Toledo didn’t exactly celebrate in May when Owens-Illinois, Inc. announced it would move its international headquarters from Downtown to Perrysburg. But the Glass City’s future isn’t looking as grim as some may think.
“It’s not necessarily a good thing, but when a private sector decides that this is best for them, there’s not much a committee can do,” said Bill Carroll, director of economic development for Toledo.
“We had offered incentives; we did an awful lot of things to try and make sure that Owens-Illinois kept us their home … and [Steve McCracken] the chairman there wanted to do something different. That’s his prerogative.”
As the company prepared for the expiration of its lease in September 2006, it began looking at options where all of its employees could be united, said Kelley Yoder, corporate communications for O-I.
“We recently divested our blow-molded plastic containers business in October 2004, which resulted in an empty building at Levis Development Park, where we already have more than 500 employees,” she said.
O-I is working on a cultural transformation to become a more global company, Yoder said.
“Having all of our employees in one campus setting really supports the transformation agenda and our cultural change of becoming one O-I,” she said.
The first set of employees will begin moving into Levis during the second quarter of 2006; no jobs are being cut in the process, Yoder said.
O-I has more than 300 employees working AT One SeaGate, occupying about eight floors, she said.
The move will leave a temporary hole Downtown, but Carroll said filling it won’t be a problem: “It is a very beautiful building on the river, the inside is great; it’s one of the few Class A office spaces in Downtown Toledo, so we don’t have to market it hard. It shows well.”
Carroll said because the city knows about the move more than a year in advance, they have more time to attract other businesses to the building.
The city had been promoting One SeaGate prior to O-I’s decision due to empty space in the building, he said.
It is important not only to fill what O-I is leaving, but to keep the current tenants, of which there are about 25, Carroll said. All tenants have expressed interest in staying, and one has signed with the landlord to do so, he added.
“The key for us is to keep a vibrant Downtown to make sure the people are here stay, and we can attract new ones,” Carroll said. “We don’t like seeing them moving out, but I’d much rather see them move 20 miles away than going to Arkansas or Mississippi.”
Many of the employees making the move to Perrysburg will remain Toledo residents and will pay city tax, “so there’s not a complete loss for the city,” Carroll said.
As for other companies leaving Downtown, he said he is not worried.
“Corporations Downtown are doing very well and treasure Downtown … we’ve got a lot of businesses that are growing.”
Owens Corning worked with Mayor Jack Ford to stay Downtown when the company was facing bankruptcy, said John Loftis, special assistant to the mayor.
“People lose sight of that and emphasize that Owens-Illinois is going out,” Loftis said. “They tend to forget that other companies are staying and expanding Downtown.”
Impact on Downtown
While it’s not positive for the city to see O-I move, the employees will have advantages, such as having everyone in one location, said Heather Lane, an information technology controls analyst at O-I who has worked in the Toledo office for 15 years.
Lane said she and other employees frequently travel to the Levis offices for meetings with employees, but travel time will be nearly eliminated next year.
“We’ll be right there and we just have to walk over to another building and do what we need to do,” she said. “It’s going to be a huge benefit that way.”
The commute to work will be a little longer, Lane, who lives in Toledo, said, but that is outweighed by the positives.
Lane is one of the 91 percent of O-I headquarters employees who drive to work, according to a company-issued survey. The cost for her to park Downtown is about $70 per month — a fee that will be eliminated when the company moves to Levis, Lane said.
The perks of working Downtown, such as the waterfront and the view from One SeaGate, will be missed, Lane said, but Levis has a lot to offer.
“We’ve got the campus atmosphere that they’re building for us … and there’s a lot of stuff happening over there with all the stores,” Lane said. “So you’ve still got a lot of things you can do.”
With employees moving out, Carroll said local restaurants will be affected.
Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches is busiest during the weekday lunch rush with the local employees on lunch breaks, said Rick Roach, assistant manager. The restaurant is located at 405 Adams St., one block from O-I’s current headquarters.
“I can’t really say how big of an effect it’s going to have. It probably won’t be too big, but it might be something we do notice,” Roach said. “Maybe a gradual slowdown in business, but not to a point where we actually see much of a drop.”
The restaurant delivers to One SeaGate often, but not just to O-I, he added.
About 85 percent of Bellacino’s Pizza and Grinders’ business is the lunch rush, said Tony Volpi, one of the owners. The restaurant is located at 513 Adams St., two blocks west of One SeaGate.
Volpi said he is planning to attract more customers on nights and weekends by possibly purchasing a liquor license to help make up for the loss of business when O-I moves.
With new attractions coming into Downtown such as the steamplant condominiums and talk of an amphitheater, Carroll said the plan to keep Downtown vibrant is working.
“[It’s] keeping people and attracting people, and that’s what we’ve gotta do,” he said. “We can’t sit and say ‘what did we do wrong?’ when a chairman has a strategy that he wants to follow. That’s what they do. We are bringing more people in Downtown. People are coming Downtown to live, and they’re going to do things here.”
The move isn’t expected to have a large effect on Downtown entertainment because the employees will still be in the area, Carroll said, and O-I employee Lane agreed.
“There’s still the Mud Hens and if there’s stuff happening on the waterfront, I’ll still come down to it,” Lane said.
Before its decision to move to Perrysburg, O-I distributed 330 Internet-based surveys to its Downtown employees, Yoder said. The company received 292 responses in which about 60 percent said they feel the move is best for them.
When asked what they thought was best for the company as a whole, about 70 percent responded they are in favor of the move, with reasons such as free parking, the campus setting, lower taxes, location to home and more interaction among all employees, according to the results.
Some of the responses received in support of staying in Toledo were because it is where the company’s heritage is, the One SeaGate building is symbolic of O-I, it is a better corporate image and there is more to do in Downtown.
The company has been headquartered in Toledo since its start as the Owens Bottle Company in 1903, according to its Web site. O-I moved its corporate headquarters into the then-new One SeaGate building in 1982.
The building is leased from Newkirk Leyden of New York City, and O-I sublets to the other companies housed in One SeaGate, Yoder said. Because of O-I’s planned move, the other companies will deal directly with the landlord.
While in many people’s minds the image of Owens-Illinois may include the building they have been housed in for 20 years, Lane said she is optimistic the new “one O-I” image will be better understood at Levis.
“The image might be that we’re united and one, where as out here [in Toledo] we are kind of separated from the others,” Lane said.
While O-I transforms its image, the City of Toledo will look for someone to take the company’s place.
“Who likes to see a company that has a 100-year history in Toledo move out? You wouldn’t, but it’s not devastating,” Carroll said. “We’ll backfill this; we’ll correct it as time goes on.”