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TOP MICROPOLITANS OF 2015
From Site Selection magazine, March 2016
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The Findlay Formula

TOP MICROPOLITANS OF 2015
One Energy LLC installed these wind turbines to help power two major factories in Findlay.
Photo courtesy of One Energy LLC

by RON STARNER

Talk to enough business leaders in Findlay, and you’ll learn why this northwestern Ohio community is racking up the awards for economic development achievement.

Findlay — the home of Cooper Tire, Marathon Petroleum and Whirlpool dishwashers — has found the formula for sustainable success.

While many locations in America have shown the ability to excel at securing corporate facility investments in a single year, or possibly two, few can match the long-term track record of Findlay in Hancock County, about 40 miles south of Toledo.

In 2015, Findlay duplicated its feat of 2014 by securing more facility deals than any of the other 575 micropolitan areas in the country. Even more remarkable is the fact that since 2000, only four small towns in America have ranked in the top 10 at least 10 times. Findlay is one of them.

The Office of Management and Budget in the White House defines a micropolitan statistical area as one or more adjacent counties that have at least one urban core area of at least 10,000 population but less than 50,000, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.

2015 Top States by Number of Projects in Top Micros

Top Micropolitan Projects Map
Rank Micropolitan Count
1 Findlay, Ohio 26
2 Cullman, Ala. 18
3 Wooster, Ohio 14
4 Tupelo, Miss. 13
T5 Batavia, N.Y. 11
T5 Shelby, N.C. 11
7 Frankfort, Ky. 9
T8 Scottsboro, Ala. 8
T8 Valley, Ala. 8
T10 Danville, Ky. 7
T10 Maryville, Mo. 7
T10 Somerset, Ky. 7
T13 Bardstown, Ky. 6
T13 Burlington, Iowa-Ill. 6
T13 Celina, Ohio 6
T13 Durant, Okla. 6
T13 Greenville, Ohio 6
T13 Kearney, Neb. 6
T13 Richmond, Ind. 6
T13 Sidney, Ohio 6
T13 Watertown-Fort Atkinson, Wis. 6
T22 Alma, Mich. 5
T22 Ashland, Ohio 5
T22 Kinston, N.C. 5
T22 LaGrange, Ga. 5
T22 London, Ky. 5
T22 Plattsburgh, N.Y. 5
T22 Seneca, S.C. 5
T29 Albertville, Ala. 4
T29 Batesville, Ark. 4
T29 Douglas, Ga. 4
T29 Fitzgerald, Ga. 4
T29 Freeport, Ill. 4
T29 New Philadelphia-Dover, Ohio 4
T29 Orangeburg, S.C. 4
T29 Ottawa-Peru, Ill. 4
T29 Rochelle, Ill. 4
T29 Toccoa, Ga. 4
T39 Angola, Ind. 3
T39 Athens, Tenn. 3
T39 Beaver Dam, Wis. 3
T39 Bluefield, W.Va.-Va. 3
T39 Chillicothe, Ohio 3
T39 Clarksburg, W.Va. 3
T39 Coffeyville, Kan. 3
T39 Cookeville, Tenn. 3
T39 Emporia, Kan. 3
T39 Enid, Okla. 3
T39 Fernley, Nev. 3
T39 Fremont, Ohio 3
T39 Hastings, Neb. 3
T39 Kendallville, Ind. 3
T39 Lumberton, N.C. 3
T39 Madisonville, Ky. 3
T39 Manitowoc, Wis. 3
T39 Marion, Ohio 3
T39 Martinsville, Va. 3
T39 Mason City, Iowa 3
T39 Mount Airy, N.C. 3
T39 Natchitoches, La. 3
T39 Norwalk, Ohio 3
T39 Paducah, Ky.-Ill. 3
Rank Micropolitan Count
T39 Paris, Tenn. 3
T39 Pottsville, Pa. 3
T39 Salem, Ohio 3
T39 Sanford, N.C. 3
T39 Shelbyville, Tenn. 3
T39 Tiffin, Ohio 3
T39 Warsaw, Ind. 3
T39 Watertown, S.D. 3
T39 West Plains, Mo. 3
T39 Wilmington, Ohio 3
T73 Aberdeen, S.D. 2
T73 Adrian, Mich. 2
T73 Alexandria, Minn. 2
T73 Auburn, Ind. 2
T73 Augusta-Waterville, Maine 2
T73 Bartlesville, Okla. 2
T73 Beatrice, Neb. 2
T73 Bellefontaine, Ohio 2
T73 Bennettsville, S.C. 2
T73 Brainerd, Minn. 2
T73 Brookings, S.D. 2
T73 Burley, Idaho 2
T73 Campbellsville, Ky. 2
T73 Coldwater, Mich. 2
T73 Danville, Va. 2
T73 Decatur, Ind. 2
T73 Defiance, Ohio 2
T73 Faribault-Northfield, Minn. 2
T73 Forest City, N.C. 2
T73 Fremont, Neb. 2
T73 Garden City, Kan. 2
T73 Gardnerville Ranchos, Nev. 2
T73 Glasgow, Ky. 2
T73 Hilo, Hawaii 2
T73 Ionia, Mich. 2
T73 Jackson, Ohio 2
T73 Jefferson, Ga. 2
T73 Laramie, WY 2
T73 Lexington, Neb. 2
T73 Marion, Ind. 2
T73 Mayfield, Ky. 2
T73 Maysville, Ky. 2
T73 McPherson, Kan. 2
T73 Miami, Okla. 2
T73 Moberly, Mo. 2
T73 Morgan City, La. 2
T73 Mount Sterling, Ky. 2
T73 Muscatine, Iowa 2
T73 New Castle, Ind. 2
T73 Paris, Texas 2
T73 Rockingham, N.C. 2
T73 Sandusky, Ohio 2
T73 Starkville, Miss. 2
T73 Thomasville, Ga. 2
T73 Tullahoma-Manchester, Tenn. 2
T73 Twin Falls, Idaho 2
T73 Vidalia, Ga. 2
T73 Wapakoneta, Ohio 2
T73 Washington, N.C. 2
T73 Whitewater-Elkhorn, Wis. 2
T73 Wilson, N.C. 2
T73 Winona, Minn. 2
Source: Conway Projects Database

