Recent 'Strengthening Stark' report recommends future infrastructure investment and job growth should be focused around 10 existing sites.
The Finefrock Industrial Park in southwest Massillon was developed in the 1960s and 1970s as a way to bring jobs and capital investment to the area.
Forty years later, it's full, and the businesses in the industrial park — including EB Display and the Heinz plant — account for an estimated 2,000 jobs.
This industrial park, plus other nearby business parks and the Stark County Farm make up one of 10 designated areas across the county where economic development efforts are expected to be focused moving forward.
The recently released "Strengthening Stark" economic development report recommends that future infrastructure investment and job growth be targeted at existing "job hubs" — places where a large concentration of traded-sector employment and transportation infrastructure already exist. It's a strategy intended to increase the county's competitiveness, make jobs more accessible to county residents, drive job growth and stretch limited financial resources.
"The challenge now in a modern area is the scale is so large," said Ted Herncane, who heads both the Massillon WestStark Chamber of Commerce and the Massillon Development Foundation. "It's not a Massillon versus Canton versus Alliance. It's a Stark County/Northeast Ohio versus the rest of the country."
Competing for workers
About 175,000 workers age 16 and older live in Stark County, and about 43,000 of them leave the county for their jobs.
They're not traveling too far away — close to 75 percent of the county's workers have a commute of less than 30 minutes, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released last month. That study doesn't include information about where those people are driving for work, but older census data from 2013 showed about 26,000 workers were headed north to Summit and Cuyahoga counties.
Stark County has more full- and part-time jobs than there are residents in the workforce, and the number of jobs has increased steadily since 2010. But there are 137,000 more jobs in Summit County than Stark County, there have been hundreds more new-business starts in Summit than in Stark and Summit annually averages twice as much major private investment in new or existing businesses than Stark does, state data show.
The Strengthening Stark report indicates Stark County needs to become more competitive in attracting and retaining workers so it has a chance to become younger, more populated and wealthier instead of older, smaller and poorer.
New jobs, however, shouldn't land just anywhere in the county.
The report shows the job growth that has occurred in Stark County has been scattered, making commutes more timely and expensive. Job sprawl also can make it difficult for people to get to and from work if jobs aren't located in places with public transportation — about 10,770 households in Stark County, a majority of which are in the city of Canton, don't have a vehicle, according to census data released last month.
Recommendations in the report say in the future, economic development resources should be focused on growing jobs in areas where there already are many businesses and where there's infrastructure that makes those jobs accessible to all county residents.
Ten locations in Stark County have been identified as "job hubs," or places where the consultants who wrote the "Strengthening Stark" report say future job growth and infrastructure investment should be targeted.
A job hub is an area showing a large concentration of jobs in the traded sector — defined as businesses that export goods and services beyond the local market — and existing transportation infrastructure that makes those jobs accessible.
Based on the map included with the report, the Canton area contains four hubs, the Massillon area has two, the Alliance area has two, and the east and west sides of Interstate 77 traveling through Jackson Township and north out of the county are hubs. The report estimates 40 percent of all the jobs in Stark County are within the boundaries of these 10 locations.
Peter Truog, director of civic innovation and insight for the Cleveland-based nonprofit The Fund for Our Economic Future, worked with Stark County planning and development officials to draw the map of the county's 10 job hubs. He looked at development patterns within the county and plotted businesses with jobs in the traded sector, such as manufacturing or business services.
Job hubs are designated based on companies in the traded-sector because those businesses aren't dependent on the local economy for growth. That matters, Truog said, especially for Stark County, which has a population that is decreasing, aging and becoming poorer.
Research on the website for The Fund for Our Economic Future indicates using job hubs to promote economic development both increases regional economic competitiveness and increases opportunity for residents because it helps different groups involved with economic development to collaborate.
Transportation projects can be prioritized around hubs. The public transit system can direct routes to those areas. Educational institutions and workforce development agencies can train residents in the skills needed to hold jobs available in the hubs. Municipalities can focus limited dollars on maintaining infrastructure near the hubs, instead of paying to build infrastructure somewhere else. Land banks and economic development agencies can determine what properties are available nearby for prospective businesses.
"One of the pushbacks that we get when we talk about this idea is that it implies that you're picking winners and losers," Truog said. "I think the idea is more along the lines of featuring areas of the economy so you have kind of ... a comprehensive portfolio of assets throughout your county that collectively form a stronger whole."
In Stark County
The "Strengthening Stark" report pushes for collaboration among political jurisdictions in economic development efforts, but the job hubs identified in the report mostly are contained within municipal boundaries.
In Canton, where four of the 10 hubs are located, current job growth efforts largely are dictated by what company wants to expand, where there's available space and what that company needs.
Rafael Rodriguez, who works for the city and helps existing businesses grow, said bolstering Canton's job hubs would require figuring out where job sites or land will come from and working out any zoning issues that arise.
"I really think this is a good idea ..., " he said. "At the same time, we have to work with what we have."
The Stark Economic Development Board is expected to coordinate future economic development efforts as they relate to the recommendations in the "Strengthening Stark" report. Another report with more specific plans is coming and will be shared among the more than 20 groups working in economic development here.
The concept of job hubs is included in the county's long-range planning document, which was approved this summer. A future land-use map attached to the document shows the job hub regions are to be dedicated toward industrial use or developed urban use.
Bob Nau, executive director of the Stark County Regional Planning Commission, worked with Truog as he identified the hubs. Nau said he was pleased to see some existing job hubs prioritized because there's a lot of infrastructure in place in the county's urban areas.
As for targeting future infrastructure investment in the hubs, Nau said the county's political subdivisions plan out their state- or federally funded improvements years in advance and that the dollars typically are reserved for fixing existing infrastructure. If the leaders of a city, township or village wanted to put their money toward a project that supports a job hub, his office would be "very supportive" of that, he said.
Reach Alison at 330-580-8312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ABOUT THIS SERIES:
The recently released "Strengthening Stark" report says Stark County is on a trajectory to become less populated, older and poorer unless a significant county-wide effort and financial investment is made to promote economic development.
The recommendations are:
• The Stark Economic Development Board should develop an economic plan for Stark County that focuses on job creation, preparation and access.
• Job creation should focus on helping existing companies in sectors with potential for growth.
• Support for the Stark Entrepreneurship Alliance should expand to help young businesses.
• Job preparation or workforce development should be tied to economic development initiatives.
• Infrastructure improvement should be targeted to job hubs, or places where there already are a high concentration of traded-sector jobs.
• More money should be invested in economic development.
• Organizations need to decide how to support the forthcoming economic development plan.
The Stark Economic Development Board is working with a consultant to write the follow-up plan, which will offer more specific details based on these recommendations and be shared among the economic development agencies in the county.
The "Strengthening Stark" report was commissioned by the Stark Community Foundation and prepared by Chris Thompson, president of Civic Collaboration Consultants. It is the product of two years of meetings of the Stark Civic Group — leaders of 14 businesses, nonprofits and governments in the county.
This article is one in an occasional series from The Canton Repository that examines the data and recommendations in the report. Earlier articles provided an overview of the report, looked at the origins of the Stark Civic Group, and detailed lessons from an economic development expert who visited Stark County this month.