The greenhouses would be built on 25 acres at the southern end of Lordstown.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
LORDSTOWN -- The Eastern Shawnee Tribe is proposing the construction of a $19 million hydroponics greenhouse complex to grow produce.
Mayor Michael A. Chaffee and Trumbull County officials have met twice with tribe representatives to discuss the proposal and how federal, state and county funds might be secured to help finance the venture.
"Right now, it's very speculative," Chaffee stressed.
The Oklahoma-based Eastern Shawnees have an option to buy 137 acres northeast of the Ohio Turnpike and state Route 45 in Lordstown and Jackson Township.
Chaffee said the greenhouse complex would be built on 25 acres at the southern end of the village. It's part of the same site where the tribe is proposing to construct a $125 million to $250 million casino resort.
State officials have opposed expanding gaming in Ohio to include casino-type gambling. The tribe, claiming ancestral and other rights, has filed a lawsuit against the state.
Chaffee noted that the tribe has various business ventures to finance money-making projects.
Alan Knapp, Trumbull County Planning Commission director, said he has asked the tribe to put together a business plan to show how the greenhouse debt can be paid off through the sale of produce.
Also involved in the July meetings were representatives of Greentex, a European-based company that specializes in building greenhouses, Chaffee said.
Knapp and Chaffee said they were told during the meetings that 95 percent of European produce is grown using hydroponics, compared with 25 percent in this country.
If built, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and flowers would be grown in a nutrient-filled solution such as water as opposed to growing them in soil.
The greenhouses would be built of steel and glass.
"It's fairly established technology," said Terry Casey, a consultant with the Eastern Shawnees and National Capital One, the tribe's financial representative that is also involved in the discussions.
Casey acknowledged there have been local talks but nothing has been finalized.
Casey explained that if the project comes together, it will be constructed by Greentex and may be turned over to the Shawnees and others involved to operate, although that aspect hasn't been worked out.
Knapp explained the Ohio Department of Development has determined that if the venture is for-profit, the state should be able to help them with some financing.
Bringing in jobs
Chaffee said 80 to 100 workers would be employed at the greenhouses. That would generate an annual payroll of $2 million to $2.5 million.
Chaffee said hydroponics is popular in Europe because of concerns about food safety. Hydroponics does not use pesticides in the growing process.
"This isn't a mom-and-pop operation," Chaffee added.
"It's an intriguing type of proposal because there's nothing like that around here," the mayor explained. "It's very creative and very new."
Chaffee said that because the Shawnees want to build a casino, it's often forgotten "that they're in business like everybody else."
The tribe's main goal in Lordstown, he said, is to build a casino.
The greenhouses are an opportunity for the Shawnees to show their interest in the area and to bring jobs to the area, Chaffee said.
Key elements in building the complex, the mayor said, are well water so the solution doesn't contain water-treatment chemicals, and a natural gas supply for heating.
"There is no reason these aren't available," Chaffee said.