After about eight months of work, Gahanna has a defined economic-development strategy.

After about eight months of work, Gahanna has a defined economic-development strategy.

A summary of the plan recently was presented to council by the team of Ice Miller Whiteboard/OHM Advisors/Danter Group that was hired at a cost of $95,000.

A public meeting to discuss the results of the plan will be held at a date and time to be announced. The plan is available on the city's website at gahanna.gov and on the development website at gahannaohiousa.com.

Gahanna development-director Anthony Jones said the strategy was created by gathering insight from the corporate community, by analyzing Gahanna's existing demographic, industry and real estate conditions and by identifying what the market could support for specific real estate products and industry types.

"This analysis was then used to create specific strategies that will help guide the city's economic-development efforts in the future," he said. "These strategies, based upon market realities, were then translated to specific real estate scenarios for priority development areas throughout the community."

In addition, Jones said, the plan identifies key partners who will work together to help implement the strategies outlined within the plan.

He said the real estate scenarios identified within the strategy are meant to be an example of what could be supported by the marketplace.

"Understanding the market possibilities is the first step of a public discussion in determining the public and private investment priorities for the Gahanna community," Jones said.

Focus on brand identity

Chris Magill, economic-development director for Ice Miller, said key points through the process showed that Gahanna lacks a brand identity.

"Everyone understands this city doesn't have an identity, not just people inside the city but outside," he said.

In addition, land is available to capture market demand, he said.

"The perception that Gahanna is built out isn't true," Magill said.

Recognizing strengths

The team also found dramatic shifts in occupational categories, with growing manufacturing-industry jobs and a strong concentration of education and health care.

Gahanna's health-care and industries are doing better than the national average, he said.

"Twenty-four percent of Gahanna's payroll is from the education and health-care industry," Magill said.

He also noted a high percentage of office startups and notable household income changes. Gahanna's household income has increased in the $10,000 to $24,000 and $100,000 to $149,000 wage brackets, he said.

"There are interesting shifts in those categories," Magill said.

Magill said Gahanna is a very passionate community.

"One of things we noticed is that everyone has an opinion," he said. "We've had a phenomenal steering committee. We had everything we wanted through the process."

Opportunities to enable growth include affordable land surrounding Interstate 270, proximity to Mount Carmel East Hospital, west-side development and the search for corporate partners.

"Everyone agreed it's an asset to have space by the airport," Magill said.

Understanding weaknesses

What's considered as threats to inhibit growth are the departure of AEP, regional competition, private-equity pressure and a large-scale competitor entering the market.

Jones said corporate leaders within Gahanna and industry experts throughout the region indicated that Gahanna needs to be more aggressive marketing its assets.

"They stated Gahanna markets their individual assets well, but collectively, there needs to be more of a unified approach to show why Gahanna is a great place for business," he said. "Contrary to popular belief, the city of Gahanna has sufficient land to accommodate industrial, commercial and residential growth over the next 10 years."

The Danter Group, a nationally recognized research firm, found that over the next 10 years, the Gahanna market could support:

* 767,000 square feet of Class A and Class B office space. Class A is considered the most prestigious buildings competing for premier office users with rents above average for the area, according to the Building Owners and Managers Association, which classifies office space. Class B buildings compete for a wide range of users with rents in the average range for the area, according to BOMA.

* 800,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space.

* 408 hotel rooms with 25,000 square feet of conference-center space.

* 720 new residential units.

Ken Danter, president of the Danter Co., said he found the development of Gahanna's plan immensely rewarding with great staff camaraderie.

"We pushed to look in a variety of ways that we normally don't have the opportunity," he said. "We looked at market conditions in different areas."

Danter said Gahanna has some great sites for office space.

"One thing we looked at outside office was signature office buildings built in the last 15 years," he said. "We looked at criteria developers used. The Buckles tract (near Tech Center Drive) meets virtually all criteria developers look for."

He said Gahanna didn't have a good focus of business destination for hotels, but an opportunity exists for a Hilton or Marriott.

"If the Buckles tract is developed, as we think it might, you could have a conference center," Danter said. "When we do our conference-center work, the first question they ask is, where's there a golf course? There's an opportunity to move toward the hospitality destination."

Identifying objectives

Magill said the top economic-development strategies include a multiyear comprehensive marketing campaign that includes development of a brand, a flexible, aggressive and sustainable incentive policy and roundtable discussions with business and community leaders.

"Consensus needs to be built," he said. "Stakeholders know the problems that exist and they want to help."

Other strategies include a sustainable economic-development fund, property-acquisition strategy targeted in priority development areas and a beautification plan for city gateways.

"We know that's important to redefine the city," Magill said.

Improved efficiency and effectiveness of the permit process also was recommended.