By DENISE GRANT
Could Findlay take the title of “top micropolitan” city in the nation for a fourth year in a row?
Hint: Mayor Lydia Mihalik says 2017 was a “banner year” for Findlay.
Mihalik discussed the possibility of keeping the title at this week’s First Friday Luncheon hosted by the Hancock County Republican Party. The mayor gave an update on the city’s progress over the past year.
The announcement about the award is expected soon.
Findlay is just the second community in the 29-year history of the award to be the top “micropolitan,” a city with a population between 10,000 and 50,000, for three years in a row.
In 2016, Findlay ranked first for business growth among 575 small cities nationwide, according to Site Selection magazine, which hands out the award. Findlay won the award for 2016 with 22 projects that met Site Selection’s qualifying criteria.
The top projects were Whirlpool’s $40.6 million, 86,400-square-foot plant expansion, and over $13 million in additions to Mennel Milling in Fostoria.
Mihalik said the 2016 win came as a surprise. “Things just seemed a little slow” that year, she said.
However, 2017 was a record-breaker. Mihalik said construction in the city was at an all-time high, with an investment of about $350 million, and Findlay had a net gain of 1,200 jobs.
She also said tax reform on the national level should “release the horses” of the local economic engine as companies invest more in their workforces.
She said the workforce in Findlay is larger than it has ever been, with the city serving as a regional hub for jobs.
She said competition for workers should help drive up wages, which already outpace wages in surrounding counties.
“Things are going very well,” she said. “I like to call it our ‘comeback story'” following the recession in 2006.
And, Mihalik said, city government is managing its funds “so much better now.”
City government employs 307 people, down from 356 employees in 2012, but offers better services, the mayor insisted.
Mihalik said data about the city’s performance is being collected constantly in an effort to measure and improve efficiency in services — right down to the response time for pothole complaints.
The street department’s goal is to make the repair within three days. A bar chart, part of the mayor’s presentation on Friday, showed the street department hitting that goal regularly, with the exception of last August, which showed a large lag in response.
“But we know we can blame that on Mother Nature,” Mihalik said.
The city spent $77,000 cleaning up after the July flood. Most of the money was spent on dump fees at the county landfill, with street department workers hauling the debris.
Mihalik also said major announcements from Washington, D.C., in coming weeks may provide some relief to cities needing to improve or replace infrastructure.
In June, Mihalik was invited to attend a summit organized by President Donald Trump’s administration. The summit included county commissioners and mayors from around the country, who had a working lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. Mihalik is a member of the Ohio Mayors Alliance.
The president’s proposed budget includes a $1.5 trillion investment plan to rebuild infrastructure. The plan calls for a mixture of federal loans and grants.
According to Trump’s plan, rural America would receive grants to rebuild bridges, roads and waterways.
States and cities would receive grants to meet their infrastructure needs. Projects of regional and national significance would receive loans.
Separately, Mihalik said she has joined a group of mayors “who have had enough of the Army Corps of Engineers.”
The mayors plan to work together in hopes of changing how the corps operates.
“Hopefully, we can make a difference,” Mihalik said. “No city should have to go through what we went through with the Army Corps.”
The Hancock County commissioners voted in June 2016 to take local control of the flood-reduction plan for Findlay and Hancock County, and seek outside engineers, after learning that an Army Corps of Engineers internal review found problems with the corps’ flood-reduction plan.
Corps reviewers decided the estimated cost of a proposed diversion channel on Findlay’s west side, which had been set at $60.5 million, was too low, and increased the estimate to $80 million.
The added expense reduced the benefit-to-cost ratio of the project to the point that the corps no longer considered the plan economically feasible.
The corps spent nearly 10 years and $10 million on its defunct plan.
“All that time, we kept questioning, why is this happening to us? What’s wrong with us?” Mihalik said. “It wasn’t just us.”