Circleville and its county turn pumpkins into progress.

Circleville and its county turn pumpkins into progress.

Although pumpkins are a beloved symbol of Circleville's history and identity, there's a new "P" word of significance in this community's future: progress.

Like many small towns in Ohio, the last few decades have been an ongoing test of resilience and economic survival for Circleville and Pickaway County. Now after 15-plus years, collective perseverance and dedicated planning are paying off with a development boom in full progress.

Since the late 1990s, Circleville has experienced significant job losses as a result of several plant closures, such as that of longtime employer Thomson Consumer Electronics (formerly RCA) television picture tube factory, Smurfit-Stone paper mill and Purina Mills. After experiencing major job losses, Circleville suffered what could be described as an employment blight with joblessness at 6.1 percent.

In addition, big-box retailers pulled commerce from the historic downtown area to other parts of the city, putting several local shops out of business. It all factored into a reduction in the city's median income as well as other economic indicators.

Fighting Back

In the midst of this downturn, Pickaway Progress Partnership was established to serve as a nonprofit economic development agent for Pickaway County and its municipalities. Formed in 2006, the group has three main objectives: promote and market the advantages of locating business in the county, promote a stronger business environment by facilitating retention and expansion efforts of local employers, and deliver a seamless network of economic development services to existing businesses, local government, and prospective companies throughout the county.

Led by P3 Executive Director Ryan Scribner, the area's economic development landscape is changing for the better. Scribner facilitates discussions among local government officials, developers and stakeholders to construct joint development agreements. Scribner finds creative solutions to finance public infrastructure and creates incentives to attract and retain industry.

"The seeds for this growth have been planted for a decade," says Scribner. "Pickaway County is poised for a transformation."

Transformation is happening at warp speed. From north to south, the county has multiple sites and projects underway, attracting a diverse business base. Located in the northeast corner of the county, Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park extends into Franklin County to the north. Owned by the Columbus Regional Airport Authority and developed by Duke Realty, the site is a master-planned, 1,576-acre logistics parkcapable of handling 28 million square feet of development.

Duke is building a new 421,400- square-foot regional distribution center there for BASF, a German plastics company, as well as a 482,300-square-foot facility partially leased by INNO-PAK, a packaging manufacturer and distributor. American Showa opened their doors in the park last January.

The Rickenbacker Intermodal Project links the Norfolk Southern Intermodal Terminal to US 23. Owned and operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad, this truck-to-train/train-to-truck facility opened in March 2008. P3 says the new roadwork reduced commercial traffic congestion and creates a road network designed to handle growth at Rickenbacker for the next20-30 years while creating additional opportunities for industrial growth in northern Pickaway County. This thoroughfare could be expanded to I-71, a stretch of roughly 10 miles.

With frontage on US 23 one mile south of the city of Circleville, Pickaway Progress Park is a financial partnership involving a variety of public and private investors to redevelop 227 acres into an industrial/commercial park.

The Pickaway Progress Partnership wasawarded a $3.5 million Job Ready Sites grant in 2010 for the project, which allowed roadways, sewer and water lines to be built on the site.The former Thomson Consumer Electronics manufacturing facility was torn down, leaving a 167,000 square-foot warehouse/manufacturing facility and a 10,000-square-foot class-A office space.

Industry giant, DuPont, located south of Circleville on US 23, invested $175 million to expand production of Tedlar film used on solar panels in the park. That expansion provided 230 temporary construction jobs. DuPont employs over 500 full-time employees and approximately 200 contractors.

Downtown is also part of the growth. Circleville's oldest bank, the Savings Bank, built a new $3.5 million headquarters building in 2014. Bank President Stephen Gary credits cooperation between the city and county as an integral part of the area's burgeoning economy.

"It's extremely easy to do business here," says Gary. "The cooperation is unbelievable. Everyone is willing to move mountains to not only attract new business but also retain the existing base."

In the competitive world of economic development, Pickaway County scored a recent victory with the announcement of plans by Sofidel America, one of the companies operated by Italy's Sofidel Group, to locate a new tissue-paper manufacturing facility just south of Circleville.

"The decision by Sofidel to invest in our community is a huge win for Pickaway County and the entire southern Ohio region," says Brian Stewart, president of the Pickaway County Board of Commissioners. "The potential for a substantial number of new manufacturing jobs will be a game changer for our community and is the culmination of a lot of hard work by the Board of Commissioners, P3 and Ryan Scribner, JobsOhio, Columbus 2020 and a great many others at the state and local level."

Slow and Steady

The rebirth of Pickaway County has been a steady uphill climb, but stakeholders say the work of the Partnership is paying off. Scribner emphasizes that components such as roadwork, infrastructure, utilities and the government agreements necessary to become a growth center take time, relationships and financial investment.

"We use every tool in the toolbox," Scribner explains. "When we pursue grant money we always leverage local buy-in first. We've never gone looking for federal or state money without a fistful of local commitment first."

In November, the Pickaway Progress Partnership and the City of Circleville unveiled the community's strategic revitalization plan, developed in conjunction with the America's Best Communities competition (sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH Network, CoBank and the Weather Channel). As one of six quarter-finalists in the state of Ohio and the top 50 nationally, Circleville received a $50,000 grant to further develop a comprehensive strategy for economic growth.

The resulting 82-page plan includes a 10-point road map to strengthen and diversify Circleville's economic base, attract high-wage jobs and grow the city's population. Its goals were derived through discussions with local officials and business leaders, a citizen survey and an in-depth market and industry cluster analysis.

Much more than just a competition entry, this extensive revitalization plan will serve as a living document to help the city grow over the next 15 years, says Scribner. "Circleville is now armed with a comprehensive action plan, and we're poised for a renaissance of our community and economy."

Darcy Reynolds is a freelance writer.