In 2012, 32 oil and gas companies moved to Canton or the surrounding area, according to a report assembled by Rafael Rodriguez, a consultant for the Canton Community Improvement Corporation, which has been part of the efforts to attract oil and gas businesses.
When Mayor William J. Healy II declared Canton the Utica Capital during his 2012 state of the city speech, it wasn’t a label reflecting what the city had become, but rather what it hoped to be.
The name and logo was printed on backs of business cards that Healy and his staff, including Development Director Fonda Williams, brought to the winter conference of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association (OOGA). City officials learned later that Canton was the only municipality represented at the gathering, where attendance swelled to roughly 1,500.
“Just as a result of that meeting, we landed a couple of engineering companies,” said Williams, recalling the conference. It was during the event that Williams said he realized the impact the oil and gas industry could have on the city.
In 2012, 32 oil and gas companies moved to Canton or the surrounding area, according to a report assembled by Rafael Rodriguez, a consultant for the Canton Community Improvement Corporation, which has been part of the efforts to attract oil and gas businesses. The 23 companies that provided the city with employment figures created at least 568 new jobs, according to the job creation report. Another 47 jobs were created by existing companies benefiting from oil and gas activity.
Williams said the marketing pitch has worked.
“When they saw that ‘Canton, the Utica Capital’ logo, people lit up like a Christmas tree,” he said. “It was, ‘You’re in Canton? We’re going to call you.’ Some did. Some are still considering it. We’ve had hotel developers calling.”
Among the businesses lured at the Ohio Oil & Gas Association conference a year ago were Michael Baker Engineering, 101 Cleveland Ave. N, and Dawood Engineering, 220 Market Ave. S.
President Bony Dawood said Canton seemed to be a “good base location” with a qualified work force, proper infrastructure, transportation and housing.
“Canton was an area close to that energy activity and relatively well situated,” said Dawood, whose Harrisburg, Pa.-based engineering firm has also specialized in transportation, land planning and site development, survey and mapping and traffic analysis and design. “The energy industry is an industry we’ve been working in the last couple years and expanding in. The company has been steadily growing in the western part of Pennsylvania. We felt Ohio was a natural part of the growth.”
Dawood Engineering currently employs eight people at its Canton office, located in the Huntington Bank building, and anticipates expanding. Dawood hopes to capitalize not only on the energy industry, but its traditional services. He said in order to sustain itself long term, the company must be ready to work in transportation, site development and other areas.
“We’ve always been very diverse,” Dawood said. “There are always ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys, like with transportation. We wanted to be able to sustain ourselves long term. When we looked at opening a new location we looked at a long-term operation. Energy might have brought us there, but we realize we have to expand relationships to continue.”
Page 2 of 3 - Bill Lindenbeaum, construction manager at Michael Baker Engineering, said his firm wanted to locate in Canton.
“We wanted to be able to develop the office into a full-scale operation,” said Lindenbeaum, a Canton South graduate who previously worked for the Ohio Department of Transportation. “Stark County, in our judgment, is a very good hub. We’re looking at a lot of the local market — the local townships and the local cities. This area appears to be in the center of the activity.”
The idea to brand the area the “Utica Capital” was born out of a discussion between Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce President Dennis Saunier and Dick Maggiore, president of the marketing firm Innis Maggiore. Maggiore designed the logo. The city, which partners with the chamber on several economic development projects, trademarked the logo, said David Kaminski, director of energy and public affairs for the chamber.
“We left that meeting with the understanding that the city would essentially own the trademark, but the chamber would have free use of it in any and every way it wished to keep promoting the Utica business,” Kaminski said.
Area businesses involved in the oil and gas industry, or that want to reap the benefits of its impact, have been granted use of the logo by the city.
“It is good for the city and it is proving to be prophetic when you think about the number of engineering and professional services companies that have come to Canton,” Kaminski said. “This is, we believe, the city most capable of supporting business headquarter operations and professional services in the Utica.”
The city and chamber have gone beyond branding the city and recruiting business to the “Utica Capital.” The chamber has hired Innis Maggiore to conduct a study on how best to market the area. Kaminski said that although the city of Canton has the trademark, the chamber has members countywide and beyond.
“Whenever we talk about Canton as the Utica Capital, we’re not talking about the city limits,” he said. “...We’re talking about anything in Stark County, anything we can reach that will have an economic impact on Stark County. We don’t think anybody in Oklahoma City is going to say, ‘Chesapeake decided not to go to Canton, but to go to Louisville.’ It’s still Canton. It’s still the geographic center most noticeable on maps.”
In 2011, the Canton Memorial Civic Center hosted OOGA’s Oilfield Expo, which grew so large that it was moved to the IX Center in Cleveland the following year. And in late 2012, the city, chamber and CIC entered into a contract with Shaledirectories.com, a yellow pages of sorts for the oil and gas industry. Three-hundred Canton businesses can be listed in the directory at no additional cost.
Page 3 of 3 - OBSTACLES
Despite these moves and other aggressive efforts of city and chamber officials, Canton was unable to land the most sought-after company, Chesapeake Energy, which has temporarily established itself at 400 Third St. SE. Chesapeake wanted a few hundred acres of flat, clear land near a rail spur. The city took Chesapeake officials on a tour of the former Stark Ceramics plant, a 450-acre site included in an annexation battle between the city and East Canton in 2006. But the site has a large drop-off and is littered with bricks.
Chesapeake eventually settled on a nearly 300-acre site in Louisville.
“That’s been a challenge finding what I call shovel-ready land,” Williams said. “A year ago we were negotiating with Chesapeake on a potential site, but it wasn’t shovel ready. Other companies have asked for 50-acre tracts, 100-acre tracts, but they’re hard to come by.”
The city has been working with the state and private developers to revitalize brownfield sites. Williams said the city hopes to acquire a grant from the Ohio Department of Development for assessment and cleanup.
Despite Chesapeake’s decision to locate in Louisville, Canton officials say it still has a benefit on the area.
“We consider it a victory when they (businesses) come even to the Canton area,” Williams said. “It means there’s opportunities for some of our local residents to get employed — even if it is outside the city.”
Reach Matthew at 330-580-8527 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @mrinkREP