January 16, 2003
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Community leaders consider how to bring commerce park to town

If Yellow Springs has an antibusiness bias, that bias was not apparent Monday morning when more than 40 community leaders met to discuss ideas about creating a commerce park in Yellow Springs.

“We’ll never get everyone to agree but there’s a huge consensus right here that this is the direction we want to go,” said Dan Young, the CEO of Young’s Jersey Dairy, at the end of the meeting. The meeting, held at the Golden Jersey Inn, was sponsored by Community Resources, of which Young is a member. Representatives of local businesses, government, schools and community groups were invited to attend.

A volunteer community development group, Community Resources has, since its inception in 1999, worked toward enhancing business development in Yellow Springs, including sponsoring research that laid the groundwork toward developing a commerce park. While the Village Planning Commission tried to craft a new zoning district for a park, disagreements among plan board members about sustainability requirements brought the zoning issue to a standstill a few months ago.

This week, Community Resources representatives urged Village Council to move ahead with developing a commerce park. Council president Tony Arnett presented a proposal in which the Village would work with a developer to build a park in what he called an “enterprise zone.”

A commerce park needs to be developed in Yellow Springs to provide space for new businesses to move into the village and space for existing businesses to expand, Community Resources said in a presentation at the meeting. With Vernay Laboratories’ decision last year to close its Yellow Springs plants, the village’s tax base is declining, and with a declining tax base, the cost of living in Yellow Springs will rise and quality of life will suffer, the group said.

A sense of urgency was also apparent among those who attended the Jan. 13 gathering, especially in light of the Vernay decision.

“If people don’t see the advantage of more businesses, they need to know that if we don’t have them, the cost of living in Yellow Springs will skyrocket,” said Chuck Colbert, a retired businessman.

But those who attended Monday’s meeting didn’t seem to need to be convinced about the need for a commerce park. Rather, they wanted to know how to go about getting one.

To create a successful commerce park, organizers need first to envision the sort of park they want, said one of the meeting’s presenters.

“The first step toward getting where you want to go is knowing where you want to go,” said J. C. Wallace, the president of the Springfield-Clark County Chamber of Commerce and former business development executive with the State of Ohio. The other speaker was Phil Houston, director of the Greene County Department of Development.

Commerce park organizers need to target the kind of businesses they want, then actively recruit those businesses, said Wallace. Doing so will go a long way toward overcoming the “antibusiness” reputation that many associate with Yellow Springs, he said.

But even more important than recruiting new businesses is taking care of the businesses already in the community, said both Wallace and Houston.

“The bulk of growth comes from companies that are already here,” said Houston, who encouraged commerce park organizers to discuss with local companies their needs and their plans for growth, and to try to meet those needs. According to Wallace, about 80 percent of jobs in most commerce parks come from expansion of existing businesses.

Existing businesses, such as YSI Incorporated, The Antioch Company, Morris Bean & Company and Vernay are strengths the village already possesses, said Houston, who encouraged developers to “identify your strengths and work from there.” Antioch is also a strength, said Houston, who suggested that Antioch alumni might be targeted as potential business owners.

Initially, commerce park organizers need to “get control” of the land on which the park will be built, whether through purchasing the land or entering into binding agreements with the land’s owners. Without such control over the land, said both Wallace and Houston, commerce park organizers cannot offer potential park businesses the stability they need to sign on, since future costs might suddenly change. More than anything, said both men, new businesses seek stability in a commerce park location.

Discussion about a commerce park location centered on two local land parcels located on East Enon Road on the west edge of the village. One 40-acre parcel is currently owned by Vernay and the other parcel is owned by the Pitstick family. The parcels are identified as areas for commercial development in a cooperative economic development agreement, or CEDA, which Council and the Miami Township trustees approved last year.

Commerce park developers need to offer some “covenants,” or guidelines for businesses locating there, said Houston, who said that local parks with no covenants did not succeed until they established some.

“It’s important not to be too restrictive but to have some guidelines,” he said. In response to a question from Planning Commission member Cy Tebbetts, both Houston and Wallace said they thought that legislating environmental sustainability into commerce park guidelines could be too restrictive.

“To mandate sustainability would be a deterrent,” said Houston. “If this is something the community really desires, it would be better to use incentives” to encourage companies to use sustainable practices.

Park developers also need to offer adequate water and sewer access, said Wallace. In addition, high-tech companies are especially interested in fiber optics access, he said. Developers also need to put in roads and landscaping, or to know clearly what landscaping expenses incoming businesses would have, he said. While developers don’t need to “build all of the infrastructure to start with,” they need to be able to provide businesses’ infrastructure needs when they need them, said Wallace.

Antioch University also has some space available for use, said Vice Chancellor Glenn Watts, explaining that the top two floors of the Kettering Building could be available for a low rent.

“The university is very interested in promoting” local businesses, he said.

Another aspect of creating a commerce park is offering a desirable location, and Yellow Springs has an advantage in being situated near the corridor of I-70 and I-75, offering easy access to Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus, said Wallace. “We’re not in the middle of Kansas,” he said.

Ohio is also developing a “good reputation” for foreign business investment, said Wallace. Ohio is currently the No. 1 state in terms of Japanese investment and the No. 2 in European investment, he said.

Along with stability and location, potential businesses also seek a strong work force, said Wallace, and in this category, Yellow Springs excels.

“One of the first things people are looking for is, ‘can you get me the employees who will make the business successful?’ ” he said. “The proximity to Antioch is an asset.”

While Yellow Springs can offer a unique quality of life, “quality of life is not generally a main criterion” for businesses seeking a new location, said Wallace. However, he said, some small high-tech companies, currently located in cities, often consider relocating to smaller communities and the uniqueness of Yellow Springs might be a selling point for those businesses.

Working against Yellow Springs as a commerce park site is the current economic recession and the village’s tax rates, which cause local businesses to pay the third highest taxes in the Miami Valley, behind only Sugarcreek Township and Oakwood, said Houston.

More difficult for the community to overcome, he said, is its reputation, “the image that we’re not interested in businesses coming to the community.”

Several in the audience sought suggestions as to how to overcome Yellow Springs’ “antibusiness” image. The village needs to market itself aggressively, said Houston. “There are possibilities that can be explored,” including tours for area realtors to familiarize them with the village and promoting Yellow Springs on regional, state and national databases, he said.

Rather than trying to “fix” the antibusiness image, community leaders could “feature” it, said Mike Gardner, who suggested confronting the image directly in ads such as one asking, “Who would want to move to an antibusiness town? Maybe you would,” and then enumerating the village’s advantages.

But the notion that Yellow Springs is antibusiness isn’t accurate, said Julia Cady.

“It’s a rumor and we can’t be concerned with rumors,” she said. “We can counteract that with education and facts. One of our key tasks is education.”

The meeting’s large turnout indicates that villagers have a keen interest in developing a commerce park, said Wallace.

“It’s exciting to see so many people come together” around the issue, he said.


—Diane Chiddister