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City’s industrial expansion, downtown changes hailed

Chris Oaks spoke with Tony Iriti, economic development director for the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance.
Q: What would you single out as the biggest success story of 2013 from an economic development standpoint?
A: I think some of the changes (Findlay) City Council has made to help the downtown area become more robust moving into the future. On the industrial side, we had a lot of local companies undergo expansions.
Q: Hamlet Protein recently announced they would be expanding operations into 2014, as well.
A: And Mitech. Both are looking at adding lines. Part of what makes that significant is the fact that these companies are European-based, an area we see as holding a great deal of untapped potential for more foreign direct investment.
Q: You recently said the same thing holds true for India. But could the Apollo Tyres experience in the failed Cooper Tire deal give us a black eye in the minds of other companies in that region looking to expand?
A: I don’t think so. What killed that deal was concern on the part of financial backers that the whole thing was too heavily leveraged, not that it wasn’t a good business deal.
From a strictly business standpoint, no one questioned the positives of opening up new markets to companies with few overlapping assets. The fact that they ultimately weren’t able to make it happen doesn’t mean that Findlay isn’t an attractive business partner.
Q: Is there any concern that now Cooper Tire may be seen as ripe for a buyout by another company, perhaps on terms that are even less attractive to the community than the Apollo merger?
A: It’s a good point that, since Apollo did not have an existing base of operations in the United States, the Findlay corporate operations would have been an important part of making the company successful.
Should a new buyer step forward with that U.S. infrastructure already in place, the future need of the local operation could be much more uncertain. Now, we don’t know if that will happen, but the possibility is concerning.
The other area of concern is that with all the uncertainty that’s been hanging over the company, Cooper has not only lost market share, they’ve lost some very good employees. So now, they have to go back into something of a rebuilding mode in both respects.
Q: Getting back to the question of India, how important is that region from a position of economic development?
A: For a long time, we’ve strictly looked at India as a market to export our goods as their middle class begins to grow. Now, through our contact with Apollo Tyres, we have met with about a half-dozen other companies who are beginning to look at the United States as an area for growth in the other direction.
Internally, we look at it as similar to where we were 25 years ago with Japanese companies. So, if we can begin to build those relationships now, just think of the dividends we could reap in the future.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at chrisoaks@wfin.com, or at 419-422-4545.

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