By Michael D. White
What do Owens Corning, Amgen, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Boeing, and Kohls have in common?
Each of these firms have selected Licking County, Ohio, as a critically strategic location to expand their business operations and distribution footprint over the long term. Situated adjacent to Ohio’s capital of Columbus with exemplary infrastructure, a talented workforce, and a history rooted in innovation and resiliency, Licking County is well-positioned for growth – and these companies have taken notice.
In May 2021, Fortune 500 company Owens Corning committed to build a state-of-the-art, 750,000 square foot warehouse in the City of Heath that would consolidate much of the company’s existing warehouse capacity in the region. “We occupied several distribution warehouses in the general area, but realized that it was an economic advantage to update our supply chain with one large distribution center,” said Jim Eckert, Global Real Estate Solutions at Owens Corning. VanTrust, the developer of the facility, worked closely with the City of Heath and GROW Licking County, the county’s lead economic development organization, to create a package that met both public and private interests. Included within the development is the construction of a three-lane public road which will provide easy access to the site and open future land for development.
Over the past several years, Licking County has also attracted several Silicon Valley tech giants, including Amazon Web Services and Google, in addition to data centers for AEP Ohio, Nationwide, and Discover Financial to the New Albany Business Park with private investment there totaling more than $4 billion. Also within the business park is Ohio’s first Facebook data center, which began operations in New Albany in February of 2020 on a 340-acre campus built with an initial investment of $1 billion. With plans to eventually add two more buildings, the facility is one of 15 data centers used to power the company’s website and related services maintained by the California-headquartered international tech conglomerate. “We look forward to continuing this strong partnership for many years to come,” said Bobby Hollis, director of global energy, environment, and site selection for Facebook, adding that the company would fund a $190,000 grant to support science, math, and technology programs in Licking County schools.
In addition to logistics & distribution, and data centers, the manufacturing industry is an important part of the Licking County business ecosystem. “Manufacturing is the lifeblood of this community,” said Alexis Fitzsimmons, executive director of GROW Licking County, adding that the sector forms a significant percentage of the County’s economic base and “provides a very stable wage trend that greatly helps community resiliency and stability.” Licking County, she says, “is more than prepared to meet the needs of manufacturers that require a highly-skilled labor base. We’re guiding our workforce in that direction so that we can be prepared to serve U.S. and international companies that are realigning their critical needs with well-paid, motivated workers.”
The Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority is a hub of manufacturing activity in Licking County. Created in 1995 to take over ownership of the Newark Air Force Base after the base was closed and deactivated, the Port Authority has big name tenants that include Boeing and the United States Air Force.
In May 2021, the Port Authority announced that an agreement with Boeing had been reached to extend Boeing’s lease commitment for cleanroom and advanced manufacturing space at the Central Ohio Aerospace and Technology Center for seven years into 2028 with options through 2043. The commitment represents an over $25 million investment by Boeing and with options, would be projected to achieve over $100 million investment.
The aircraft manufacturer recently marked 25 years in Heath where it is engaged in maintenance, repair, and overhaul for a variety of aerospace and defense guidance and navigation systems, as well as the manufacture of radar antennae. Chicago-headquartered Boeing anchors the Port Authority’s manufacturing-oriented campus in Heath and in 2020, the company reported more than $12.1 billion in business in Ohio, which currently serves as the company’s largest supplier state.
Among the County’s diversified industries is the introduction of Amgen, which recently broke ground on their planned $365 million investment in November of 2021. The project includes a 277,000 square foot pharmaceutical packaging facility in New Albany, a suburb of Columbus split between Licking County and Franklin County, that will employ 400 workers and have an annual payroll of around $41 million. The California-based company said the facility will feature its “most advanced assembly and final product packaging capabilities for medicines to be distributed in the U.S.” Slated for completion in 2024, the new Amgen plant is being built on the Licking County side of property that straddles both Licking and Franklin counties. Arleen Paulino, Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Manufacturing, said “the company chose New Albany for its factory because of access to talented workers, favorable operating costs, a centralized location for logistics, and the vibrant business climate.”
“Sharing the Licking County story is so important, and GROW Licking County has taken it under our umbrella to do that,” says Fitzsimmons. In 2018 the agency set several goals to measure the success of their strategic plan, stating that by 2025 they would add 5,000 new jobs, $ 200 million in net new payroll, generate $ 750 million in capital investment, and increase the median household income by $5,000. Already, Licking County has added more than 2,705 new jobs, over 50 percent of the original goal, $121 million in net new payroll, and $3 billion in new investment, and median household income has increased from $59,000 to $66,321.