WEDC chief: County economic outlook promising

WEDC chief: County economic outlook promising

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The news is filled with information on rising prices, supply-chain disruptions and the labor shortage. However, the outlook for economic development in Wayne County is promising, according to Wayne Economic Development Council’s new president, Maribeth Burns.

Wayne County’s diversified economy has long been a factor in the county’s economic resilience. But successful economic development does not usually happen without planning and strategic investment. WEDC has a history of success in incentivizing private investment in the county and encouraging public-private partnerships.

In June 2022 the WEDC board hired Burns, who previously was at the J.M. Smucker Company, where she rose to the level of vice president of public, state and local affairs.

“I was at Smuckers for over 30 years in various roles, starting with HR, corporate communications and most recently with government relations, and I focused on both state and local affairs,” Burns said. “I served on the WEDC board many years ago and came back on four years ago and was part of the executive committee. I always was involved in WEDC and had a fondness for the organization.”

One of Burns’ first priorities was building her team. First, Burns hired Cassie Slansky as director of economic development. Slansky most recently came from City of Cleveland in its department of economic development, and before that she focused on community development in Barberton.

Then Traci Carmony joined the team as the marketing expert. Carmony was manager of community relations for nearly 17 years at University of Akron Wayne College and then spent one year at OSU Mansfield before joining WEDC.

“I think that 2022 has really started off with a bang for Wayne County. We’re going strong with the business community, and we have several expansion projects that are already on the way and have several others in the pipeline that will be announced soon,” Burns said. “We have had a lot of recent interest in the Rittman Industrial Park and the Wooster Innovation Park. And there are some new housing initiatives under way to address the issue of lack of housing supply in Wayne County.”

Another story that has garnered media attention across Ohio is the Intel announcement about its upcoming $20 billion investment for the semiconductor plant in Licking County. Many have reached out to WEDC to see if the Intel investment could be potential competition for Wayne County.

“Many see Intel as a potential competition with Wayne County, but we see it as an opportunity,” Burns said. “We’ve had some inquiries about the Wayne County mega site, which is over 1,000 acres on Route 71 in West Salem, and we have been contacted by Intel suppliers about potential use of that site. Plus, we may have businesses that could be a supplier to Intel or a supplier to a supplier.”

Burns said filling open job vacancies does continue to be a challenge for businesses in Wayne County, and WEDC is developing multiple strategies to support businesses with workforce retention and attraction.

“We do want to keep the workforce that we can in Wayne County,” she said. “That’s the number-one thing that has been an issue with our business community — that there are so many positions open that employers can’t fill.”

The first step toward addressing that need is to revamp the Work in Wayne website, which is an online resource for employees considering moving to Wayne County. Burns’ goal is to have a complete database on the Work in Wayne website that links to Wayne County jobs on the OhioMeansJobs website. The website also will provide information on business sectors and quality of life in the county.

Burns also has worked with her team to implement tools in the economic development tool kit that have been previously underutilized, a key example being the Community Reinvestment Area.

Mayor Dennis Finley of Dalton said the village received significant help from WEDC and the county on getting the CRA established for Dalton earlier this year.

“I believe we are the first CRA in any Wayne County village. We already have an auto parts store, bank, newspaper, and we have some decent businesses that are already here. We were looking for a way to incentivize new businesses to come in and complement our existing businesses,” Finley said.

Finley said with a CRA, if a new or existing business in the region designated as the CRA were to make improvements to the building that increase the property value, that business gets a 50% tax abatement for 10 years on the net increase. The boundaries on Dalton’s CRA are along the village main street and then along Mill Street.

“And we’ve had some interest from individuals who have been considering some projects but are still early in the process,” he said.

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