More than two decades ago, Canal Winchester ushered in a new era of development, welcoming industry on land north of U.S. Route 33 and west of Diley Road in the Fairfield County section of the city.

Today, the Canal Pointe Commerce and Industrial Park, which provides commercial shipping access via nearby Interstate 270 and rail and air freight services at Rickenbacker International Airport, employs between 1,800 and 1,900 people who supply a sizeable portion of the city's income taxes.

While nearly 30 companies occupy Canal Pointe, leaving limited space for new tenants, the city's economic development engine has hardly ground to a halt. Instead, 2019 is delivering unprecedented growth in the city's industrial sector, according to Lucas Haire, the city's economic development director.

"We're trying to strike while the iron is hot," he said. "You never know when the economy will turn again. We're trying to get these projects built."

Bixby Road projects

The city is in contract with a Kansas City company to sell it land along Bixby Road near Rager Road and U.S. Route 33, and a Minneapolis-based commercial real-estate and development company is ready to build two "spec" warehouses on Gender Road, west of the Winchester Square shopping center.

In June, Canal Winchester City Council agreed to issue bonds, not to exceed $950,000, to purchase approximately 110 acres along Bixby Road. The pending land deal with NorthPoint Development could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the company paying $15,000 per acre.

NorthPoint knows the area, having developed properties south of Rickenbacker. Last year, it leased more than 13.2 million square feet of "Class A warehouse space" around the nation, according to its website.

"We sold it almost immediately, and we never dreamed that would happen," Mayor Mike Ebert said of the Bixby Road acreage, noting that the city continues to look at other opportunities to purchase land for development.

The Minneapolis-based Opus Group is preparing to construct two buildings totaling approximately 800,000 square feet at 5080 Gender Road, which city officials believe could deliver 400 to 500 new jobs.

Doug Swain, representing the Opus Group, has said the area provides a good fit, with access and proximity to U.S. Route 33.

The project will receive a 15-year, 100% tax exemption on any new construction.

The tax agreement approved by City Council and the Canal Winchester school board earlier this year calls for the creation of a community reinvestment area, which requires the school district to receive no less than 50% of what it would have received without the property-tax abatement.

The Opus Group, which has committed to creating no fewer than 80 jobs, with a payroll of no less than $2.4 million, has agreed to pay the school district $40,000 annually. However, beginning in the fourth year of the 15-year deal, the company will pay a supplement in lieu of taxes, ensuring that the district receives no less than $100,000 per year.

The agreement also says the district will receive 25% of the income taxes generated from the site, up to the amount it would have received from the properties without the abatement, which is estimated at $268,000 annually.

Currently, the Canal Winchester school district receives a little more than $5,000 annually from the project property, Haire said.

Diversity is key

Along with bringing jobs and expanding areas for industrial development, these projects also mark a shift in helping to diversify Canal Winchester growth, he said.

"Our primary focus in the past has been on manufacturing, and that's starting to change a little bit," Haire said. "The city is overly reliant on automotive-parts suppliers. Our three largest employers make up more than 20% of our income-tax collections. We need to focus on diversifying away from that automotive-supply industry."

TS Trim Industries, HFI Inc. and Nifco America Corp. are all headquartered in Canal Winchester.

Nifco, which makes plastic clips and fasteners in the automotive industry, announced last October it would expand its footprint in Canal Winchester, building a new 175,000-square-foot warehouse and production facility at 7877 Robinett Way, near its existing North American headquarters in the Canal Pointe Industry and Commerce Park.

The project will add approximately 100 employees to the more than 600 who work in the city.

"We're helping a local company here that's going to grow and expand and add new jobs in the city," Haire said, "but it's also concerning because it was our last large industrial site. So if we want to be able to compete for additional investment to come to the community, we have to have sites that are prepared for them. That's what we're focused on now."

Ebert believes the future for Canal Winchester development lies in warehouses for online retailers.

"It's here now, and it's pretty big," he said. "It's here to stay for a while. Those are the kinds of areas where we're leaning."

Professional office space is another way Canal Winchester is looking to diversify its economic development.

Ground was broken late last year on the second phase of the Winchester Office Park at 6365 Winchester Blvd. The tenants include a financial planning firm, a Nationwide Children's Hospital clinic and a dermatologist.

Downtown development

Another area targeted for development is the downtown area's West Waterloo Street.

The city razed a vacant and blighted home at 26 W. Waterloo St. and expects to lease the land, including adjacent property that formerly was the site of a Marathon gas station, to a developer who wants to construct a three-story, mixed-use building for retail use and restaurants, plus 14 apartments on the top floor.

"We kind of see that as the future of the downtown area," Haire said. "There's a lot of demand for retail and restaurant space, but there's not any space available. You have to look at redeveloping sites to strengthen everyone in the downtown."

With each project comes a lower tax burden on the residents of Canal Winchester, which was the state's fastest-growing city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The city grew by 4.4% between 2016 and 2017, narrowly edging out Dublin.

"There has to be a proper balance in place when you look at how a city functions and how it gets its income," Councilman Bob Clark said. "We get it from jobs. We live or die by the income tax. Housing doesn't pay for our existence; we need to get income from jobs to pay for that housing."

While Canal Pointe is nearly filled, the city hasn't closed the door on expanding the industrial park. Haire notes that more than 100 acres of farmland sit to the northwest and west.

"It's something that we're interested in when the timing is right and the owners are prepared to sell the property," he said.