BATAVIA, Ohio — Clermont County may soon have more bike trails, museums, sports venues and industrial centers to attract new global companies to southwest Ohio.
Clermont is among 32 Appalachian counties that will be applying for a share of $500 million in state grants to boost community development, infrastructure, work force and health care in what has historically been an underdeveloped area of Ohio.
“With House Bill 377 that Governor DeWine signed into law, we have an opportunity to access funds that we didn’t have before to be able to incentivize or create more amenities,” said Mike McNamara, community and economic development director for Clermont County.
The funding will be awarded for shovel-ready projects in 2024. Clermont will likely partner with neighboring Adams, Brown and Scioto counties on regional projects to make them more competitive for the grants, McNamara said.
“That might be a new industrial site. That might be a living history museum. That might be expanding our hike-bike trails so that we have connectivity throughout the county. All of those are going to be projects that we are going to apply for,” McNamara said. “But the thing that is going to make us competitive is teaming up with other counties.”
The grant money could be used to create a large industrial corridor connecting Clermont County to the Mt. Orab Megasite – an unusually large tract of 1,018 acres open for development in Brown County.
“The grant guidelines specifically target sites larger than 500 acres and we therefore think that the Mt. Orab Megasite may be a candidate for assistance,” said Kelly Cole, Brown County economic development director. “We hope to make the case for an industrial corridor by linking the industrial parks and sites along state Route 32 in Clermont, Brown, and Adams counties.”
The four-county region, including Scioto, is currently soliciting potential projects to include in a planning grant application which is due Dec. 9. That money would be then used to develop projects to apply for the second round of funding in December 2023. Grants will be available for shovel ready projects in January 2024 and must be spent by the end of 2026, McNamara said.
The winning projects could be transformative for southern Ohio, especially along the state Route 32 corridor which is a growth and opportunity zone. Transportation crews are already making road improvements to cut commute times and allow fast access to I-275.
Batavia Township Administrator Jeff Uckotter predicts that one continuous development corridor will emerge between Batavia and Brown County in the next 10 years. Nestle Purina Pet Care is building a $550 million plant in Williamsburg Township near state Route 32 that will employ 300. And Cole is marketing the Mt. Orab Megasite to many companies for development.
“That would be transformative for the region,” said Uckotter, who predicts it would help communities from Anderson Township east to Appalachia. “It’s about jobs, it’s about opportunity.”
Change is already coming to Clermont County, fueled by developers who want larger parcels and fewer regulations, and homebuyers who want spacious homes at cheaper prices and to pay less income tax.
A decade ago, Batavia Township was sprawling farmland. Now it is the fastest growing part of Clermont County and an outer ring suburb of Cincinnati.
Proof of the township’s future is easy for Uckotter to recognize. He sees it in the first Chipotle restaurant that opened this year near Mercy-Health Clermont Hospital.
“Chipotle doesn’t seem like a big deal. Chains like Chipotle look at rooftops. They’re not going to come to a place that is dying and not growing. Batavia Township is growing and it’s a place where people want to live,” Uckotter said.
Batavia Township leaders are anticipating a housing and development boom in the coming years, fueled by state Route 32 road improvements and a gas pipeline that Duke Energy is building that will connect Bethel to Batavia.
“It’s really going to open up the market for future residential growth,” Uckotter said. “In the last five years, Batavia Township has approved a little over 1,100 residential units.”
And that growth could just be a starting point, as Clermont County hopes to grab a big piece of the chip manufacturing and electric vehicle battery boom in central Ohio by offering sites for secondary development.
“There’s an opportunity for ready sites that are either shovel ready or soon to be shovel ready for companies to come in … those are advanced manufacturing industries that we want to bring into Clermont County because those are usually higher paying jobs,” McNamara said.
McNamara is looking for the county’s next big industrial site to market to another global brand, after his success in luring Nestle Purina to build at the South Afton Industrial Park.
“We are really well positioned, and we need to take advantage of that positioning and create a product … which means we have to have that next industrial park that’s available,” McNamara said. “That means at least 100 to 200 acres, that’s a minimum, because most of the leads that we’re getting from site selectors are looking for sites that are 100 up to 1,000 or even 2,000 acres.”
McNamara is hopeful that once remediation is finished at the former Beckjord coal plant near New Richmond, that it could be a site for future development with access to the Ohio River.
Meanwhile, there are other successes. Total Quality Logistics is expanding its Union Township headquarters for the third time with plans to hire 1,000 new workers. Cold Jet LLC is expanding and moving into the former International Paper campus in Miami Township. And Hamilton Security built a new corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility in Union Township.
“A lot of the growth that you’re going to continue to see in Clermont County is going to come from the employers that we have here,” said McNamara, who added that the FC Cincinnati training facility in Milford is also ready for future growth.
McNamara also wants to bring in more amenities. A recent community survey revealed that residents want attractions such as sports fields, amusement parks, museums, retail and recreational outlets and parks.
“Our historic downtowns can also benefit from robust hike, bike, paddle trails … where we have local mom and pop shops and local economies that can benefit from the additional foot traffic,” McNamara said. “New Richmond has a great downtown area. Batavia has a very charming downtown. We want to try to make sure we’re developing that all the way out to Williamsburg and Owensville and all the little communities that we have.”
The Clermont County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Port Authority and Clermont Chamber of Commerce and Convention are conducting a feasibility study for building a lodge and conference center at East Fork State Park.
“I’ve talked to developers and even in … Warren County it’s become harder to develop, regulation is higher, land might be more expensive, so developers are coming here,” Uckotter said.