/InSite distribution center in Brimfield to GP Tree Service in Suffield. Four new companies opened or relocated to Portage, creating 147 new jobs while retaining 27 existing jobs and adding $55.7 million in investment.
Expansions at six companies added 225 new jobs and retained 810 existing jobs while adding $73.6 million of investment in their operations. "It was a really, really busy year, Ehrhart said. He emphasized the PDB as a cooperative, working with multiple partners to assist businesses.
"None of these happen by themselves," Ehrhart said. "The role of the PDB is helping make things happen."
It does that by helping companies focus on sites in Portage by pulling together the people and information for businesses to make a successful project.
Ehrhart pointed to the Newell-Rubbermaid distribution center in Brimfield due to open shortly. The building is the largest such structure in the county and the project was complicated because so many jurisdictions and services were involved. The PDB pulled together representatives from all of them -- city, township, roads, county building department, utilities -- for the developer, InSite Real Estate LLC, to meet with at one time.
"They had all the answers right there in the room. That helped push the project to us," Ehrhart said.
While the focus of the PDB is on industrial and manufacturing, the organization also works on nonindustrial projects like the expansion of the Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown.
The PDB's focus is on bringing wealth into the community through well-paying jobs, Ehrhart said. Manufacturing jobs tend to be higher pay than commercial or retail.
"Those kinds of jobs really float the economy," Ehrhart said.
In its two years of existence, Ehrhart said, the PDB has assisted with projects that have added 1,022 new jobs and retained 886 jobs with a payroll of nearly $71.3 million.
In addition to the new firms, the PDB has an aggressive program to call on existing employers to help them stay and grow.
Ehrhart said the program has helped companies identify potential customers and build resources for financing.
"It's bringing our partners together to help our customers," he said.
The biggest issue for local industry remains finding a skilled workforce, Ehrhart said.
"Manufacturing never died in this county -- it just evolved," he said. The new manufacturing plants need skilled, computer-proficient workers.
Exacerbating the problem is that most education money is now aimed at college preparation and less is going for vocational training. Employers in the area are advocating for more vocational training funds.
One of the PDB's jobs is to understand the area and its industry.
"We have to understand who's already here before we can bring people in," he said. "This is the Silicon Valley of polymer resins," Ehrhart said.
Another issue for growth is that the stock of existing buildings is running out. Businesses are looking for existing buildings because its easier to get funding for them than for construction, Ehrhart said.
As the PDB comes up on its second birthday (it was created on Feb. 1, 2011), Ehrhart said he thinks the group is doing very well.
"First and foremost, our job is to keep people in business and help them grow," he said.
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