LEETONIA Officials hope GEI will breathe life into Columbiana County

A German company picked Leetonia as one of 10 U.S. sites to visit.
LEETONIA -- Although Columbiana County Port Authority officials are pleased with the progress of construction at their World Trade Park here, there's been little time for celebration. There's much more work to be done.
"We're very excited to have GEI as the first tenant of the park," said Tracy Drake, port authority executive director. "They're a top-notch family operation bringing significant, family-wage jobs to the county."
Drake defined family-wage jobs as those with a salary and benefits significant enough that a worker can make a living and raise a family.
The industrial park is on state Route 344 on the southwest side of the village.
Work continues on the first construction in the park, an expansion plant for General Extrusions Inc. of Boardman.
GEI creates aluminum parts for various companies in the hydraulic, pneumatic, electronic and transportation industries.
Company officials hope to have the 92,000-square-foot plant operational by December with about 35 employees. About 65 workers are expected within three years.
Sharing the load: The port authority and the village are sharing the cost of a new 12-inch, high pressure waterline to supply the industrial park. Village Administrator Gary Phillips said contractors are nearly finished laying the waterline.
"All of the work related to the industrial park has been going well with few snags," Phillips said. "It has gone about as I had hoped."
As work progresses in providing power, water and sewer service to the park, Drake said the port authority continues efforts to lure more business to the Leetonia site.
"We always have a line in the water," Drake said.
Leetonia is one of 10 sites in the United States a German company has chosen to visit from about 80 offered, Drake said.
Port authority officials are waiting to hear when representatives of that company will visit.
Drake said GEI took about 15 acres, and there is room for about seven more companies of similar size.
"Look at the industrial parks in Salem and Columbiana, they are nearly at capacity," Drake said. "I've no doubt that can happen in Leetonia."
He said Leetonia and other Columbiana County locations are attractive to national and international companies because the county sites are close to major waterways, rail lines and highways, convenient for rail, barge and truck traffic.
Phillips said the park's development will have an immediate impact on the village.
"A place like Salem, it takes awhile for the tax revenue from an industrial park to make a difference," Phillips said. "Since we're a small community, it won't take very long. The tax revenue from there will start helping us right away."
GEI locating in the industrial park qualified the port authority for federal grants to complete the infrastructure projects, Drake said.
Some federal grants were available only after the port secured a first tenant.
Drake believes the Leetonia park has the potential of one day providing more than 1,000 jobs.
Now, almost half of the county's workforce commute to other counties, but if there are good jobs, people will stay in the county to work, he said.
Luring companies such as GEI to the county will help change that, he said.
"If you had a choice of driving two hours or five miles to make $15 an hour, you'd pick the five miles," Drake said.

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