A ‘stabilizing leader’: Moraine city manager to retire

When Dave Hicks began his career as a police officer more than 40 years ago, he didn’t envision himself writing letters to the president and other politicians urging the federal government not to tear down the city’s former General Motors plant.

Now on the perch of retirement as city manager of Moraine — his last day will likely be in early March — he marvels at the unlikeliness of it all.

“We got creative about it,” Hicks said in an interview at Moraine city offices.

Hicks admits that he looks at the city’s former GM plant today with a certain level of satisfaction. Today, the plant has been remade as the home of the American arm of a Chinese-owned automobile- and safety-glass maker, Fuyao Glass America. With 2,000 employees, the company says it is the largest auto glass production facility in the world.

But in 2007 and 2008, as it became increasingly clear that GM would close the SUV assembly operation on West Stroop Road, the situation looked bleak indeed.

When the plant closed in late 2008, about half of Moraine’s municipal revenue vanished.

“I had a great big building over there — four million-plus square feet,” Hicks recalled. “I wanted to be able to do something with that. And I needed the community’s support to keep that building in place.”

Hicks began his career as city manager in 2001, after serving as a police officer, detective, chief and acting city manager since the mid-1970s.

In the wake of the GM closure, a key phone call Hicks made was to Stu Lichter, the Southern California-based principal of Industrial Realty Group, which had a track record of redeveloping shuttered industrial properties in Ohio and elsewhere.

Hicks had read of Lichter and his work in Lorain and Akron in the Wall Street Journal.

Hicks remembered that he landed Lichter’s cell number through a stroke of luck and made a fateful phone call at about 7 p.m. on a Friday from his desk phone.

Lichter’s question: “Who are you?”

Hicks response: “I’m someone who wants you to look at and buy that building.”

The 63-year-old credits support from senators, representatives, county commissioners and others in keeping the former factory standing.

Lichter and his company were able to oversee and market the property until the site caught the eye of Fuyao Global representatives in 2013.

Said Hicks: “I was willing to work with whomever was willing to help us.”

“He was kind of the stabilizing leader throughout that whole process,” said Mark Schwieterman, city manager of Kettering. “He never let the bad times get him down, and they’re certainly in a better place now.”

Jim McGuire, an eight-year member of Moraine City Council, had high praise for Hicks, saying: “I’d trust him with anything I have.”

“Dave is one of the finest men I have ever met in my life,” McGuire said. “I don’t believe there would be a Moraine city the way it is unless it was for him.”

He said Hicks has been a trusted presence who kept government running smoothly.

“He’s just a master at explaining things and keeping people informed,” McGuire said. “I’ve never seen a morale problem in that city, even when we were laying people off.”

Beyond industrial development, it’s the routine work of managing a municipality that Hicks is proud of. As the city of more than 6,300 residents recovered from the recession, his goal was to build a financial reserve of $8 million to $10 million.

Today, Moraine government’s reserve is close to $12 million, he said.

A couple of new housing developments are in the works, including the 100-home Pinnacle Ridge. Hicks has been looking forward to a deal with Ryan Homes to build about 215 homes on 110 acres over seven years.

“That’s one of the measures I look at,” Hicks said. “People want to move to Moraine.”

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