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02.23.2012 - Varied enterprises keep Holmes industries on track

Varied enterprises keep Holmes industries on track

**Appearing in The Daily Record, February 23, 2012**

By CHRISTINE L. PRATT
Staff Writer 

MILLERSBURG -- While the economy remains in rebound mode, it's starting to show signs of recovery in Holmes County.

Nevertheless, local officials continue to help community leaders and business owners overcome the obstacles that cause them to look to the future with caution, according to Shawn Starlin, executive director of the Holmes County Economic Development Council.

Contributing to the overall sense of caution and apprehension in the business world are political turmoil, government regulations, lack of useable resources with practical qualifications and local development barricades. However, these global conditions "only scratch the surface" of problems faced by local businesses.

Also contributing to the matter are increased competition, slimming profit margins, rising materials costs and "a whole host of other things representing the reality and true cost of doing business," Starlin said. "It's no wonder that many are reluctant to move forward with plans. In this sluggish but getting better climate, simply put, it's tough."

The hesitancy exists even amid a local climate in which there are great "pro-business values that promote and reward entrepreneurial spirit," said Starlin, citing assets that include officials eager to listen to the concerns of business owners, a community banking system willing to aggressively work with big and small ventures and a talented and hardworking labor force.

Nevertheless, 2011 was a good year for the development council.

Throughout the year the council provided support to more than 35 companies. It also can claim credit in helping to create 173 and retain 349 jobs. The county, during last year, saw projected capital investments totaling more than $18.8 million and a new payroll increase of more than $4.3 million, according to Starlin.

Among Ohio's 88 counties, Holmes County had the second-lowest unemployment rate for November with 5.2 percent.

The county's dropping unemployment figures also offer a glimpse into a future that includes economic health.

Dan Jackson, director of the Holmes County Department of Job & Family Services, said some of the improvement in the county's unemployment rate is due to a shrinking labor pool, but "Holmes County's economy is especially strong in growth areas such as the service sector, manufacturing and construction. These areas saw modest growth in the state over the past year."

The JFS One Stop Employment Center saw 6,391 visits in 2011. The visits were made by 1,893 people, for an average of three stops per person, said Jackson.

"We began seeing an increase in hiring activity by local companies, especially manufacturers, in 2011," he said. "The oil and gas industry also appears to be leading to increasing numbers of jobs in transportation, manufacturing and other related fields."

In 2011, 18 Holmes County residents, through the one stop program, participated in training in Class A transportation, heavy equipment operation, nursing, office paraprofessional and machining.

Ten dislocated workers received training and skill upgrades through a grant from American Electric Power. The AEP grant was used to provide training for people in maintenance, utility linesman, Class A transportation, skill upgrades in computer software and information technology.

The AEP grant was for $25,000, of which just more than $21,000 has been obligated, Jackson said.

Of particular note, at the EDC's annual meeting in June, the Holmes County Community Commitment Award, recognizing a local employer's steadfast dedication to the community, was given to Overhead Door Corp.

In the fall of 2009, Overhead Door announced the purchase of Wayne Dalton's commercial and residential door business.

The company, in May 2010, reaffirmed its intent not only to remain in Holmes County, but to increase operations at the Mount Hope manufacturing plant.

Under its new leadership, Wayne Dalton plans to create 150 new manufacturing and administrative jobs over the next three years, while putting into place new production lines in order to meet consumer demand.

Over the summer, another member of the Overhead Door family, Genie Co., announced its arrival in Mount Hope, Starlin said.

"Moving the Genie headquarters to the Mount Hope campus is strategically intended to drive innovation, propel quality and enhance customer service," Starlin said.

In late fall, the EDC secured funding to provide low-interest financing to small businesses.

Application was made nearly a year before through the Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program with the intent of helping to grow local businesses and provide access to otherwise unattainable lending opportunities, said Starlin, noting the RBE program provides grants and loans to organizations seeking to assist small businesses in rural areas.

In receiving the grant, The EDC was awarded $85,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make the local incentive possible.

"We were looking to establish a more robust revolving loan fund in Holmes County," said Starlin. "Our goal is to ensure small businesses in Holmes County have every opportunity to grow, and this program is just another tool to help them realize their potential."

From the economic development perspective, the target for the grant is to create one job per $10,000 loaned, according to Starlin.

The year ended on a real high for not only the county, but the Village of Millersburg, which, through Starlin, got confirmation of receipt of a Tier II Downtown Building and Streetscape Revitalization grant.

With the award of $289,500 of state funding to match local dollars being reinvested into the downtown area, the downtown is poised to get an extensive makeover over the next two years.

More than 30 percent of the 56 businesses within the target area, an eight-block stretch from Monroe Street to Mad Anthony Street, plan to participate in the revitalization projects, to include facade enhancements, interior repair and improvements to vacant buildings to attract people to eat, shop, rent or stay at the renovated businesses.

The projects range from $3,000 requests for window replacements to $385,000 for total retrofits. Other proposed projects include roof replacements, restroom installations, facade restorations, structural improvements, painting, electrical upgrades and heating, ventilation and air conditioning units. The total estimated cost for rehabilitation is $969,948.

Of the 17 private businesses involved in the application process, one specific project is the Hotel Millersburg expansion, an undertaking that involves converting the second floor into hotel rooms and adding retail and offices on the first floor.

The grant will facilitate and accelerate that process, said Wilke, and hopefully the improvements will spur others to do the same.

That was another long-term initiative that came to fruition in mid-December with finalization of the sale of the county's office building, 10 S. Clay St., to Bill and Shirley Robinson, owners of Hotel Millersburg.

Purchase price for the building was $1,000, but the deal came with a series of contingencies that translate in a cost savings and benefits to the county that exceed $500,000 in the first 10 years, according to documentation.

Sale of the building to a private owner also allows taxes to be collected on the property.

Holmes County Planning Director Arnold Oliver, who helped to facilitate the sale, said he believes the sale and the conversion project will contribute to a lot of great things happening in downtown Millersburg.

"Whether you live in or visit Millersburg, you can't help but notice the progress being made in downtown. We have to give credit to a lot of parties involved, including the county commissioners, the village of Millersburg and Bill and Shirley Robinson," Oliver said.

"I think this is going to be an example of another exciting project in downtown Millersburg that will bring business to town that will benefit not just Millersburg, but all of Holmes County," Oliver said. "I think 2012 is poised to be a good year for the county and growth within it."

Reporter Christine L. Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or cpratt@the-daily-record.com.



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