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$4.2M cleanup brings 140 jobs to Urbana

Staying with the story

The Springfield News has followed Weidmann’s progress since the city began a lengthy project to clean up the site at 700 W. Court St. in Urbana. The paper will continue to follow local manufacturing as the industry recovers from the Great Recession.

Urbana officials have finalized a $4.2 million, five-year process that cleaned up a former brownfield site and led to about 140 jobs in the city.

The city recently transferred ownership of the property at 700 W. Court St. to Weidmann Electrical Technology Corp. The business has been operating at the property since 2011 and has exceeded its initial projections of about 100 employees, said Jill O’Neal, human resource and safety manager for the company.

City officials said the project was crucial because it cleaned and re-opened a site that could have become an eyesore. It also attracted new jobs at a time when the city had suffered significant losses at the beginning of the Great Recession.

Neenah Paper Inc., based in Wisconsin, had closed a paper mill at the site in 2007, leaving about 180 workers without jobs. Neenah had purchased the property from the Fox River Paper company just six months earlier.

“It was a heavy hit on the economics for the whole county,” said Marcia Bailey, economic development director for Urbana. “Not only that but it was also a significant hit with the city because of water usage and DP&L. They were heavy users of both water and electric.”

Workers at the facility had produced as much as 39,000 tons of paper products annually. The site required extensive testing to determine if it was contaminated after decades spent producing paper using a coal-fired process.

Weidmann, a Swiss-based company, now uses the site to produce specialty insulation for transformers. It chose to open in Urbana in part because of its strong manufacturing workforce, O’Neal said. About 10 percent of the company’s workforce is made up of former Fox River and Neenah employees.

The project included cooperation with Damewood Enterprises Limited, which initially purchased the site in 2008, as well as city, state and company officials. The project received $3 million in funding from the state’s Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund to acquire the site, cover demolition costs and make infrastructure improvements. Urbana and Weidmann also provided a total of about $1.2 million in matching funds.

The site was attractive to the company because of its former role as a paper manufacturer, access to highways and a pool of candidates experienced in manufacturing, O’Neal said.

“There were other locations of course in the U.S. we were looking at, but Weidmann was really pleased with what the state of Ohio, the county and the city of Urbana were able to do to get us here in Ohio,” O’Neal said.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued a Covenant Not to Sue last April.

“They’ve essentially got a clean bill of health from the EPA that the site is cleaned up and in good condition to protect them from a liability standpoint going forward,” said Doug Crabill, assistant to the director of administration for Urbana.

The city began the process to transfer the property to Weidmann last summer. The site is also one of the city’s largest customers for its sewer system, Crabill said.

The site had been a paper mill since the early 1900s, Bailey said, and the project preserved much of the property’s history.

“It’s a significant landmark for the community that’s been here forever and ever,” Bailey said.