Its first plant is set to open.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LEETONIA -- Although the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks further damaged an already faltering economy, Tracy Drake, executive director of the Columbiana County Port Authority, believes the fallout will actually help rural communities like Leetonia.
General Extrusions Inc. of Boardman will soon begin operations at its expansion plant in the port authority's industrial park here, employing about 20 production workers to start.
GEI is the park's first tenant, and Drake is confident others will soon follow.
Herb Schuler Sr., GEI president, said ever since GEI officials announced the expansion plant in Leetonia, there has been a great amount of interest in those jobs. He said several workers even took r & eacute;sum & eacute;s to the Leetonia park while the facility was still under construction.
GEI makes aluminum parts for the hydraulic, pneumatic, electronic and transportation industries. About 365 workers are employed at GEI's main plant in Boardman.
Looking to move: Drake said because of the threat of terrorism, many corporate executives accustomed to operating in large cities are seeking to move out of those areas.
He said companies are taking a hard look at how and where they do business, and that could be a boon for rural Columbiana County.
"I am confident this park will go forward," Drake said. "We're beginning this year operations-ready -- open for business, if you will."
Drake believes other companies will do an economic analysis as GEI did, and see the window of opportunity. The economy is slowly improving, yet interest rates remain low, and low interest rates mean a great deal to a company looking to build a multimillion-dollar facility, he said.
Drake said the port authority seeks tenants for its industrial parks who will create jobs and remain in the area because of a skilled work force and high productivity standards.
Benefits: The Leetonia park is an ideal location for industry to ship by truck, rail or river transportation, Drake said.
State Route 11 connects Lake Erie and the Ohio River, and the park is two miles from state Route 11 and 10 miles from the I-76/80 interchange.
He said there is also an idle rail line along the edge of the Leetonia park. The port authority could negotiate with Norfolk & amp; Southern to activate that line if it would benefit an interested industry, he said.
Columbiana County is centrally located in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh corridor, the fourth-largest population area in the country, with more than seven million people, Drake said. It is a central location for anyone looking to do business in the United States, he said.
Drake said the Leetonia park has been featured in trade magazines.
He added that the park, formally called World Trade Park, is ideal for large facilities and industry engaged in international and regional trade.
The park also has a foreign trade zone designation, which can reduce or eliminate duty on imported goods.
Drake said about 100 acres remain available at the park, with parcels ranging from two to 10 acres.
Ready for growth: Gary Phillips, Leetonia village administrator, said village officials have been doing their part to prepare not only the industrial park, but the village for growth.
Waterlines, sewer lines and drainage systems are now in place throughout the park, streets are completed and electric service is available, Phillips said.
"For any company interested in locating at the park, everything is right there," Phillips said.
Phillips believes communities the size of Leetonia -- population 2,043 according to the U.S. Census 2000 -- or smaller, must be competitive and open to growth. Those that are not risk being absorbed by a larger neighboring community, he said.
"Jobs will bring people to the community," Phillips said. "I think most people are eager for growth, or at least, if they aren't happy about it, they will accept it.
"We are taking all the steps we can to prepare for industrial and residential growth. I think Leetonia has a bright future," Phillips added.