Port Authority continues to increase in 2015

GROWTH COMING to Jefferson County via its port authority is expected to continue increasing throughout 2015, with cooperative approaches to possible new ventures also on the rise, according to Evan Scurti, the first executive director of the local authority.

And, even though there is unprecedented regional growth being seen directly associated with the gas and oil industry, the gaze of the leadership team at the Jefferson County Port Authority is much broader than simply focusing on a single industry or a single part of the community.

“Our goal is to provide comprehensive economic development services to a variety of sectors, always with the goal of increasing opportunities for gainful employment,” Scurti said.

The county’s planned industrial park has only about 40 acres left.

“With no other comparable setting in the county, we are working on future port ownership and or development scenarios,” he recently explained.

“Aside from modern industrial parks, the willingness of both Strauss Industries and Esmark to showcase the properties to unique heavy industry and or energy users is a great asset to the county. The buildings, including crane capacity, rail and barge service, high ceilings, and wide open spaces, will be attractive to a variety of users as this area sees interest from manufacturers,” said Scurti.

He stepped into his position a little over a year ago.

“The port authority is incorporating the properties into its marketing materials, especially information on unique Ohio Port Authority tools that can be attractive to capital intensive projects,” Scurti offered.

Those tools include the possibilities of such things as offering sales tax abatements and bond financing, he explained.

While it is important to note port authority efforts often look outside the local area for possible business ventures to bring here, the importance of looking a bit closer to home for growth business opportunities is not being overlooked by the local entity.

“We are focused on close partnerships with all local governments, as there are several situations of growing companies that local communities are trying to retain in Jefferson County,” he offered, noting there are ideas being rolled out in 2015 for increased and renewed entrepreneurship, as there are opportunities for local start-ups to capture more of the regional retail trade.

The Port Authority’s consistent message regarding its overall mission is becoming a full-service, comprehensive economic development organization capable of guiding the county into a more prosperous future.

To that end, the Authority’s participation in 2014 of the Eastern Ohio Development Alliance’s year-long process of interaction with larger market real estate agents has been an effective avenue to expand awareness of the positive aspects of living and or working in Jefferson County, according to Scurti.

“EODA collected various available property profiles from each county level economic development office. The material was inserted into a regional booklet and distributed to real estate agents in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus who then joined us at networking events in their respective cities,” said Scurti.

“The theory behind the marketing piece and events is that these larger markets have historically overlooked the Appalachian/Ohio River region. However, the oil and gas activity in our area has suddenly forced manufacturers and suppliers to consider warehousing or manufacturing sites in Eastern Ohio,” said Scurti.

The bottom line: increase familiarity of others from outside markets with positive things about living or working in Jefferson County.

Another of the networking sources with whom Scurti established a growing relationship in the previous year expected to continue into 2015 is the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth’s Community Economic Development Academy.

The CEDA process led to the authority accessing an AEP grant for $10,000.

Those funds will be used in support of strengthening the authority’s website and marketing materials as well as to be host to additional real estate workshops in 2015.

Thanks to information gleaned from CEDA, the authority is finalizing a very data -specific information packet designed for site selection needs and real estate professional reader. It also includes local utility data, transportation details, tax rates, and population figures compiled into one booklet.

Results from all these activities have already brought more than 20 legitimate inquiries into the development office in recent months, said Scurti.

From those efforts to date, there have been several “current prospect discussions.”

Scurti described those results as “great possibilities” for significant investment and the possibility of creating up to 150 jobs within the county.

“As we head into 2015, we hope to realize significant new job creation through these and other projects,” said Scurti.

The same information will be made available via booklet and the web, beginning in March.

“The booklet will also be mailed to a targeted list of 100 site consultants and real estate agents we believe are likely to have future clients that align with our assets,” he explained.

The Port Authority’s 2014 fund-raising efforts allowed contributions from private sector which will be used in an effort to begin building a Capital Fund.

As many local governments statewide struggle to maintain infrastructure for local residents and businesses, focused discussions between business communities, local governments and port authorities can provide access to unique resources.

“Ohio Ports are granted unique financing and incentive powers, and we must always explore avenues for retention and growth,” said Scurti. “We are confident we will move our economy forward and ensure that Jefferson County is a premiere Midwest business location.”

From TimesLeaderOnline.com  |  February 24, 2015