As the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, predicted that spring will come early this year, speakers in attendance at Tuesday’s Groundhog Day Breakfast made some forecasts of their own.
The fourth-annual edition of this event, held at the Mahan Building on the Fayette County Fairgrounds, is designed to provide Chamber members and the community an economic forecast for the year. Nick Epifano, owner/operator of McDonald’s of Fayette County, introduced the three speakers in front of an enthusiastic crowd of around 200 people. McDonald’s served as the corporate sponsor of the event.
“I want to thank the ag community for giving us safe and sustainable products that we can serve our customers every day,” Epifano said to the crowd. “At McDonald’s we know how important it is to have a good partner in business and especially in the agricultural and farming business.”
The first speaker was Jamie Gentry, a Fayette County native, who is a partner at Enterprise Advisory Group, which he joined in 2010. Assisting businesses and communities with economic development incentives, Gentry targets programs that provide the highest value to clients, including tax credits, grants, and property tax abatements. Gentry has spent the majority of his career working in the public sector.
His first job was in Fayette County, heading up the county’s economic development efforts, followed by stints with the Ohio Department of Development (DOD). During his time at the DOD, Gentry utilized available state and local incentive programs to facilitate nearly $3 billion of new investment around the state of Ohio with a focus on agribusiness.
Gentry’s consulting firm is contracted by Fayette County to help certify and market the county’s 1,600-acre mega-site located at the intersection of Interstate 71 and U.S. Route 35.
“For those of you who don’t know, the county has been working almost 15 years now on an industrial park at the intersection of 71 and 35,” Gentry said. “The state of Ohio has certified it as the largest job-ready site in the state.”
Gentry explained that the site has all utilities currently in place that will provide the necessary capacity to meet the needs of a mega-manufacturing facility. It has 12-inch water and sewer lines with nearly one million gallon capacity in each that is part of a loop that runs along the southwest property border.
The centralized location allows for ease of access from all directions and draws available workforce from both rural and metropolitan communities to Fayette County. The shovel-ready site has water, sewer, natural gas, and electricity available at the site and has the ability to extend rail service to the site from an adjacent property.
“This site is so much larger than really anything that has been developed recently in the state of Ohio,” Gentry said. “So it takes a really long time to do this. The county has literally been working on this site my entire professional career, going back to 2001.”
Between the spring of 2002 and the spring of 2006, the county started to assemble the site and rezoned it. “That was about the time that the next major manufacturer came through – and that was Honda – looking for a site either in eastern Indiana or western Ohio,” Gentry said. “Unfortunately they chose Indiana at the time, but it was further validation to the county leadership that this site needed to be put in place.”
As of spring 2012, the site was officially certified as a job-ready site in the state of Ohio, which means that the state now markets the site to large users as the only large, job-ready site in the state of Ohio. In 2013, those marketing the site produced a website to further promote it: www.m2c2.biz
“Projects like this come along once in a generation,” said Gentry. “The main takeaway this morning for everyone to understand is the huge opportunity that exists in our community thanks to the time and effort that the local officials have put in to building this site to where it’s at today. And also that there’s a very long timeline for these types of projects. A site like this could be developed fairly quickly as a distribution center park, but that really doesn’t have the same type of job creation that the manufacturing would.”
The second speaker at the breakfast was Mike Cooper, the manager of OhioMeansJobs Fayette County. Cooper has 15 years of experience in the human service field, working with MR/DD boards, children with emotional disorders, as a school social worker, an employment coordinator and in higher education. Cooper is also an employee of Southern State Community College.
New to the position of manager at OhioMeansJobs Fayette County in 2015, Cooper shared employment training opportunities and employment trends pertinent to the region.
Some of the facts Cooper shared included: the total population of Fayette County is about 28,800; the median household income is around $37,619 (which breaks down to about $725 a week); the percentage of people 25 years or older with no high school diploma is 16.4 percent; 45.4 percent have at least a high school diploma; 17.8 percent have at least some college; 6.5 percent have at least an associate’s degree; 9.1 percent have a bachelor’s; and 4.6 percent have at least a master’s or higher.
“We have a lot of people 25 and up in this county who aren’t educated,” said Cooper. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s also the first step to getting out of poverty…is an education.”
As of December 2015 in Fayette County, the unemployment rate was at about 4.7 percent. “This is much better than many places in the state,” he said. “We have neighboring counties that are sitting at 7 or 7-and-a-half percent. There are jobs out there. At OhioMeansJobs, factory and production jobs are everywhere right now for us. We had four agencies on site last week with an average of four to eight interviews per agency. So there are jobs.”
