BATAVIA TWP., Ohio - Broad smiles were clearly evident Friday on the faces of many Batavia Township business owners.
Barb Bruner was one of them. She owns and operates Batavia Heights Christian Child Care on Old State Route 32.
"There is reason to smile today," she said. "Absolutely!"
Why? Huhtamaki, a global leader in food packaging and tableware, announced it is buying half the 1.8 million square foot building that formerly housed a Ford transmission plant.
Work begins soon on $60 million in improvements, which will lead to the creation of an expected 237 jobs over the next three years. Production on paper drink cups should begin by the end of 2013. The facility will also distribute products made throughout the company's manufacturing network.
That proposed plans will make Huhtamaki Clermont County's third largest manufacturer. It will join UC East/Clermont College, Engineered Mobile Solutions, Inc., and GSM Recycling in the massive building that parallels Ohio State Route 32 on James Sauls Boulevard.
"This investment further demonstrates Huhtamaki's commitment to serving the evolving needs of the foodservice and retail customers for tableware, cups, containers, carriers and serviceware," said Clay Dunn, president of Huhtamaki North America.
Bruner termed the announcement very good news.
"We are thrilled to death to have the former Ford plant being used again," she said. "It's going to mean a lot of revenue for our child care center."
When Ford left the area, the number of boys and girls in the day care center dropped by 42 children. Now, Bruner hopes to gain new business.
"We have 125 enrolled and when we were at our peak, we were at 179," she said. "So we're really excited that the opportunity for growth is there for us as well as some of the other businesses in the community."
Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud said he is thrilled to welcome Huhtamaki to Batavia Township.
"Our whole goal was to never let that be a rust bucket after Ford left," he said. "We've been very aggressive in our efforts to redevelop the plant."
Proud added he thinks Huhtamaki's decision to locate there will be a catalyst for new economic development in the area.
"There's going to be more need for ancillary services," he said. "Hopefully, you will have more people that stop at local restaurants to eat and who will buy gas. Who knows? There might be such a need that you get other businesses who will build out there.
Industrial Realty Group has worked for years to find a new purpose for the building. It bought the facility from Ford and has slowly but surely added new businesses at the location.
"We've come to a major milestone and we're just thrilled," said Dean Miller, IRG's vice president of leasing for the southern region. "It's definitely a positive. I think it says things about where we are as a region coming back from the point of view of manufacturing comeback. I think it bodes well and says great things about Clermont County."
Like Proud, Miller said he believes other development will follow Huhtamaki.
"We definitely have some land here. We've got another 300,000 to 500,000 square feet in the building available for lease or sale," he said. "Between the property we have and what we have left to do in the building and the positive that Huhtamaki is for the project here, yeah, we look forward to some additional business."
For now, Kathy Luccasen is glad to have a new neighbor.
She's chief financial officer for GSM Recycling, which operates in 100,000 square feet of the space at the plant and has an option to double its size there.
"It's pretty exciting," she said. "It's nice to think that there's going to be increased activity here and as a strong presence for the community besides just us. So, from every aspect, it's a strong addition."
Proud added he soon hopes that the building can be given a new name so it's no longer called the former Ford transmission plant.
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