Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Recession in Ohio? Not Here!

I was in Auglaize County, OH (population 48,429) for a great tour of six communities in north-west OH. With 35% of its jobs in manufacturing, the 138th highest percentage out of 3,141 counties in the country, I was concerned about what I might find from what I’d been hearing on TV. But, what I found is that you can’t always believe everything that you hear.

The county has built their manufacturing base upon a broad base of different companies and in a variety of industries. Automotive parts are by far the largest sector and Auglaize County has had their share of closures and downsizings but many of the entrepreneurial companies that have sprouted up in a manufacturing cluster like this have thrived and are expanding.

St. Marys (population 8,342), which sits on the edge of Grand Lake St. Mary’s—the largest man-made lake in the USA before the Hoover Dam was built, has developed a sister city program with a Japanese city that has resulted in a half dozen Japanese manufacturers locating in the town. The lake was the first spot in the world where oil was drilled “offshore”, over 100 years ago during the Ohio oil boom.

New Bremen (population 2,991) has one of the nicest downtowns I’ve seen in my travels, largely due to the redevelopment efforts of the Dicke family who owns Crown Equipment. This maker of forklifts employs 2,000 people in the community, having invested multi-millions into their hometown. More on one of their pet projects tomorrow.

New Knoxville (population 891) is home to Hoge Lumber, a fourth generation company that is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of bowling alley lanes. The Beijing Olympics volleyball, badminton and other indoor sports were played on Hoge Lumber surfaces. Their high school, constantly ranked as one of the top 10 academically in the state, was the state basketball champion last year despite only having 32 in its graduating class.

Minster (population 2,794) is an old German-Catholic town much like where I was raised in Teutopolis, IL, where the church owns the grade school in the town and leases it to the public school system after 9 am each day, allowing religion to be taught before school each morning. Minster Machines, a 109 year old firm, employs 600 manufacturing punch press machines which are used in the auto and beverage industries. Three-quarters of the soda cans in the world are punched out on their machines. The Dannon Company has the largest yogurt plant in the world in Minster, producing 700 million pounds of yogurt in 2007. Another company produces all of the World Wrestling Federation championship belts.

Wapakoneta (population 9,531), the county seat for Auglaize County, has a 500+ acre mega-site (one of the first in the state) that is shovel-ready for the next manufacturer that decides to leverage the excellent manufacturing labor force in the county. Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969, was born 4 miles outside of town. The Armstrong Air & Space Museum is located in Wapakoneta.

It was quite a tour. My notebook was filled with facts and trivia about the many wonderful towns in Auglaize County, OH.

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