Completion of the $4 million team track rail siding at the end of West Main Street and finding a buyer for the vacant Harman-Becker building in Heidmann Industrial Park stand out as economic development highlights for Washington in 2012, officials said.
Closing on the sale of the Harman-Becker building is expected this month, said Darren Lamb, director of community and economic development.
“Darren spent a lot of time marketing the building and showing it to prospects,” said Bill Miller Sr., president of the Washington 353 Redevelopment Corporation.
Miller said Lamb had about six very good prospects for the building including two or three from other states and two to three local companies.
A local manufacturing company is in the process of completing the purchase and will be moving another business it acquired into the building, Lamb explained. It will be bringing about 50 “quality” jobs to the community, he noted.
“It was important to get someone into that building,” Lamb said, noting that the Harman company cooperated in working with the city and gave employees good severance packages. Many of those workers have found jobs with other local industries, he said.
In talking about the pending sale, Miller noted that over the years, most of the economic development in the city has been in expanding existing businesses.
Miller said that the other main project in 2012 that occupied much of Lamb’s time was the development of the new rail siding adjacent to the Canam Steel plant.
“The focus now is to set up an operator for the new facility,” Lamb said. “That will continue to be our big thing this year. We’re still working on that.”
Lamb explained that in the beginning, the city may operate the facility because initially there won’t be a lot of customers using it. Later, as business increases, the city may contract out the operation.
“We don’t expect to see many immediate benefits,” Miller said. “But in the long run this should attract more and more users.”
Lamb said Union Pacific Railroad has agreed to “spot” rail cars using the facility. The first things will be to move the oil tanker cars from the siding on Front Street to the new team track and the delivery of steel for the Canam plant.
The city received approximately $3 million in state and federal grant funds to build the team track and the $1 million balance came from half-cent capital improvement sales tax funds earmarked for economic development projects in the community.
Construction of the facility, the only one of its type in this region, started in January 2012.
The project also yielded an approximate 2.5-acre lot adjacent to the team track that can be marketed as an industrial site, Miller explained.
A “very successful” job expo was held last year with the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce taking the lead in hosting that event, Lamb said. It gave high school students an opportunity to meet with representatives of industries here and learn about the types of jobs that are available.
During 2013 one focus will be on continuing to market the community, Lamb said.
There currently are three existing buildings available and two of those have over 50,000 square feet of space, he explained. The city also has 86 acres available as “certified” industrial sites with all infrastructure in place. Lamb said he currently is working with about a dozen “active” prospects.
In 2012, work was started on developing better communication with industries to let them know what help is available from the city.
“We will continue that this year,” Miller said. “We do have a problem with a lack of skilled workers for some industries. The key is education.”
Lamb said that students and their parents need to be made aware of the job opportunities available in the community.
“One of our goals has been to help provide jobs for our local young people,” Miller added.
Last year, Lamb participated in a joint marketing effort to New York with the Missouri Partnership, East Central College and the city of Union. That raised awareness of Franklin County and was partially paid for by the Franklin County Commission.
Lamb said he plans to participate with the Missouri Partnership in another trip in May.
Highway 100 Widening
Miller said one of the “most forward” steps taken in the community was passage of the half-cent transportation sales tax to expand Highway 100.
“In the long run that will pay off for industrial and commercial development,” he noted.
Miller said the transition from Dick Oldenburg to Darren Lamb as the city’s economic development director went very well. Oldenburg worked with Lamb until his retirement last summer.
“He introduced me to people I needed to know,” Lamb remarked.
Miller remarked about the cooperation provided by the state on economic development projects and also noted that city officials have been very cooperative as well. “The city council has been great to work with on projects,” he said.
Miller said that Mercy Hospital Washington will be making a decision this year on either expanding the existing facility or on building a new, smaller hospital.
In 2012, the hospital became the largest employer in the community when it merged with Patients First, Miller said. The hospital now employs more than 1,200 people.