Port authority working new approach
STEUBENVILLE — The Jefferson County Port Authority in the past five years has attempted to build a comprehensive economic development approach.
Evan Scurti, port authority executive director, said the short- and long-range goals have included the county’s industrial park, helping new and existing businesses, assisting communities throughout the county and marketing the county to the oil and gas industry.
The port authority was formed in 2012 as a cooperative effort between Steubenville and the Jefferson County commissioners. Scurti was hired as executive director in 2013.
Scurti said the port authority is a countywide agency representing every community, pursuing growth throughout the county. Scurti said there is a misconception with the name because people mistakenly assume it has to do with the river.
“The port model is the most common economic development agency in the state,” he said.
There are nine members on the board.
The port authority is the manager for the county’s industrial park, located off county Road 43.
“The port takes its management role very seriously, as the park is the county’s only multi-site, planned environment for industrial capital investments. This past year is an example of the park’s value in the local economy,” Scurti said.
ShalePro Energy Services of Houston, Pa., in January selected the 37,000-square-foot facility owned by D&L Rentals within the county’s industrial park as an operations hub to serve the growing number of drilling sites in the region. The move is expected to result in 40 full-time jobs.
ShalePro has more than 23 years of production and midstream experience and currently provides services to more than 2,000 wells and hundreds of miles of gathering system pipelines, according to the company.
Scurti said ShalePro decided to locate in the industrial park because it is centrally located to service wells and pipelines in the region.
Scurti said he will focus on marketing the industrial park and other areas in the county to oil and gas-related companies.
StorSystem USA earlier this year signed a $91,000 purchase agreement for 4.8 acres of land at the industrial park.
Certwood Limited of England, doing business in this country as StorSystem, has had a distribution center at the industrial park for two years, but will construct a 15,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution building. About 15 new jobs will be created. The company currently has nine workers.
The company manufactures injection-molded products, mainly storage units for schools.
Scurti said the port authority is now working to get a tax abatement for StorSystem, first getting approval from the Island Creek Township trustees and then the county commissioners.
“The StorSystem growth story is an excellent example of how a local industrial park can be a critical asset in meeting the expansion needs of existing industry, which is always the strongest path to local employment and tax-base growth,” Scurti said.
“The ShalePro and StorSystem investments will be featured in 2019 marketing campaigns. Both stories highlight the park’s geographic advantages to serve not only the regional drilling marketplace, but also a nationwide plan for distribution of polymer products,” he said.
There are about 40 to 50 acres of land still available for use at the industrial park.
Scurti said a wetlands mitigation project is proceeding on a 26-acre tract. Once finished, he hopes the land will be more attractive for development.
The JB Green Team also will be constructing a building at the industrial park.
PUBLIC FINANCE AND REDEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES
“A major reason why ports are now the most common type of local economic development agencies in Ohio is the ability to utilize unique finance incentives and land assembly tools for development,” Scurti explained.
An example is the Plains Energy project outside of Toronto, which began in 2015.
He said it is an example of the use of Ohio’s capital lease construction process, often utilized by port authorities to offer sales tax abatement on construction materials to clients building large industrial facilities.
The port authority’s board and Scurti worked with Plains Energy for months and were able to execute contracts that led to the initial construction of a major oil storage facility. Not only did the contract, whereby the port owns the tanks for a specific length of time, offer more than $1million in tax savings to the client, but the project has already netted $120,000 in service fees to support the port’s general fund, Scurti said. He said this fee-based model is now the norm in Ohio to compensate port authorities for their time commitment and direct role of owning assets.
Scurti said he is hopeful Plains Energy will make the tanks operational soon, especially as drilling has increased in the area. He said the company has not indicated an exact forecast of the operating plan or its plan to build a 2,000-square-foot office complex at the site.
“The Plains experience allows us to confidently put a case study in front of future clients, as we expect more large capital investment proposals in the next five years, especially along the river corridor at the former mill sites or at JSW’s facility,” Scurti said. “All three mill sites (Yorkville, Mingo Junction and Steubenville) are now privately owned, each with seasoned development teams. All three sites, totaling more than 500 acres, are located in the new federal opportunity zones. We expect to be involved in large projects in the future.”
The federal opportunity zones offer capital gains tax incentives to businesses.
Scurti said JSW USA, which has reopened the former steel plant in Mingo Junction, could be interested in using the opportunity zones program and the ability to purchase equipment through the sales-tax savings program. He said Tidewater Logistics, which purchased the former Steubenville steel plant site, is attracting companies related to the oil and gas industry to the site. The owner of the Yorkville site also is working on redeveloping there, Scurti said.
Another example of public finance and redevelopment strategies is the removal of 10 buried fuel tanks on a property on South Third Street in Steubenville.
