STEUBENVILLE - With two more parcels under contract at the industrial park and two other companies interested in some raw acreage there, Jefferson County commissioners soon could have a decision on their hands: to develop another industrial park or focus their efforts on helping existing landowners market their properties.
It's the kind of decision they like having to make.
"To be in that position is good news for Jefferson County," Commissioner Tom Graham said. "Who ever thought we'd be getting to the point where we were filling the industrial park? Ten years ago there was only one business out there and it was leaving, but the situation has turned around - partly because of what we were doing, and partly because of the economics of the situation."
Last week two more businesses - Premier Pump, an arm of KAMAC Inc., and North American Services Group - inked deals to locate in the Jefferson County Industrial Park. Several weeks previously, Riley Petroleum announced plans to build its new headquarters on a five-acre parcel at the park.
Progress Alliance Executive Director Ed Looman said they have about 36 acres left to fill, but they're already in negotiations with "a couple different companies" for a large tract in an area they refer to as "Drive B." The parcel is about 26 acres, "but it's still raw, it's not shovel ready," he said.
"One company is interested in the entire tract, the second is interested in a portion of it," Looman said, noting that one of the companies has expressed interest in buying the land as-is and developing the necessary infrastructure itself. Both are shale-related opportunities.
"That would certainly be a win for the county, if we could market the land, put a deal together and not have to worry about the expense of building and running the infrastructure back there."
Graham said an uptick in companies looking to locate in the area due to the oil and gas industry has given the local economy a big boost. At the same time, he said the county has offered employers tax abatements when it's been justified by the number of new jobs the development could lead to.
Those two things together help explain why property in the industrial park has become such a hot commodity.
"We're getting really close to where we'll have to think about expanding the industrial park," he said. "Those two companies (Premier and North American) will need a total of 15 acres, then we'll be at the point where we'll have to look at possibly expanding the park."
Commissioner Dave Maple said the industrial park has shown steady growth, "even before the oil and gas industry hit the area."
"And we've got really good growth now, and with all the new industry in the shale play, we're seeing more and more interest," Maple added. "We're seeing a lot of interest now, and if a couple projects go through, we really will be out of space. We think the odds of those projects coming through are strong, so it's a good problem to have."
Maple said the commissioners decided a few months ago that it was time to assess their marketing strategy for the industrial park, figuring out of it still applies, how they've been marketing the properties there and whether a new strategy is warranted.
"We're at the point where we need to step back and look at what's out there and figure out what the future may be," he said. "We don't have a complete new development strategy yet, but we know enough to say things are changing, and as the market changes we have to change. That includes looking at different areas, looking at the way we put in roads and infrastructure, looking at the different ways to market the whole thing. It's time we take a look at our whole strategy, see if what we're currently doing (is marketable)."
"Years ago nobody ever thought we'd be in this situation," Graham added.
He said they aren't really sure what they'll do to address the lack of open space, however.
"We're exploring all our options in regard to that," he said. "We haven't entered any discussions with anyone yet, other than among ourselves."
Looman, meanwhile, said the surge in interest in industrial park sites parallels the surge in interest in the area as a whole.
"That's what one of our goals was, to get more activity and more jobs in that industrial park," he said. "But the activity we've been able to facilitate there wouldn't have been as easy to do without the support and cooperation of the county commissioners - they've been with me every step of the way with every project we've worked on related to the industrial park."
While he said if they "wrap up a few other projects, we may be in a situation where we might have to look potentially at developing another industrial park," Looman said, pointing out that would be for the county commissioners to decide. "We've had some conversations about it, but that's a decision that will have to be looked at by county leadership as to whether or not they want try to to develop another industrial park or focus more of our attention on helping private property owners market their land. But, even if you take the industrial park out of the equation, we still have some wonderful tracts of land that we can market to bring new business and industry to Jefferson County."
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)