The bridge for the railroad spur connecting the Van Wert Super Site and the railway is under construction. (Photo submitted)
The bridge for the railroad spur connecting the Van Wert Super Site and the railway is under construction. (Photo submitted)

Times Bulletin Editor

VAN WERT - Cindy Leis has spent almost four months as Van Wert County's economic development director, and in that short amount of time she has been able to see a lot of good news.
"The best news is that our companies are hiring," she stated. "They may not be hiring as many people as we want, and maybe they're not all the high-tech jobs we're looking for, but Braun Industries had 20 job openings and most of those were high-tech engineering positions. Or you look at Elmco Engineering or Alliance Automation - these are pretty high-tech engineering positions. They may not be the big numbers like 50 jobs, they are more like 10. However those ten are pretty high-paying jobs."

Leis put together an overview of her first three months on the job and found plenty of good news, but also some challenges for the area over the next few months. While Eaton Corporation added 117 jobs between July 2012 and March 2013, Federal Mogul has shed 110. Still, overall a sampling of firms in Van Wert County shows 151 additional jobs, including 59 more at Toledo Molding & Die, 42 at Braun Industries and 28 additional at Cooper Farms. Add to that a sinking unemployment rate since January, and there is plenty to be happy about.

According to Leis, she was taken aback by the number of high-tech positions that are being added locally. "What surprised me the most is how many employment opportunities there are in Van Wert and the level of advanced technology, and the advanced thinking of the local companies."

Leis said the part of the key in her job is to keep a good work force for potential employers and that includes keeping Van Wert County's best and brightest here, or at least bring them back after college or training programs are completed.

"It's going to be telling the young individuals about what opportunities there are in Van Wert," she shared. "We want them to join that work pool because when new companies come to Van Wert they want to know what the work force pool looks like. So to increase that number, we're going to have to get individuals back to Van Wert after they've left the county for school or other training."

The Van Wert Super Site is also part of the local good news. Leis reported that work on the railroad spur is progressing well. The rail line will run as far as Marsh Rd. at this point and will connect to the site when an end user is identified. There is another 100-acre industrial site that can be served by rail.

Leis also stated that she is looking at placing new signage for the Super Site and the city's industrial parks, especially along U.S. 30, but also on Industrial Dr. This is part of an effort to draw new attention to the availabilities in Van Wert County.

"We have property available, we have buildings available, we have education available, and we do have business incentives for people wanting to locate in the county and in the state," she declared.

With good reports from retail sales throughout the county, things are looking up in that sector. Leis said she is getting interest from some restaurant franchises which would bring in some lower-paying positions.

"Those do fill a gap," she conceded. "But bringing in manufacturing jobs will bring even more of the service-industry jobs as well."

Leis also mentioned the importance of keeping a well-trained work force and important role Vantage Career Center plays in that area. The school not only trains high school juniors and seniors in a variety of programs, Vantage also serves over 1,600 adults per year.

For Leis, an important piece of her job will kick off in earnest this month. The Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) program provides vital communication between the county and area businesses.

"That's where a group of economic development stakeholders go out and visit our major industries and find out how their business is going, what they have planned for the rest of the year, and if they need any help doing anything," explained Leis.

Overall, Leis is enthusiastic about the growth trend and the possibilities which lie ahead for Van Wert County, even in the manufacturing sector which employs 26.8 percent of county workers. The weak spots economically can be mostly eliminated with the fulfillment of one need.

Leis stated, "We still need new companies coming into Van Wert County with new jobs."

Time will tell how soon that problem will be solved.