Allen County, Ohio
at the crossroads of Northwestern Ohio
With great transportation links, an outward focus, and economic projects planned, Allen County is poised for growth
Located in the heart of northwestern Ohio, Allen County radiates optimism and growth. With a population of 102,000 and a diverse business community, the region is seeing an upward trend in economic development and population expansion.
Dave Stratton, President and CEO of Allen Economic Development Group, sheds light on the county’s strategic location: “We’re at the intersection of the United States. Considering the 60-mile radius, we are at about 1.5 million people.”
The intersection of Interstate 75 and Highway 30, connecting Lima to major cities such as Toledo, Fort Wayne, Dayton, and Mansfield, has proven to be a significant advantage for Allen County. Businesses are increasingly drawn to the area due to its accessibility and distribution opportunities. Stratton explains, “About 60% of the population of the United States is within a 1-day drive from Lima, Ohio.”
Over the past four years, Allen County has attracted more than $2 billion in capital investments, with numbers climbing steadily despite a brief dip in 2020. Stratton is proud of the progress, saying, “We believe that the investment taking place within the private business community is advantageous for Lima/Allen County.”
As a testament to Allen County’s rapid growth and economic investment, two notable foreign companies have recently established a presence in the region. Stratton shares details about these thriving businesses:
“The first one is deSter from Belgium.” Boasting approximately 80 employees, deSter’s 250,000-square-foot plastics manufacturing facility is a shining example of the county’s flourishing industrial sector.
Another recent addition to Allen County’s business landscape is Logoplaste, a Portuguese plastics company. Stratton explains that the growth of manufacturing in the area has drawn such businesses to Lima/Allen County.
One significant company with a facility in Allen County, Procter & Gamble, has a plan to invest $501 million in a new scent, beads manufacturing plant, cementing its commitment to the region. Stratton highlights the significance of this investment, saying, “Approximately 7% of all the product that P&G produces worldwide comes out of the Lima facility.”
The arrival of deSter and Logoplaste, coupled with the substantial investment from Procter & Gamble, speaks to Allen County’s burgeoning economic growth and its attractiveness to domestic and international companies.
Having weathered the pandemic, Cory Noonan, Allen County Commissioner, believes the county’s resilience can be attributed to strong leadership, a collaborative spirit, and a focus on supporting new and existing businesses.
Noonan underscores the importance of the private sector, stating, “Those are the ones that I’d put on top of the hill.” He further emphasizes the role of existing businesses in creating new jobs: “80% of new jobs come from existing businesses.”
The success of the county and the region hinges on partnerships between various organizations, including Allen Economic Development Group, the Greater Lima Region, local chambers of commerce, Ohio Means Jobs, and the robust Port Authority of Allen County. Additionally, collaboration with state and local governments has been instrumental in overcoming bureaucratic obstacles that might otherwise hinder investment and growth.
Noonan also highlights the importance of safety measures and the work of the county Sheriff and local police departments, stating, “It’s not the easiest time to be that safety service individual.” He praises the Sheriff’s outside-the-box thinking and successful recruiting efforts, which have helped maintain safety and security in the region.
Adding his voice to outlining the city’s shining reputation, Russ Decker, a long-term resident, and Special Projects Manager at Nutrien Lima Nitrogen, emphasizes the importance of collaboration for the region’s growth. He cites numerous instances of industry working closely with local and state authorities to address infrastructure needs, such as widening roads to accommodate increased truck traffic.
As chair of the county’s manufacturing council, Decker underscores the value of public-private partnerships and highlights the unique Lima Area Security and Emergency Response (Laser) group as an example of collaboration between the private sector and law enforcement.
Decker also highlights the county’s affordability and connectivity, as well as its proximity to major cities, as some of the reasons he has chosen to stay in Allen County.
He explains, “Our cost of living in Lima Allen County is much less than Columbus, Cleveland, or Fort Wayne.” This cost-of-living advantage, coupled with the region’s accessibility, helps attract talent to local businesses.
In addition to the cost-of-living benefits, Decker’s experience commuting from Allen County to Columbus for five years illustrates a solid commitment to the area. He describes the choice to remain in Allen County as a testament to its appeal, emphasizing its unique combination of affordability, accessibility, and opportunities for collaboration.
In Allen County, workforce development is a key focus, with numerous educational institutions and technical schools working with local industries to provide opportunities for residents. Decker highlights the wealth of resources in the area, such as Bluffton University, the University of Northwestern Ohio, The Ohio State University Lima campus, Rhodes State College, Apollo Career Center, and Vantage Career Center.
In a new local initiative, a pre-apprenticeship program targeting at-risk high school graduates is set to launch this fall. The program is a collaborative effort between industries, schools, businesses, and the building trades, aimed at helping young people acquire the necessary skills to enter apprenticeship programs.
Decker explains, “We’re going to have people from the construction trades work with those young people to get them the skills they need to apply and get apprenticeship programs and start making wages and earning a living.”
