While Union County businesses struggled with a harsh economy in 2009, the lessons they learned will likely serve them well in the future.

While Union County businesses struggled with a harsh economy in 2009, the lessons they learned will likely serve them well in the future.

Some companies downsized, reduced production and took other measures to streamline their operations.

The emphasis for 2010 and beyond was on working smarter, doing more with less and long-term viability in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Union County Economic Development Director Eric Phillips said that while business in the county has been slow, 2009 has also been marked by significant expansion projects by some of the county's larger businesses.

"Overall the economy nationally has not done so well this past year, and I think that has finally started to trickle down to Union County," Phillips said. "A lot of our businesses have struggled, but from the same light, some of our companies are expanding. There has been a major expansion by the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, which is a huge win for our community. Nestle has gone through an expansion. There's good news with some of the things that are happening in our community."

Scotts had a strong year in 2009 for the first time, the international lawn and garden company surpassed the $3-billion mark in revenues.
On the county level, the company and the city reached an agreement in July to build a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing/processing facility and a 20,000-square foot office facility on its Marysville campus, leading to the retention or creation of nearly 200 jobs.

In the company's 2009 annual report, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board Jim Hagedom wrote that the company returned to its roots in 2009.

"The success we enjoyed in 2009 was due to a willingness to bet on our business and ourselves despite the difficult economic environment," Hagedom wrote. "We also relied on 'old school' lessons to remind ourselves of three simple truths: Marketing works.

Innovation works. And our 'feet on the street,' an army of more than 2,000 salespeople, also work. We invested in these three areas in 2009, and each paid off handsomely."

As it celebrated its 30th year of production in Ohio in 2009, Honda of America Mfg. (HAM) also had to overcome the economic challenges facing the automotive industry. HAM undertook belt-tightening measures, such as instituting 13 non-production days between May and July.

The cutbacks reduced Honda's North American automobile production by 62,000 cars and light trucks through those months, including 28,000 passenger cars and light trucks produced at the Marysville auto plant and East Liberty auto plant. To minimize impact on associates and their families, Honda spread out the no-work days so there were no more than two per month in May, June and July, and associates had the option to cover the no-work days with vacation or take them off with no pay.

The cutbacks offered results - over the summer the demand for Honda vehicles exceeded supply, and while Honda Marysville couldn't avoid a nationwide decline in sales, the Marysville dealership fared better with a decline of 24 percent (Honda's nationwide decline was 33 percent), and its certified used car sales were actually up 16.1-percent over the summer.

Phillips said that although the county has gone through hard times in recent years, he is optimistic about 2010.

"In a way this has given us a chance to breath, to get some of our plans in place," Phillips said. "Union County has been working hard on its Comprehensive Plan, and Plain City is going to be updating its Comprehensive Plan soon. The commissioners have dedicated some business incubator space, and we're trying to encourage businesses to stay local."

Phillips said a key to success in 2010 will involve keeping the dollars circulating throughout Union County.

"I can't encourage enough people to buy locally," he said. "We are blessed to have companies that actually still make things here, so you can buy products from places that employ our residents. I think we really need to focus on keeping our money here."