Visions: Toth: Port Authority will continue momentum into 2015Written by Paul Toth | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: This guest column is part of an annual special section called Visions, in which Toledo Free Press asks local economic development and business leaders to share what they see ahead for Toledo and Northwest Ohio in the coming year.
Over the past year, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority has made great strides in the redevelopment of Overland Industrial Park and Ironville Terminal, passenger increases at Toledo Express Airport, cargo increases at the Port of Toledo, and fostering economic growth in Northwest Ohio through the Port Authority’s financing programs and its BetterBuildings Northwest Ohio (BBNWO) energy efficiency program.
Construction at Overland Industrial Park’s 100,000-square-foot spec building began this fall and is expected to be completed this spring. This building is anticipated to be a catalyst for future development at Overland.
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The Port Authority and Midwest Terminals of Toledo opened the new Ironville Terminal at the Port of Toledo this spring. The first phase in redevelopment of this 180-acre former refinery site is a public-private partnership that has culminated in more than $20 million in infrastructure investment for the property, which has rail access via Norfolk Southern, myriad pipelines serving the Midwest petrochemical industry, deepwater port access via the Maumee River and heavy load truck access via Front Street. This property redevelopment represents a convergence of all modes of transportation, creating new and unique development opportunities for our region. The addition of the Ironville dock has been a catalyst for an overall increase in port tonnage of more than 15 percent in 2014, and an impressive 89 percent increase in general and miscellaneous cargos.
Toledo Express Airport continued its slow and steady rise in 2014 with an increase in passenger enplanements of more than 11 percent through November. This year’s increase, along with the 11 percent increase in 2013, will mark the first two consecutive years of increased passenger traffic at the airport since 2004. On-demand cargo activity also increased in 2014, and all buildings and hangars at the airport have been fully leased.
In spring 2014, the Port Authority’s Northwest Ohio Bond Fund received a Standard & Poor’s rating increase from BBB+ to A-. This marks the first A rating in the bond fund’s 26-year history, allowing the Port Authority to offer more competitive rates for borrowers looking for long-term fixed-rate financing to locate or expand their business in Northwest Ohio.
In 2014, the Port Authority provided $7.2 million in financing for projects from the Northwest Ohio Bond Fund, which included $4.9 million to Keller Logistics and $66.2 million in bond financing outside of the Bond Fund for two student housing projects at the University of Toledo. The Port Authority also had a record year for its SBA 504 and Ohio Regional 166 loan programs, providing more than $7.38 million to support various businesses in the region, including an SBA loan to support the construction of a new Hampton Inn & Suites hotel on Secor Road.
BBNWO, the Port Authority’s energy efficiency program, continues to finance and promote energy efficiency upgrades to buildings in Northwest Ohio. Several projects were completed in 2014, including a $1 million energy upgrade to Toledo School for the Arts, and installation of new rooftop units and a state-of-the-art control system for the 100-year-old Toledo Club. Since 2011, BBNWO has completed improvements on 100 buildings with an investment of more than $25 million, and has created the equivalent of 35 full-time jobs.
2015 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting years for Northwest Ohio in several decades. Interest rates continue to be extremely low, oil prices are half of what they were in 2013 and companies are starting to expand and invest some of the cash reserves they amassed over the past several years. Unemployment rates in Northwest Ohio have dropped from 13 percent in 2009 to less than 5 percent in 2014 — all signs our economy is moving in the right direction and that further investment in the region is imminent.
We have seen continued investment in transportation with the 2014 announcement of a $43-million expansion of the CSX Intermodal facility in North Baltimore, the current expansion of the FedEx freight facility in Perrysburg, the $20 million investment in the Ironville Terminal at the Port of Toledo that opened for business in the spring of 2014, and the anticipated expansion of Norfolk Southern’s Airline Junction Intermodal located next to the University of Toledo’s Scott Park campus. In addition, Norfolk Southern will complete the $160-million expansion of its Bellevue Yard in 2015, creating more jobs and economic impact in the region. Home Depot will open its 1.6-million-square-foot distribution center in Wood County in the first quarter of 2015, representing another $100-million-plus investment tied to transportation in our region. The Ohio Department of Transportation’s investment in road and bridge improvements in our region will exceed $1 billion and will provide much needed highway capacity to support the continued expansion of commerce moving through the area.
These positive trends and investments all point to a vibrant and growing Northwest Ohio economy, which is poised to continue its positive momentum into 2015 and beyond.
Paul Toth is president and CEO of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.