The program aims to empower participants by providing them with the skills to secure well-paying jobs in various business and construction occupations. Decker emphasizes the importance of supporting diverse career paths: “We need all those people. We tell the young folks in our community that whatever they want to do, they can learn the skills and work here.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to pivot to remote work, with some adopting hybrid models that have become increasingly popular. In Allen County, industries like manufacturing have had to adapt to these changes and assess the feasibility of incorporating remote work into their operations.
Decker acknowledges that while some manufacturing positions, like chemical operators or assembly line workers, require on-site presence, there are roles in which hybrid work models could be implemented.
Decker emphasizes the importance of flexibility in talent attraction and retention, saying, “We try to manage these work arrangements on a one-by-one basis. We ask, can it be done remotely? Can we do it as a hybrid where they’re on-site three days a week, maybe working a couple of days a week remotely?”
Companies in Allen County are making these decisions individually, striving to provide employees with the best work environment while ensuring the continuity of operations.
Nevertheless, manufacturing industries, such as Ford engine plants or Nutrien’s chemical plants, have positions that cannot work remotely due to the critical nature of their tasks. In these cases, having key on-site personnel is essential for maintaining safe and efficient operations.
As Stratton emphasizes, Allen County is big on collaboration, partnership, and teamwork.
“These aspects are crucial to ensuring the success and retention of businesses in Allen County.”
“Companies need to know that they have advocates and support systems to build their business and to stay in the region. The local officials have built relationships at various levels, from the state level with JobsOhio and the Ohio Department of Development to the regional level with the Regional Growth Partnership. Additionally, relationships have been strengthened at the local level, with city, county, and township officials, regional planning, and the engineer’s office,” he adds.
In addition to retaining local businesses, Stratton and the Commissioners are also looking to bring in more small entrepreneurial ventures, such as mom-and-pop shops, boutiques, and restaurants to further diversify and strengthen Allen County’s economy. By fostering a supportive environment and prioritizing collaboration, Allen County aims to create a thriving business landscape that benefits existing and new businesses and makes for a great place for residents to work, live and play.
Like other regions across the country, Stratton acknowledges that workforce development is a significant challenge in Allen County. The county is addressing this issue by undertaking several initiatives to train young people and retain them within the county.
One such initiative is the development of a Makerspace in Lima, which will provide essential training in collaboration with local academic institutions like Apollo and Rhodes State. This will aid in the engagement and training of local residents for future employment.
Another key initiative is MakerFest, an event to engage high school students with local businesses. Stratton explains, “MakerFest will bring in more than 1,500 high school students to meet many of the regional businesses for an interactive, engaging event for high school students.”
Decker expands on the revamped MakerFest, which now focuses on younger high school students to encourage early career exploration. Decker says, “We’re trying to get younger kids to start thinking about careers, not necessarily a specific employer, and catch that interest in them in time to adapt their high school scheduling to those classes.”
This shift aims to help students tailor their academic paths to suit their career interests, whether in manufacturing or healthcare, and increase their chances of being hired by local businesses upon graduation.
As a County Commissioner with a long history of civic, local, and state government experience, Noonan shares what motivates him in his current position. Born and raised in Allen County, Noonan had the opportunity to return to his hometown with his wife and young child after starting his career in Columbus.
Emphasizing the importance of family and community, Noonan highlights the range of cultural and recreational opportunities available in the region, including baseball, museums, parks and trails, and performing arts centers.
His varied experiences, growing up on a hog farm and working in the state legislature, have given Noonan a unique perspective on the complexities of achieving success. He acknowledges the collaborative efforts of the community, business leaders, and various organizations in overcoming challenges and fostering growth in Allen County.
Noonan says, “What gets me going is what we have.” He believes that Allen County and the greater northwest Ohio region are fortunate to have engaged and committed individuals working together to create a thriving community. This optimism points to the potential for continued success and growth in Allen County, backed by dedicated leaders and a supportive business and residential community.
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AT A GLANCE
What: A County with ripe economic potential with strategic transport links through the state
Where: Northwest Ohio, US
Rhodes State College – www.rhodesstate.edu
For over 50 years, Rhode State has changed lives, built futures, and improved communities through lifelong learning. With over 100 majors and certificates, Rhodes State College has become the right place for students who want to make an impact. We are creating a quality, affordable pathway for students to accomplish their goals through partnerships with businesses, manufacturers, healthcare providers, and organizations in our ten-county service area. Students of every variety can experience the excellence of Rhodes State online, on campus, or through our network of educational partners.
PERRY proTECH – www.perryprotech.com
Perry ProTECH is a Managed services organization specializing in Imaging technology solutions and Managed Network Services. Since 1965 we’ve partnered with clients to leverage technology solutions to solve their business goals and create a secure, cost-effective environment. We provide local sales and service to OH, IN, and MI communities.
Central District Lima – www.centraldistrictlima.com
Downtown Lima’s next major project is the Central District, a $4 million effort to transform a block of empty warehouses and undeveloped green space along Central Avenue into a collection of flats, urban dining, retail and makerspace venues, which organizers imagine will become a must-see attraction in downtown Lima.