Kent seeks homegrown economic boom

Aaron Kinney

It’s called economic gardening, and the city of Kent thinks it’s the key to a sustainable local economy.

The idea is simple: Rather than try to woo national corporations, the city offers incentives to court regional companies and help local startup businesses grow into permanent fixtures.

“It’s very, very hard to go out and attract national companies…,” said Dan Smith, economic development director for the city of Kent, “but I think where we get the biggest bang for our buck is helping local people start from the ground up.”

Ametek and Davey Tree’s new downtown offices are part of a larger initiative to get businesses coming to and remaining in Kent. To that end, the city is bringing in new companies like MAC LTT and working to establish a technology park.


MAC LTT, Alliance-based manufacturer MAC Trailer’s liquid tank division, came to Kent last November, bringing with it more than 60 jobs. Plant Manager Ken Grosswiller said that the size and location of the facility were “perfect.”

“In order to build those tanks, though, we needed space,” Grosswiller said. “So, we started looking around and were able to … find a facility that was very close to the Alliance plant, which is our corporate office.”

City council member Garret Ferrara said that there was concern over whether or not MAC would come to Kent at all because of a potential conflict of interest with the former site owner, Fontaine Trailer. An “eleventh hour” appeal to both parties was able to resolve everything.

Because MAC was looking to deal in liquid tank trailers and Fontaine sold flatbed trailers, there was no issue and the project moved forward.

Smith said bringing in MAC was about “synergy,” and the city of Kent offered the company a .24 percent job creation tax credit.

“It’s a substantial increase to our tax base, provided employment opportunities,” Smith said. “And any good economic development director will tell you, if you create 100 jobs, it’s really like creating 125 because of the… multiplier effect.”

Besides the city’s estimated $100,000 income tax revenue, MAC employees eat and buy gas in town on their way to and from work. And while it experienced slowdown earlier in the year due to decreased demand for water tanks, Grosswiller said its crude oil tanks are in high demand.

“Currently we have 91 people working at the facility,” Grosswiller said. “We have 53 hourly, and our plan is to have nearly 200 in the next year to year-and-a-half.”

Technology Park

But MAC was as much happenstance as negotiation. For further growth, something bigger is necessary. Like the proposed technology park at the former RB&W site on Mogadore Road, which Smith said has been in the works for “eight or nine years.”

Jack Crews, head of the Regional Economic Growth Corporation in Kent, said that the idea of a tech park in Ohio is “relatively new,” despite similar projects sprouting across the country.

“It’s thrilling that Ametek and Davey Tree placed offices in downtown Kent. That helps anchor the downtown, having offices like that,” Crews said. “So, the next thing is, what do we do to help grow the economy even more?”

The technology park, dubbed the Great Atlantic & Western Technology & Entrepreneur Center, will offer space to expanding tech firms in an attempt to replicate the success of AlphaMicron, now located at the Centennial Research Park.

After the Economic Development Administration issues its report on the 17-acre Mogadore property, the city’s final cleanup of the area can begin. Construction on the site can begin as early as 2013, Smith said.

“What I really feel like we have now are … partners that are willing to sit down and start putting ink to paper,” he said.

The tech park has only gotten off the ground, Crews said, because the City’s found a potential — and unnamed, for security reasons — tenant for the first building, which will go up on the “triangle” between Franklin Ave and Mogadore Road.

“If you don’t have tenants lined up to pay the operational cost, you’re not going to do it,” Crews said.

The old Field of Dreams method of building space and waiting for occupants no longer works — you wouldn’t dig a garden and wait for flowers or produce to fill it. Even getting funding requires tenants. Like the downtown project, the technology park is ultimately a collaborative effort between the right public and private groups.

“It’s a watershed event, I think,” Ferrara said. “You see what’s happening downtown. Success begets success, and people become more and more… intrigued, and they visit. There’s so much happening that I think people will want to stay.”

Contact Aaron Kinney at [email protected].