Niagara details process that made Gahanna top pick
A personal approach is one ingredient Niagara Bottling was looking to capture when looking for a manufacturing facility home.
Brian Hess, Niagara executive vice president, recently told Gahanna City Council that he and his team were impressed with Gahanna from the beginning, thanks to city representatives who had done their homework, asked pertinent questions and shared common principles.
"We take a personal approach to the project," Hess said. "Ultimately, the first fit community is going to get the best shot. We felt (Gahanna) was by far the best fit."
He said he has met with 300 communities over 12 years for Niagara.
The Ontario, Calif.-based, company currently operates 10 plant locations, with two additional sites in development. The proposed Gahanna facility at 1600 Eastgate Parkway would be the 13th plant, focusing on product manufacturing.
The region -- Gahanna specifically -- were chosen because of existing customer demand in Ohio and contiguous states.
Hess said he's charged with creating a unique experience for the company's 1,500 employees.
When he first started with the business, Hess said, his father had a bad accident that resulted in the foreclosure of Hess' boyhood home.
After Niagara's owners, the Peykoff family, learned of the situation, they loaned Hess the money to buy back the home.
He said the company, established in 1963, treats employees like family.
Niagara started bottling 5-gallon glass containers of water for homes and offices in the early 1960s and now supplies single-serve, private-label bottled water to groceries, club stores, convenience stores and wholesalers throughout the United States.
When looking at sites, Hess said, 30 prospects among three states were considered, and it started with zoning.
"You get rid of properties that won't work," he said.
Then, Hess said, startup costs are considered, followed by "community fit" sites.
Gahanna development director Anthony Jones said Gahanna wasn't initially the best financial fit for Niagara, so incentives were examined to help make the city the top choice in the Midwest.
"Competing against multiple communities in the Midwest, Gahanna and the Columbus region rose to the top because of their commitment to being a partner with business," Jones said. "Our goal is to create an environment where it is easy for businesses to invest."
From the beginning, Hess said, Gahanna was ranked highly as a community fit, thanks to the team who met with Niagara representatives.
"The city leadership was there," Hess said. "Everybody questioned us and had to know what we stood for. The relationship grew as we problem-solved. We felt the love."
He said Niagara is community-minded, providing disaster relief following hurricanes and free medical care to the indigent.
"We want employees to be active in the community and as a team," Hess said.
About 73 jobs are expected to be created for the Gahanna plant, Hess said, and local residents would be recruited to build a solid team.
Jobs would include mechanical, electrical, quality assurance, production manager, equipment operators and preventive maintenance.
"We have an extremely robust internship," Hess said. "We bring in people right out of school. We need to build talent from within to a certain extent. We have to skill-convert."
Council is considering several pieces of legislation concerning Niagara, including a five-year, 50-percent Office & Industrial incentive. Based on an annual payroll of $2.9 million, it would provide an estimated payment to Niagara of $22,409 per year for five years, totaling $112,043 over the incentive term.
Council also is being asked to establish a step rate for municipal water, thereby waiving the operational and capital surcharge on every gallon purchased above 9 million per user per quarter.
Because of Niagara Bottling's anticipated high-volume usage, council also is considering half of the actual water/sewer capacity fees, or $175,633.50, to be waived.
Niagara proposes to purchase a 308,000-square-foot building at 1600 Eastgate Parkway to establish a two-line production facility to bottle and distribute water.
The building is within Gahanna's Eastgate Industrial Park and has been vacant for nearly five years.
Niagara would invest $44.7 million to $49.2 million in the property purchase, facility improvements, machinery and equipment, specialty tooling, and telecommunications equipment.
"We are excited to welcome Niagara to the Gahanna community," Mayor Becky Stinchcomb said. "We are impressed that Niagara is demonstrating their long-term commitment to our community by purchasing and investing in vacant real estate. They are an impressive family-owned business that will create jobs and be a great corporate citizen in the city of Gahanna."