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Editorial: Local officials commended for efforts to keep ABB from leaving Lake County

News-Herald Editorial Board

Perhaps it will go down in Lake County history as “The $1 Million Question.”

We’re referring to a letter Lake County commissioners recently sent to manufacturer ABB after the company announced it was moving from Wickliffe to Highland Hills.

Commissioners asked the company to consider an Economic Transition Grant, through which ABB would have provided $1 million over three years to help Wickliffe rebound from the loss of its second-biggest employer.

Although ABB turned down the request by commissioners, we still think it’s noteworthy to highlight the efforts made by county officials to soften the financial blow of the company’s exodus. We also believe it’s important to emphasize the efforts by Wickliffe officials and the Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority to find ABB a new home in either the city or elsewhere Lake County.

First, we commend county commissioners for asking ABB to pay $1 million in the form of an Economic Transition Grant. Sure, many observers might have looked at the proposed grant as a longshot, but we believe it was a shot worth taking. At the forefront of the effort was newly elected Commissioner Jerry C. Cirino.

“It’s not going to make up for what the city’s going to lose, but it’s going to help us work harder,” Cirino told the News-Herald Feb. 2, a few days after the letter was sent to ABB. “That’s the component of this that can’t be understated, this is like seed money that will be used to help us with a lot of work we have to do.”

Cirino, who also serves as 2017 president of the commissioners board, emphasized his experience in business and economic development/job creation last year when he campaigned for a commissioner’s seat. So we were pleased to see him play a strong leadership role early in his term when an issue such as the ABB move came up.

While ABB rejected the idea of funding an Economic Transition Grant, the company did say it would give “priority consideration as appropriate to Lake County vendors during our move to the new facility.” The use of Lake County vendors to help with the move is something that commissioners also requested in the letter.

Whenever a major business leaves a city for elsewhere, discussion often arises as to whether that community’s leaders made an effort to change the employer’s mind about moving. We want to emphasize that city of Wickliffe officials showed ABB two potential locations in the city, but those were ultimately turned down.

ABB is moving to Highland Hills with the help of public incentives, though Wickliffe did offer public incentives as well.

“(Wickliffe) put forth the largest financial package they were willing to offer under state law,” the port authority’s Executive Director Mark Rantala previously told The News-Herald. “There was nothing left on the table to offer.”

Rantala added that the port would have helped with bond financing as well.

It’s not surprising that Wickliffe put its best foot forward to keep ABB, since the city was keenly aware of what was at stake.

Losing ABB and its 400 employees will cost Wickliffe between $900,000 and $950,000 in lost income and property taxes. The loss also will affect nearby businesses and leaves a physical impact. ABB leases the building from New York-based Euclid Realty LLC. Cirino said it is his understanding that company “is not going to be in good financial condition relative of the value to the building and what they owe on it” and it will likely end up in possession of bank.

Meanwhile, the Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority showed ABB a few other possible locations further east in Lake County, but those too were turned down. When all was said and done, ABB stuck to its plans of moving to a new building on a 16-acre site in Highland Hills later this year. A news release from ABB last month announcing the move stated the Highland Hills industrial automation service and technology center will “modernize processes and increase efficiencies.” The modern facility includes “an open floor plan, spaces for team collaboration, high-speed Internet access and technology upgrades.”

Clearly, ABB’s move has raised some key questions about the future of western Lake County’s business environment, and local officials seem intent on finding answers. Since taking office in January, Cirino has asked the port authority to create a “West End Taskforce” to help revitalize that area of the county. Work on that is already underway and Rantala said they’ve developed some ideas.

Here’s hoping that the task force will develop strategies to prevent future departures by existing businesses in western Lake County and make the area more attractive to new businesses as well.