2015 was record year for business investment in growing Warren County

9:00 a.m. Sunday, March 27, 2016 News

A year ago, economic development efforts in the region had their own version of Super Tuesday but instead of counting votes they were counting jobs after multiple businesses announced game-changing investments in the area only days or weeks apart.

On the same February Monday, StarTek Inc. announced plans to open a new call center in downtown Hamilton, promising to create nearly 700 jobs; and in neighboring Warren County, Fortune 500 steelmaker AK Steel revealed plans to build a new approximately $36 million Research and Innovation Center in Middletown.

Also part of the blockbuster day was announcements from Mitsubishi Electric Automotive America Inc. for its eighth expansion over the years in Mason, promising to create 100 jobs and invest $80.8 million; in Monroe, a manufacturing arm of Serta Simmons Bedding revealed plans to relocate from space it outgrew in Forest Park to the growing Park North at Monroe business park, an investment topping $1 million for tenant finishes, according to records provided by Warren County.

These and other business expansions announced in Warren County throughout 2015 added up to a record $685.3 million worth of capital companies promised to invest in coming years to build or expand facilities or buy new equipment. A list of 22 projects announced last year and tracked by the county also promised to create more than 3,000 jobs in coming years and retain another over 4,000 jobs.

“It’s not going to happen every year but I think what it is, is a culmination of working with these companies over the last several decades and when it’s time for them to make those decisions, Warren County is at the top of mind,” said Martin Russell, the county’s economic development director.

“That is a credit to the local communities and to the county and the county commissioners because they have set the tone and set the environment where companies feel welcomed to grow their business,” Russell said.

By promising to invest nearly $700 million in Warren County last year, businesses more than doubled their commitments for the year before and promised to invest the highest amount the county has recorded since at least 2011, according to the local government.

This is not an all-inclusive list of every growing business in Warren County. The numbers include businesses in key target industries for the region and the state such as advanced manufacturing as well as projects that have received tax and other financial incentives, according to Matt Schnipke, development specialist for the county’s economic development department. It does not include all of the health care, retail and tourism related investments such as plans by Kings Island to open a new water ride because those projects are more driven by demographics and the county is not as competitive with other sites to lure businesses in those sectors, Schnipke said.

The single largest investment pledged in Warren County last year came only weeks later in March 2015 when consumer goods giant The Procter & Gamble Co. announced it would build a new Beauty Innovation Center at its existing Mason campus, a multi-year construction project costing about $300 million in total.

Approximately 1,150 research and development staff will relocate from Blue Ash to Warren County as part of the project, according to P&G.

Once the new Mason facility is complete — plans are to move in during the second half of 2018 — researchers and scientists from P&G’s beauty division including hair and skin care products will work alongside researchers and staff of the Fortune 100 company’s personal and oral health care divisions, company officials previously said. Currently, Mason Business Center contains the research, development and marketing activities of personal care products such as Vicks, Pepto-Bismol, NyQuil and DayQuil, and oral care products such as Crest.

Now, construction is in early stages and drivers-by on Mason-Montgomery Road would notice structural beams being put in place for the renovation and expansion project, said Damon Jones, spokesman for P&G. In addition to research and development, laboratory and office space, there will also be a consumer learning center for gathering product innovation insights such as focus groups and testing with customers using mirrors for applying makeup and other simulations.

“We’re still in the early phases,” Jones said.

P&G is in the process of slimming its portfolio to 65 major brand products but key beauty brands that the Cincinnati company will retain and that will be impacted by work done at the Mason Beauty Innovation Center include Pantene, Olay, Head & Shoulders, Gillette and more, Jones said.

“We will still have a very significant global beauty business even after the Coty transaction,” he said.

Warren County saw an explosion of growing businesses partly because of timing as projects sometimes years in the making came to fruition.

Better economic conditions were also a major factor, said Jason Millard, economic development director of Lebanon, where automotive supplier ADVICS Manufacturing Ohio last year announced a new $150.5 million, 260-job expansion.

“I think the effect of that confidence led to companies willing to risk their capital to invest in growing and expanding their business,” Millard said.

The location between two major highways of Interstates 75 and 71 and two major metropolitans of Cincinnati and Dayton also play a role in business attraction, Millard said. The key location provides good accessibility for moving goods and services as well as for accessing a bigger labor pool than just one city can provide, Millard said.

“I think what is important right now is the workforce and to be able to take advantage of the talent pools in the greater Cincinnati metro as well the greater Dayton metro,” he said.

Most of the investments are being made by existing companies that chose to expand their facilities already in Warren County instead of taking offers to move somewhere else, said Michele Blair, economic development director of Mason.

“I believe strongly that 70 to 80 percent of your new investment comes from your existing portfolio,” Blair said. “Our job is to always have continuous conversations with those partners so when they’re ready to ramp up, we’re ready to help them grow.”

Part of Mason’s strategy has also been to focus attraction and retention strategies on certain industries such as biohealth, which grows the local expertise in the subject, and to make Mason a place where employees want to work by promoting a culture of wellness, Blair said.

“I can’t think of a company that doesn’t always have another option and oftentimes, they’re evaluating how competitive is the cost of doing business at the Mason location versus (somewhere else),” she said.

Last year was not only a record year for business investment in Warren County, but also the Cincinnati region as a whole. Expanding businesses upped their investments in 2015 in Greater Cincinnati to the tune of more than $1 billion total including Warren County, according to regional economic development agency REDI Cincinnati. Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI) Cincinnati is a private nonprofit that leads business attraction efforts in the region.

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