Operations have ceased at the General Electric Co. lamp plant on North Chestnut Street in Ravenna, a sprawling facility that employed a workforce of about 400 at peak production a generation ago.
GE announced plans to close the plant in January 2013, citing "dramatic and continuing decline in demand" for the products made there, and indicated that it would shut down no later than this month. The facility closed a bit earlier than expected, shutting down in December. It employed about 165 workers when the closing was announced last year.
The closing of GE is a loss for Ravenna. The plant, which manufactured high-intensity discharge lighting and other specialty products, was a solid employer that provided many area residents with relatively high-paying manufacturing jobs. It was a clean, non-polluting operation.
The future of the 160,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, which is located on a 56-acre site at Ravenna's northern city limits, poses challenges -- and potential opportunities -- for economic development not only in the city but in Portage County as a whole.
While traditional manufacturing has taken a hit throughout Ohio in the past decade or so, mirroring a national trend, Portage County remains a prime site for manufacturing. It is accessible to major population centers throughout the region. There is an ample workforce. Many communities offer tax incentives for businesses.
The vacated plant, which was constructed nearly 50 years ago, is one of the largest manufacturing facilities in the county. GE retains ownership of it and has not indicated what, if any, plans there are for its future. Ideally, if there was some way for the city of Ravenna or another local entity, such as the Portage County Port Authority, to obtain ownership, that could enable the site to be marketed to potential buyers.
Because of its size, single-tenant occupancy may be unlikely in the future. Dividing the plant into smaller sites, under one roof and sharing parking and utilities, is a logical alternative. That's what happened with the huge facility where Terex was located in Hudson.
GE's departure from the Ravenna employment scene after nearly a half-century is regrettable. Even more regrettable, however, would be to see a serviceable facility that remains an asset to the community fall into disrepair as a result of a prolonged period of vacancy. An aggressive effort to attract tenants to the site must be a priority for city and county officials.