A contingent from a Kentucky chamber of commerce descended upon Wooster, Ohio, Wednesday to explore what has made the area successful in terms of economic development.
Members of the Jessamine County Chamber of Commerce periodically take trips to other cities to see what works for them and to determine if it can be implemented back home.
Wayne County Commissioner Scott Wiggam — a Jessamine County native — spoke to the group of 20 about how the county operates. Wiggam, along with Wooster Mayor Bob Breneman, Orrville Mayor Dave Handwerk and Rittman Mayor Bill Robertson, shared with the group about the successes and struggles of their cities.
Wayne County was able to make it through the difficult economic times because everyone was willing to make cuts, Wiggam said. The commissioners made a political decision not to raise taxes, and it worked when all of the elected officials and department heads brought their expenses under the projected revenue by 2010, he added.
The county uses the Wayne Economic Development Council as its economic-development arm, and in 2007, the county revised its tax-incentive policy. The new document contained the philosophy and the mechanics, Wiggam said.
Robertson talked about the challenges Rittman faces after Caraustar, a paper-packaging company, shut down and left the city. At one time, the company, formerly known as the Packaging Corporation of America and the Ohio Boxboard Co., hired as many as 2,400 people, Robertson said. It started making wax-coated boxes for the salt company, now Morton Salt, and once produced all of the boxes for Tide detergent.
Now, the 300-acre site sits empty, and the city is trying to clean up the brownfield in order to free up the land for commercial development. Right now, there is very little available land for development. The city is surrounded by valuable farm land, which is another reason why Robertson wants to see the Caraustar site cleaned.
Handwerk described Orrville as a diversified industrial city that is home to the J.M. Smucker Co., which employs about 1,500 people.
“Without Smucker’s, we’d be a totally different community,” Handwerk said, talking about its recent acquisitions, including Folger’s, and expansion projects in the city.
Handwerk also talked about other 100-year (or close to it) companies, like Schantz Organ, Smith Dairy and Will-Burt.
When asked what attracted the companies to Orrville, Handwerk said many of them were started by families in the city. But, with the city having an electric generation plant, it can offer companies attractive rates.
Breneman said Wooster has a diverse industrial base, anchored by the Wooster Brush Co., which has been here more than 160 years. Up until 2004, Wooster was the world headquarters for Rubbermaid’s Home Products Division, until after a merger with Newell. Other companies helping support the growth of the city include LuK USA, a manufacturer and designer of automotive parts; CACI TechniGraphics, a geospatial company that produces digital maps used by the military; FritoLay; Akron Brass, which produces nozzles and fittings for the firefighting industry; and ABS Materials, which manufactures a product that helps remove contaminants from water.
Wayne Foster, president of the Jessamine County Joint Economic Development Authority, said he was surprised by the number of large employers in Wooster, saying Nicholasville has a smaller industrial base. Its largest employer is the McLane Co., which operates a distribution center.
Jessamine chamber director Amy Cloud said she visited the area a couple of weeks ago on a planning trip and was impressed with the state of mind of business leaders.
“They are very progressive, outside-the-box thinkers, always keeping the community in mind,” Cloud said.
Wilmore utilities and public works director Dave Carlstedt said there are many things Jessamine’s leaders can take from the Wooster trip.
“You see the value of shared vision or shared opportunities or even shared resources. You get to see what made (another community) healthy and thriving. It’s usually not identical to Jessamine County,” he said. “They’ve just spent years and years building relationships and finding their strengths and building on them. And that kind of needs to be our ongoing story. We need to have relationships with people on a consistent basis, and we always have to find some things we ought to be doing together, especially in lean times, now more so than ever.”
Editor’s note: Reporter Bobby Warren is a staff writer at The Daily Record in Wooster, Ohio.