In 2015, Ohio produced more Top 100 Micropolitans than any other state — 19 — while Kentucky came in second with nine. Wooster, Ohio, which won this category two years ago, finished third with 14 projects, behind No. 2 micropolitan Cullman, Ala. Rounding out the top six were Tupelo, Miss., with 13 projects, followed by Batavia, N.Y., and Shelby, N.C., which each had 11.

Other Ohio communities in the Top 40 included Celena, Greenville, Sidney, Ashland, New Philadelphia-Dover, Chillicothe, Fremont, Marion, Norwalk, Salem, Tiffin and Wilmington.

Roy Schroeder, Fluid Power Auto
Roy Schroeder, Lead Center Manager, Fluid Power Automotive, Findlay, stands next to one of the Ohio facility’s small single-cavity molding presses.
Photo courtesy of Freudenberg Group

Findlay’s 26 qualifying investment deals even topped its record-setting mark of 20 registered just one year earlier. For a town of 42,000 people, it’s an accomplishment that many larger cities would envy.

Many will want to know how Findlay achieved this rare mark; and that’s where the words of the corporate deal-makers are most relevant. The executives who keep spending business capital in Hancock County say they are bullish on Findlay because Findlay is bullish on them.

Danish Firm Likes ‘Farm Country’

“I like the town due to the fact that it is uncrowded,” says Martin Jones, plant manager for Hamlet Protein in Findlay. “This is a pleasant place to live. The availability of amenities like restaurants, entertainment, movie theaters and social activities is quite good. And the logistics make sense too.”

Hamlet Protein, an international animal feed company based in Horsens, Denmark, announced last year that it would invest $13 million to expand its Findlay operation by 9,200 sq. ft. (855 sq. m.) and add four jobs.

“We are expanding our production capacity here by 50 percent,” says Jones. “We originally pursued this building in Findlay in 2011 and started our first production line here in 2012 because of the availability of raw materials in the area. There are many soybean farmers in this part of Ohio. This is farm country.”

MPC MPLX Building
In this January 2016 photo, the Marathon Green is in the foreground, with the South Garage (right), the MPLX building (left) and the skywalk (far left) connecting the MPLX building to the existing Marathon building all under construction.
Photo courtesy of MPC

The presence of many automotive manufacturing suppliers in Findlay and surrounding Northwest Ohio brings benefits for animal feed processors too, notes Jones. “With Interstate 75 and the rail system here, there are great logistics,” he says. “The workforce is well-trained and motivated too. We have 28 employees here now. It is very attractive to work with a company that is growing like Hamlet. This is a good business to be in, and the Tall Timbers Industrial Park in Findlay is a great location.”

