Economic development president to step down

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

By JIM MAURER - TIFFIN -- Rich Focht began construction work as a teenager for his dad and uncles more than 50 years ago.

For the past 23 years, as president and chief executive officer of Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp., he has been working to construct relationships with companies that may locate in Tiffin and Seneca County.

Focht, 66, is retiring Tuesday. The Tiffin native plans to spend time playing golf, traveling to visit family, and preparing several rental properties for sale. He's also seeking the 4th Ward seat on Tiffin City Council.

In 2000, he worked for the Regional Growth Partnership, Toledo, which now oversees Gov. John Kasich's Jobs Ohio program for northwestern Ohio.

Otherwise, he has been head of economic development activities in Seneca County since 1990.

In 1976, after a two-year stint in the Army and a return to the family construction business, Focht bought out his uncle and took over the business, which built industrial projects, plus water and sewage treatment plants.

In the late 1970s, Focht wanted to develop land on the south end of Tiffin for an industrial park, but the city had no plan to attract business.

He later found an ally in former Tiffin Mayor Dave Martien. Focht was city administrator in 1988, and they discussed how to generate jobs and business in the area. The result was North Star Industrial Park on Ohio 53 north.

The city paid $1.2 million for the property and infrastructure installation. Sunoco Products, Owens Corning and Taiho Corp. of America have located there. The city's investment was paid off in eight years, and Tiffin continues to benefit from the addition to the tax base.

Later, Eagle Rock Industrial Park was developed on Seneca County 11, about a mile west of Ohio 53. Three companies there employ 700 workers, with Toledo Molding and Die having 500 employees after combining operations from Sycamore and Carey. The company invested $8.5 million in the building.

It has not all been successes. American Standard left Tiffin, and National Machinery closed and then reopened on a smaller scale, Focht said.

As a result, a plan for replacing companies that close or relocate is in place, he said. "No one stays in business forever," he said.

Tiffin and Seneca County officials continually work to grow the business base.

Retention and expansion of existing businesses and industry is the most important part of the job, he said.

In combination with the Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Services, a former grocery store property was remodeled into office space for the two organizations at 19 W. Market St. They moved from smaller space on South Washington Street. Other businesses have located at the Market Street site, too.

A lack of housing and building sites with infrastructure was a concern, and a plan was developed. The result has been development on West Market Street where Lowe's, Rural King and North Central Ohio Educational Service Center all opened where vacant buildings had been, and Mercy Hospital built a new structure.

Focht said he's received a lot of help over the years, especially from Karen Bowers, the other economic development employee who has worked with the organization for six months longer than Focht.

When he took over, Focht showed Bowers a bookcase filled with information about state and federal grant-writing regulations.

"See all that stuff? It's your job to learn what's in there," Focht told her. And she did. The organization contracts with the city to do grant-writing.

"I've been blessed to have her here. The organization's success is as much a result of her as anything I could do," he said.

The future will include a study of Ohio 53 improvements within a four-county area. The state Department of Transportation has contracted to begin the work early next year. The $100,000 cost will be paid by the four counties and private donations. Sandusky Seneca Tiffin Port Authority is providing $10,000.

A separate project would be a bypass, with U.S. 224 and Ohio 18 combining with Ohio 53. Within the Tiffin city limits, the project could be done as financing is available for the estimated $4 million project, Focht said. But acquiring land outside the city, necessary to complete the project, may not be as easy, he said.

Others have noticed the organization's efforts.

In October, Focht received the Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Services' Outstanding Citizenship Award, which honors "an individual who has proven to be an extraordinary asset to Tiffin. The honoree is a success in their field, a volunteer in their community and possesses exemplary character traits."

The Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. is merging with Tiffin Tomorrow, a downtown development group, and Tiffin City Council is expected to increase its funding for the combined organization.

David Zak will replace Focht, and will begin work Jan. 6. He was hired earlier this year. Most recently, he was chief of the Business Services Division at the Ohio Development Services Agency. In this job, he has managed the Office of Strategic Business Investments, the Office of Technology Investments and the Office of Business Assistance.

He has more than 17 years of business and economic development experience.

Zak has been vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. He also ran the Economic Development Department for Fairfield County and led a real estate development and management company.