COLUMBUS — Land use professionals from the country to the city gathered Jan. 11 at the Ohio Farm Bureau and 4-H Center to discuss best use of land and development.
About 160 people, including local government leaders and farmers, discussed everything from the successful Polaris Centers of Commerce on Columbus’ north end, to farmland preservation, water quality and the growth of farmers markets in urban places.
Scott Bernstein, president of Center for Neighborhood Technology, discussed the ways in which transportation and mass transit, public utilities and emergency response providers all work together for the growth of a development.
“There’s one word in my field that’s taken off like wildfire in less than a year,” he said. “It’s resilience.”
According to Bernstein, developers need to be “resilient” in their pursuits and to think about big-picture investments that include everything from broadband technology, to water and sewer and police and fire services.
A local highlight was the growth and expansion of Polaris Centers of Commerce — a now 1,200-acre mixed use development at the intersection of Interstates 71 and 270. An estimated 30,000-plus people are employed at retail stores, hotels and restaurants in the development, and more jobs are being created each year.
In March, the outdoor/hunting store “Cabela’s” will open its first Ohio location at Polaris.
“It’s amazing what’s happened in 25 years (of Polaris),” said Franz Geiger, managing director of NP Limited Partnership, the developer of Polaris. “The reality is that the north end of Columbus has grown for a long time.”
Geiger said there were many factors that helped the Polaris project grow, including its location, which is equally distanced from many Ohio destinations, and at the intersection of the city’s two largest Interstates.
But, Geiger admitted, success of a development project is far from certain.
“For every Polaris, there’s 10 Polarises that fail,” he said.
In the afternoon, a panel of farmland experts gave an update on preserving farmland and the many ways in which agriculture helps grow the economy.
“Food and agriculture is the sleeping giant of economic development,” said Jill Clark, public affairs professor with Ohio State University, echoing the words of past ODA employee Amile Lipstreu.
Agriculture is the state’s top economic driver, and is directly related to providing safe and affordable nutrition for the state’s population, and issues like expanding farmers markets to offer more fruits and vegetables, and helping to fight obesity.
Clark said farmers markets have grown exponentially in Ohio and natwionwide, from 340 in the 1970s to more than 7,000 nationally today. And, the markets are doing an increasingly better job of selling products year-round, following farmers’ efforts to extend their growing season into — and sometimes during — the cold winter months.
An especially popular trend has been the concept of value-added. An example of a value-added product could be milk or cheese, but with the distinction that something was added to the production that wouldn’t be found in the general marketplace.
Clark said it’s “the idea that the product is something more than a commodity.”
In the final discussion, a group of oil and gas experts talked about the growth of deep well drilling in Ohio and what they expect for next few years.
The key message was to be prepared — for everything from a land lease and potential royalties, to working with the energy companies for community growth and job creation.
Todd Peetz, director of the Portage County Regional Planning Commission, said his county is “just at the beginning” of the shale development. The county has already drilled at least seven deep wells, he said, with just as many waiting to be drilled. In a few more years, it is estimated the state could have several thousand deep wells in production.
Penny Seipel, vice president of community affairs for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said there are more than 64,000 total oil and gas wells in production in Ohio, including injection wells.
She said there are 47 utica shale wells in production in Ohio, with 205 that have been drilled. By the end of this year, she said nearly 800 utica wells could be drilled. Carroll County leads with the most drilling, followed by Harrison, Columbiana and Jefferson counties.
Shawn Bennett, field director for Energy in Depth Ohio, said the average oil and gas industry job pays about $66,000 a year. That includes jobs like truckers, welders, etc.
The industry also is having a positive effect on restaurants and hotels, and automobile dealerships.
Bennett said there are more than 6,000 products refined from oil and gas, which creates even more jobs to operate refineries and handle materials.
The next phase — in addition to more drilling — will be to install greater infrastructure to handle and transport oil and gas. All of which creates more jobs, and an opportunity for growth.
“When you start talking about growth and reinvestment in the community it gets really exciting,” he said. “The opportunities developed by shale is a springboard to what we can do in the future.”
The conference, titled Linking Land Use And the Economy, was sponsored by the Ohio Balanced Growth Project, Ohio Lake Erie Commission, Cleveland State University and Ohio State University Extension Community Development.