Others who firmly planted their flag in the city nicknamed “Flag City, USA” agree. Michael Jastifer, director of real estate for North America for Freudenberg Group, says, “Our experience was nothing but exemplary. We had some choices on where to put our investment, and we chose Findlay.”

The German automotive supplier, which makes seals for engines and transmissions, announced an $8.6-million investment that adds 25 jobs to its existing plant in Findlay.

“The elected officials and economic development leaders went far beyond the call of duty to make this deal happen for us,” adds Jastifer. “We were looking at expansions throughout the North American region. We had some challenges in Findlay because we did not own the building. We had to acquire the facility and do a 43,000-sq.-ft. 3,995-sq.-m.] addition.”

Jastifer adds that “the mayor of Findlay reached out right away to us and put us in touch with all the right people. Tony Iriti [economic development director] and his people went above and beyond to make sure we had everything we needed and did everything right. This project went seamlessly.”

Michael Jastiffer

“Our experience was nothing but exemplary. We had some choices on where to put our investment, and we chose Findlay.”
— Michael Jastifer, Director of Real Estate for North America for Freudenberg Group

Jastifer credits the city and county with helping his firm meet “a very abbreviated timeline for the project. As a result of their efforts, we will have our certificate of occupancy any day now and be fully operational. We started this project last March and we have now completed it.”

Looking back on the project, Jastifer says that “it was probably one of the most successful, problem-free builds I have ever done in my career. Findlay does everything in a very organized manner. It is a real partnership with the local community, the county, the EDO team and the utility companies. They were all at the table from the very beginning, and so was the State of Ohio.”

Manufacturing Expertise Lures Capital

Roy Schroeder, lead center manager for fluid power automotive for Freudenberg in Findlay, says the location factors that sealed the deal were as follows:

  • Findlay’s proximity to major highways
  • “Our plant’s proximity to major customers”
  • “The effectiveness and efficiency of Findlay’s business-friendly community, economic development organization and the State of Ohio”
  • “Access to a highly skilled workforce that has good work habits and manufacturing expertise.”

“Freudenberg expends significant time evaluating all of our facilities to ensure their operational effectiveness and whether capital investments into their real estate or production capabilities can further support their ongoing business requirements,” says Schroeder. “Findlay was one of many locations considered for capital investment.”

He adds that “the evaluations of Findlay as a location for capital investment were part of a larger North American regional analysis of all of our facilities. As it affected the Findlay location, the process took about a year and a half, start to finish.”

Tony Iriti, economic development director for Findlay-Hancock County Economic Development, says there are two major reasons why Findlay has won the Top Micropolitan award in back-to-back years: “One is that we have a really strong business retention and expansion program. We know what our businesses are doing and where we can help our local companies. The second part is that we have such a diverse manufacturing and back-office community. Over the last 10 years, we have seen about a 12-percent growth in the number of jobs. Most of that is based on internal and organic growth.”

Oktoberfest 2015, Findlay, Ohio
Oktoberfest is one of the largest annual street festivals in Findlay.
Photo courtesy of Findlay-Hancock County ED

Iriti wants the world to know, however, that this success did not happen overnight. “It truly was the result of a strategic plan that started in 1983,” he explains. “Mobil Oil tried to take over Marathon on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in 1983. Cooper Tire came out and said that if we have all of our eggs in one basket and lose that one basket, it is not good for us as a community. We knew then that we had to diversify the industries in the community. A strategic plan was then put into place when our economic development organization was founded.”

The rest, as they say, is history. The leadership of Findlay and Hancock County began putting into place all of the key support programs needed to shore up existing industry and help attract new companies. By the early 2000s, Findlay had emerged as one of the top small towns in America.

Over the past decade, Findlay has only widened its lead over the competition. “We have a Workforce Strategic Plan called Raise the Bar — Hancock County. Our mission is to have a prepared and expanding workforce allowing for growth now and in the future. To fill the ‘now’ portion we have a program called Hancock HIRES. It stands for Helping Individuals Reach Employment Stability. To fill the ‘future’ we need to organically grow our employee base in cooperation with our education partners,” says Iriti.

