GALION — Galion City Council voted unanimously to create a port authority during its Tuesday meeting.
Mayor Tom O’Leary said he was pleased that council made the decision to move forward with creation of the port authority, which he said will be used to put several plans into action in the near future.
“Port authorities are an economic development tool that I’ve had the chance to work with over the years all around the state,” said O’Leary. “They’re a Swiss army knife of development tools. Specifically, here, what we think it could be instrumental in is looking at the financing of a new grocery store and the financing of a sports complex, which is something that has been talked about for several years.
“The third immediate project is something that we need in Galion, and that is the beginning of a plan for an industrial park,” O’Leary said. “Everyone wants new jobs, but we really don’t have the right physical site or the appropriate building that you need to do economic development. After many years of saying we need an industrial park, we are now getting this in place to be able to do that.”
According to the language contained in Ordinance No. 2019-30, the port authority is designed to serve two purposes for the city, which would include the plans O’Leary detailed. The first function is “to enhance, foster, aid, provide or promote transportation, economic development, housing, recreation, education, governmental operations, culture and research in the City.”
The second function of the authority is to “create or preserve jobs and employment opportunities and enhance the availability of adequate housing consistent with Article VIII, Sections 13 and 16 of the Ohio Constitution.”
The mayor said development along the U.S. 30 corridor just north of Galion also will be a priority in the future.
“There’s a whole new structure that’s in federal law called an ‘opportunity zone.’ The area at the (Ohio) 61 and (U.S. Highway) 30 interchange is part of one,” O’Leary said. “That really brings things into focus. Opportunity zones are one of the top priorities of the (Ohio Gov. Mike) DeWine administration. If that’s the trend in Columbus, we need to get our opportunity zone in the Galion area well-represented and developed so we can take part in what the state can do.”
O’Leary noted that the port authority has greater flexibility to conduct economic development activities than does the city government.
“They can operate without the competitive bidding and public bidding that the city runs into if we were to buy or sell property or anything of that sort,” O’Leary said. “So, that’s the logic behind it. I think it’ll broaden the base of people from the community who are engaged in the development of the community. That’s always got to be better, when you have more minds and more points of view incorporated.”
The port authority will be governed by a five-member board of directors, according to the ordinance. The board members will be appointed by the mayor with approval of city council. O’Leary said he plans to introduce the membership of the board for approval at the next council meeting.
“We’ve got (the board of directors membership) nailed down,” O’Leary said. “We just want to make sure everyone is clear of any potential conflict of interest. We didn’t want to announce a name and then find out they couldn’t serve for whatever reason. So, we’re clarifying that. We’ve got everybody identified.
“The people I’ve talked to about it are enthusiastic,” he said. “Sometimes you have to beg people to be part of a board or commission, but this is one that people want to be part of because they see how it can be utilized to make some things haven’t been happening in our community start to happen.”
Previously, O’Leary told city council that the city’s investment in the port authority would probably be between $100,000 and $150,000 in “start-up” funding. He said once the authority is operational, it will generate its own revenue.
O’Leary said the port authority will have access to funds through the Regional 166 Direct Loan Program, which, according to the Ohio Department of Development website, “promotes economic development, business expansion, and job creation and/or retention by providing low interest loans to businesses who may have limited access to adequate capital from private sources of financing.”
According to the Ohio Council of Port Authorities website, there are 59 active port authorities across the state of Ohio. The closest ones to Galion are the Marion Port Authority in Marion (created in 2003) and the SST Port Authority in Tiffin (created in 2014), which serves Sandusky and Seneca counties and the City of Tiffin.
According to the SST Port Authority website, over the past four years, the region it serves has experienced an upswing in development with the creation of more than 1,200 jobs, investment totaling $275 million, and the initiation of more than 300 economic development projects