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Editorial: Development agency’s approach keeps paying off

August 28, 2018

David E. Malloy/For The Herald-Dispatch The Lawrence Economic Development Corporation is building a five-unit strip mall adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce office on Collins Avenue. A restaurant, Bellacino's, has already claimed one of the units and the LEDC is seeking additional tenants.

The notion that “if you build it, he will come” was put forth in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” by an Iowa farmer portrayed by actor Kevin Costner. A voice put the idea into his head that he should construct a baseball field on a section of a cornfield. And indeed, someone - ghostly players from an earlier era - did show up.

Much the same strategy has been a staple of the Lawrence Economic Development Corp. in Lawrence County, Ohio. But that organization’s building effort has been focused on industrial and commercial buildings used to attract employers and jobs.

Unlike the “Field of Dreams” movie, the LEDC’s effort are not part of a fantasy. Its approach of constructing shell buildings and seeking purchasers or tenants to fill them have produced real results over the last two decades.

Recently, the LEDC has adopted the same approach to producing more commercial activity. It is erecting a five-unit, 8,800-square-foot strip mall adjacent to the county’s Chamber of Commerce office near the entrance to The Point industrial park. This effort also appears to be working.

A restaurant has agreed to occupy one of the units, and there already is another potential tenant for a second unit.

Constructing shell buildings as part of its efforts to grow Lawrence County’s economic base has paid off handsomely for the region, starting back in 2004 when development officials celebrated the announcement that a $1.3 million, 42,000-square-foot structure was ready for occupancy at The Point industrial park. That was the culmination of an aggressive effort to make road, sewer and water infrastructure improvements to the 500-acre former site of Allied Chemical and South Point Ethanol. There were no definite tenants at that point, but officials were optimistic that with a good location and some hard work, they could retool the old industrial site and bring jobs to Lawrence County.

They have succeeded. Employers who have located in The Point now provide about 700 jobs, with prospects that more will be added. One of the latest major developments is the opening of the $30 million HarbisonWalker International manufacturing plant, which will bring about 40 jobs.

The strip mall is not a development on that scale, however it will provide more employment opportunities.

The LEDC has accomplished much so far this century, and it’s expected to do more. And its methods hold lessons for other economic development agencies in the region.

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