Every aspect of the community is involved in this effort, says Iriti. “Even our pre-K education is part of this. In conjunction with our community foundation and our United Way, we were able to have scholarships for 200 more students to attend pre-school,” he notes. “At the other end of the spectrum, we have our technical education and our community colleges and universities. We have four universities within 90 miles to supply engineers. Owens Community College and the University of Findlay are both here. Bowling Green State University is nearby, and so is the University of Toledo. Ohio Northern University is just 25 minutes away.”

Is Findlay the New Windy City?

Workforce is a big reason why One Energy LLC is making a $20-million wind energy investment in Findlay. The presence of large manufacturing companies in town attracted One Energy to the area.

The Findlay-based firm has installed five wind turbines to help power the Whirlpool and Ball Corp. factories in town. “Each facility will get roughly 20 percent of its power from wind energy on site,” says Jereme Kent, general manager of One Energy. “These are 1.5 megawatts each. Each is about 400 feet tall and each produces enough power for well over 300 homes. We were able to lower the cost of power for these large factories while doing something that is incredibly environmentally friendly.”

For a town that’s made its fortune on the backs of the oil and automotive industries, the investment by One Energy marks a significant milestone. “I don’t know that this could have been done anyplace but Findlay,” says Kent. “It has a disproportionate business community for a town this size. It has Cooper, Lowe’s, Best Buy, Whirlpool, Ball, etc. We could not have picked a better location.”

Kent also likes the way that Findlay’s leaders look forward, not backward. “Findlay wants to be an innovator,” he says. “They go out of their way to help businesses innovate. We were able to do a one-of-a-kind project like this with the full support of the community. We were willing to invest because of the companies that we were doing business with.”


“The one thing that stands out in our community is the connectivity between all of the key leaders and organizations in our community. Everyone works together here. It is all about collective impact.”
— Tony Iriti, Director of Economic Development, Findlay-Hancock Economic Development

Kent says he knows that companies in Findlay are committed for the long haul. “We know that these companies are going to be here for decades,” he says. “This is such a welcoming environment for innovation.”

2015 Top Ten States by Number of Micropolitans

Top States with Most Micros
Rank State Count
1 Ohio 19
2 Kentucky 9
T3 Indiana 6
T3 North Carolina 6
T5 Georgia 5
T5 Illinois 5
T7 Tennessee 4
T7 Alabama 4
T7 Nebraska 4
T7 Michigan 4
Source: Conway Projects Database

One Energy is not done investing either, he adds. “We are going to continue to expand our North Findlay Wind Campus,” he says. “This campus will continue to evolve. With the high-end office space and other development that is here, we will build out more industrial space for a mixed-use campus. Our staff is continuing to grow. We have 16 employees here now; we had eight last year. We will double or triple in staff in the next few years. This project is really the proof of concept for big corporations for using on-site wind energy generation for industrial facilities. We are a full-service wind industry supplier. We do construction, procurement, finance, etc. — we do projects for corporate entities.”

Kent says his firm is actively targeting Ohio now because “Ohio has some of the clearer and more favorable laws in the country for net metering. You can use your own green energy resource in Ohio. You are allowed to go to net-zero no matter how large you are in Ohio.”

He adds that “manufacturing requires energy, and that’s why we like Northwest Ohio.”

‘Entrepreneurship Starts at Home’

Judging from the results of 2015, lots of companies are taking a liking to Northwest Ohio. In Hancock County alone, 26 corporate facilities investments qualified for inclusion in the Conway New Plant Database. The largest was Nissin Brake Ohio’s $37-million factory investment.

Other large deals of the year in Findlay came from American Tire Distributors ($16 million); Whirlpool ($8 million); Pressed Paper Board Technologies ($6 million); and Garner Transportation ($4 million).

Iriti says the early returns from January and February point to a very promising 2016 for Findlay. “We already have six companies that we have visited, and from them at least four are going to do something this year,” he notes. “We are pretty excited about 2016.”

Findlay is attracting more entrepreneurs these days as well, he adds. “We have a small business organization underneath our EDC,” says Iriti. “We inherited a building that used to be an incubator. For the first several years, it never really did anything. Today, we have four incubator companies within that building, and they are all working on different projects. Our Small Business Resource Center was able to help these folks. We know that is important. Entrepreneurship starts at home.”

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Inc. He has been with Conway for 16 years and serves as editor of the TrustBelt Report and lead organizer of the annual TrustBelt Conference. He also writes extensively for Site Selection and Conway's Custom Content Publishing Division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.

  



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