There were 21,374 job postings on the OhioMeansJobs website from Nov. 14 to Dec. 13 just in southwest Ohio. “So for anybody telling you that there aren’t jobs out there, that was up almost 4,000 from the year before,” he said.
OhioMeansJobs Fayette County is a business/government partnership dedicated to bringing coordinated services to the residents and business community of Fayette County. It assists job seekers with resumes, interviewing skills, basic computer skills, etc. For employers, it offers layoff aversion programs and on-the-job training for long-term employment.
“This is at our cost, not yours,” Cooper said. “What are the benefits? Increased productivity. We have a high work retention rate, which I think we all want. There’s reimbursement of the training cost so it’s of no cost to you. And there’s training tailored to your needs. That’s what we want, we want to fill those jobs with the employees that you need.”
On March 18, OhioMeansJobs is hosting an employer roundtable. “We want as many employers there as possible,” Cooper said. “We’re partnering up with Clinton and Highland counties. We’re bringing in a speaker from the Dayton Developmental District to talk about job creation and job retention. We have a small business owner that’s coming in to talk about retention and recruitment. We’ll also take suggestions between now and then on topics you would like to talk about.”
OhioMeansJobs is located at Southern State Community College, 1270 U.S. 62 Southwest in Washington C.H. For more information, visit omjfayettecounty.com.
The featured and final speaker on Tuesday morning was Greg Peterson, more commonly known as “Machinery Pete.” Peterson analyzes data for trends in used equipment values, and regularly reports on the endless number of stories surrounding farm equipment. He is a multimedia expert on used equipment values for Farm Journal Media.
Peterson appears every Monday on AgriTalk radio and has a weekly show on RFD-TV, now in its third season. There is a new show airing every Saturday on RFD-TV.
He explained how he’s been researching and tracking machinery auction prices since 1989. His company works with a network of dealers across the nation to provide an industry-leading listing service.
His price database of more than 500,000 prices is sourced through firsthand data and a curated network of more than 950 auction firms. In addition to Peterson’s proprietary content for Farm Journal, the company provides auction-data subscriptions, publishes the annual “Classic Tractor” and “Annual Auction” price guides, publishes the Quarterly Used Values Index report for the financial community, produces the weekly Machinery Pete television program, produces farm equipment DVDs, plus provides custom consulting and appearance services.
“Almost 27 years I’ve been in this,” said Peterson. “2016 is maybe the most interesting year I’ve seen because things are changing. Commodity prices fell in 2013 and it took almost two years to mentally adjust to the lower price level. There’s been only two times where I’ve come out and made any really strong statements. It’s not in my nature to tell you what to do. The first time I made a statement like that was in ‘07 when the price of corn and beans went straight up. And I said, ‘If you are thinking about buying anything, just do it as fast as you can, because this is going to get nuts. And it kind of did for four or five years. Now this year is the second time I’m going to say something like that. If you want to get tremendous value, right now is the time to be an aggressive buyer. Even though your mentality, understandably, is to pull back. The time to be a buyer is now when no one else feels like being a buyer. The value is off the charts.”
Machinery Pete’s appearance at the Groundhog Breakfast was sponsored by Anderson Equipment, Beck’s Hybrids, Mayer Farm Equipment, Baxla Tractor, Cargill, and Ohio Ag Equipment.
At the end of the program, Whitney Gentry, the president of the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce, unveiled the identity of the “mystery groundhog.” Every year at the breakfast, a local citizen dresses up as a groundhog while certain clues are provided to the audience concerning the identity of the “groundhog.”
This year’s groundhog was revealed to be Wilma Coulter, who recently retired as a longtime employee at Merchants National Bank in Washington C.H. Coulter started in banking right out of high school. Before coming to Merchants National Bank, she worked for two different banks, amassing a total of 17 years on the job. After Merchants National Bank opened in Washington Court House in June of 1990, Coulter was hired as branch manager in December of that year.
Gentry thanked the speakers, all of the sponsors and those in attendance for helping to create a successful event. The table sponsors for the breakfast were Crop Production Services, Farm Credit Services, Fayette County Ag Society, Fayette County Farm Bureau, Fayette County Memorial Hospital, Hartley Oil, JD Equipment, Southern State Community College, Valero, and Walmart DC #7012.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica.