Tenants include the likes of Discover Financial Services, Amazon Web Services, Facebook and Bath & Body Works.
New Albany, mid-1990s. The affluent suburb was nine years into development under a master plan that was the vision of Les Wexner and partner Jack Kessler. For years, retail magnate Wexner had purchased land with a dream of building a community in the spirit of the iconic towns you’d see in rural England.
At the time, a stately country club, just four years old, was the focal point. Surrounding it were Georgian-style homes and the community’s signature white fencing.
North of the country club sat thousands of acres—a sea of corn—that would become the New Albany International Business Park, developed by Wexner’s New Albany Co. and the city of New Albany. To the south, the Route 161 expressway was under construction and there were no interchanges to help people easily move about the city. It was hardly an ideal scenario for impressing a site selection committee.Stay up to date with the region’s business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
Bill Ebbing, president of New Albany Co., learned in 1996 that Discover Financial Services was looking to build an operations center and Ohio was in the mix. He had nothing to sell the company other than a vision. On a rainy summer day, his team, along with then-mayor Colleen Briscoe, tried to do just that.
“We got everybody into four-wheelers and trucks and drove them out to the site,” Ebbing says. “The only way you can get a Fortune 100 company like Discover to make a commitment like this is by laying out a vision that reflects the strong public-private partnership and showing that there is a real master plan in place. It was a rainy, awful day in terms of weather, but the result was beautiful.”
Discover launched the park with a $72 million, 325,000-square-foot center. Today, the park has 12 million square feet through $5 billion in private investment and is home to businesses including Amazon Web Services, Facebook and Bath & Body Works. Discover later would build a $70 million, 97,000-square-foot addition and be part of an expansion of the park involving 24 projects representing 5.3 million square feet and an investment of $2.9 billion. Companies continue to build on 1,200 acres remaining at the 5,000-acre park.
“It reinforces the city of New Albany’s role as a strong partner, not just in terms of economic development and master planning, but also being proactive about installing the necessary infrastructure before it’s needed,” Ebbing says. “A lot of places just don’t see the importance of that. Companies come to us and need to be in the ground tomorrow. If you don’t have the infrastructure in place, you’re going to lose out.”
Kenny McDonald, president and chief economic officer at One Columbus, says having this kind of business park makes his job of luring companies to the region easier.
“There’s a proven ability to do the projects,” he says. “Everything comes together in terms of the city council, development staff, the mayor and the city staff, plus the great relationships with the New Albany Co. and the construction and permitting teams. They’re all able to come together to work through difficult issues in short order to make the projects happen.”
Who’s building what
Shovel-ready sites, a robust fiber optic network, triple-feed electric capabilities and a fast-track permitting system have been key to making expansion decisions easy for businesses.
VanTrust Real Estate purchased 33 acres for two speculative warehouses. Construction has started on “Innovation I,” a 253,000-square-foot building that is expected to be completed by December. Its first building there is occupied by Hims Inc., a digital health care company.
Axium Plastics is undergoing its third expansion with a $4.7 million, 100,000-square-foot building that will be complete this summer, giving the company 650 jobs there.
Alene Candles in June will open a $30 million, 280,000-square-foot expansion that will add 58 jobs.
Anomatic has plans for a $68 million, 250,000-square-foot expansion that will add 140 jobs.
Rod Harl, president of Milford, New Hampshire-based Alene, says the company considered multiple states before settling on New Albany.
“We’ve known the people there for 10 years now, and that’s enabled us to move much more quickly than in other jurisdictions,” Harl says. “There’s a level of trust and confidence in both the business community and the town staff that’s allowed us to move at a fraction of the time it would be if we were in a more traditional timeline where you didn’t know the people as well.”
Andy Weeks, VanTrust’s executive vice president in Columbus, says he expects the developer will continue to look for opportunities in New Albany.
“They have made substantial investments in physical infrastructure,” he says. “Second, the mindset (of city officials) is very pro-development. They understand the benefits that new development provides in terms of jobs and tax revenue.”
The business park was designed with clusters—beauty, information technology, high-tech manufacturing, logistics and health care. That diversification has the park well-positioned to weather the economic storm created by Covid-19, sources say.
Jennifer Chrysler, New Albany’s director of community development, is in the midst of a master plan update to guide how the remaining land will be developed.
“We’ll analyze our clusters and make sure we don’t have any gaps,” she says. “The combination of technology and the pandemic may open us up to industries we haven’t really thought of yet. We’re eager to understand how we can position ourselves to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.