The port authority received for a $250,000 grant through the Ohio Development Services Agency to remove the tanks, which were first installed the 1920s. The tanks were removed at the end of January.
Scurti said he contacted the Ohio Development Services Agency on behalf of the Ohio Motor Group, the property owner, concerning gasoline tanks buried on property on South Third Street, across the street from the former Hanna Chevrolet. Ohio Motor Group purchased the property without knowledge of the tanks, Scurti said. Since nobody who originally was associated with the gasoline tanks could be found, the state has funding available to remove and remediate the soil, Scurti said.
Ohio Motor Group has to pay a fee equal to 5 percent of the grant funds used.
Scurti said he will work with Ohio Motor Group to market the property. He said it would be good for retail or office space, considering its location nearby to state Route 7.
Scurti said he is trying to get the message out to communities about other possible redevelopment projects throughout the county.
“We monitor state and federal funding to help in redevelopment projects,” he said.
The port authority also will be using funding from a regional brownfield grant to help Steubenville in removing asbestos from the old City Building. City Council is considering turning the now mostly vacant building into a marketplace.
Scurti said he is assisting Steubenville with a $250,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant for the storm water separation project on University Boulevard. Scurti said he presented information to the city on businesses on University Boulevard which would benefit from the project.
The port is working on a project with Eastern Gateway Community College to obtain a federal grant earmarked for areas that have been impacted by the loss of jobs in the coal industry. The college wants to build an $800,000 industrial training center.
“An important ongoing mission is for the port to be a trusted ally in local industry’s plans to maintain employment and grow. This is the best vehicle toward sustainable job opportunities for local citizens,” he said.
“This is an example of how local economic development is no longer just about sites and buildings,” he said. “Local industry, especially from major current job creators like JSW, is hungry for well-trained, ready-to-work individuals. Preparing a new industrial work force is an issue that’s being discussed around the country, and I believe EGCC’s vision of a new training center is a great way to advance our work force development efforts. The fact that many local and even regional employers were very interested in this proposal shows just how important it is in terms of modern economic development strategy.”
Scurti in March announced a $30 million project to improve a 30-mile stretch of rail line from Dilles Bottom to Mingo Junction that will help existing and future businesses.
In June 2018, the Ohio Rail Development Commission received a $16.25 million grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program to be used toward Norfolk Southern mainline improvements as well as rail yard investments at Mingo Junction. The project proposal included a significant match of $14.5 million from Norfolk Southern, illustrating the company’s commitment to our area’s industrial future, Scurti said.
“The funded improvements will prepare our county for even greater forecasts of rail traffic as major investments like the ethane crackers and the JSW steel mill become economic drivers in the region,” Scurti said.
John Hritz, president and chief executive officer of JSW USA, said, “The $16.25 million grant is critical to strengthening the railroad network in Mingo Junction. As a result of this grant, JSW USA is confident that Mingo Junction will have the robust logistics and supply chain infrastructure required to facilitate our growth and commitment to the region. JSW USA’s investments in Ohio will create hundreds of high-paying jobs, bringing much needed investment to the area. Ultimately, railroad infrastructure improvements in Mingo Junction will serve as a key driver for economic growth and in restoring the region’s status as a dominant manufacturing community.”
Adjacent to the JSW mill is the former Mingo Junction football stadium, owned by FeX Processing. Scurti said FeX plans to expand operations into the stadium site. The investment proposal will be highlighted by new rail spurs to support the growing business, he said.
“We are encouraged by the investment in rail infrastructure in the Ohio Valley. This demonstrates the state of Ohio is forward-thinking and pro-business. FeX chose the Mingo Junction area for significant investment in developing an expanded scrap yard for this reason,” said Doug Schaefer, FeX Processing’s vice president and chief financial officer.
Scurti said the port authority is developing new marketing platforms and campaigns, including a countywide industrial site and building database; interactive downtown Steubenville map of available properties; having a greater presence on social media; a planned seminar on the opportunity zone program; and partnering with local communities.
The partnership with local communities included the port authority working to get full state funding for the repaving of a section of Commercial Avenue in Mingo Junction in front of the entrance to JSW to support the steelmaker and other companies in the area.
“The port is focused in the near future on determining our appropriate direct role in real-estate development, whether it be redevelopment of brownfields or new industrial park planning,” Scurti said.
“What we’ve started to build these first five years is a comprehensive economic development approach. That’s always been my philosophy for a local agency. There must be a targeted short- and long-range strategic plan, but it must be broad enough to affect all of the major areas of a local economy. Our future will not be solely tied to one sector, like steel mills I believe we’re headed toward a diverse, sustainable economy strengthened by higher education, tourism, 21st century manufacturing, energy and renewed small business entrepreneurship. As such, the port must continue to find ways to have a positive impact throughout the entire local economy,” he said.