Mayor Holly Brinda remembers the days when Elyria was a booming town and thousands of manufacturing jobs provided residents with comfortable middle-class lifestyles. Her family ties to the city go back five generations. In those days, business was fueled by the Black River that runs through the historic town and is the source of two scenic waterfalls.
Today, Brinda believes that Elyria is headed toward new days of prosperity. Since taking office in 2012, she and her team have implemented a gamut of strategies to spur future progress, and their efforts are getting some impressive results. More than $400 million in public and private funds are flowing into every aspect of the city: schools, parks, businesses, libraries, retail and housing projects, infrastructure and downtown development.
But she’s not doing it alone. Brinda is working closely with many of the town’s business leaders, along with nonprofits, education and faith-based groups.
“Our business climate is looking up,” says Brinda. “For a while, Elyria struggled with its image, but we have turned the corner and people have pride again. This is leading people to invest again in the Elyria community.”
Indeed, the sprawling metro area of nearly 21 square miles provides abundant affordable land and other resources for the more than 80 manufacturers that are based there. The town is currently home to big companies like Ridge Tool, Invacare, Parker Hannifin and BASF, plus many others that make everything from components for high-tech fiber optics to massive engineered metal castings.
“I can’t say enough about the mayor and her staff,” says Ken Caratelli, owner of Nelson Stud Welding.
Caratelli is one of many Elyria-based manufacturers taking advantage of what the mayor calls the city’s “expanding toolbox of business incentives.”
Nelson Stud Welding has an Enterprise Zone Agreement with the city which granted his company a 15-year, 75 percent abatement at its West Ridge Road facility. Through the agreement, Caratelli will be completing a 30,000-square-foot addition, which will cost between $1.5 to $3 million. The project will create 25 new full-time jobs, adding $1.3 million in annual payroll to the city. Caratelli is also investing in other development in the company, which will bring his total expansion to 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space and a total of 75 new employees. To help support this growth, the mayor’s team even helped arrange to run a new city sewer line to his facility.
Brinda says the city is willing to make accommodations like this and work with companies on their unique production needs.
A company with a long history with the City of Elyria is RIDGID, the world’s leading manufacturer of rugged, durable and reliable pipe-working tools. RIDGID is part of the Emerson Professional Tools portfolio that provides the broadest offering of products for tradespeople in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing markets globally. From 2015 through the end of 2019, RIDGID will have invested $100 million into its businesses. Half of that investment has been made in Elyria in the form of facility improvements, a 30,000-square-foot addition and a host of new machine tools and equipment.
“The City of Elyria and its hardworking residents have played an incredible role in our continued success,” says Fred Pond, chairman, Emerson Professional Tools, and president emeritus, RIDGID. “Nearly a third of our workforce has been with us for more than 20 years and we’ve had tremendous success attracting new talent locally to support our recent expansions. That’s why we choose to invest and grow in Elyria.”
In addition to the many Elyria-based manufacturers like RIDGID that continue to expand, 10 new businesses also have relocated there since 2017. A common challenge among nearly all of them is filling the pipeline with qualified workers.
“We have 400 employees right now, and I would like that to be at 450,” says Robert Kukowski, CEO of Elyria Foundry, which has roots in Elyria dating back to 1905. He says his business has enjoyed a healthy 35 percent growth for the last few years.
Elyria Foundry converts metal into molten metal to produce large and complex engineered castings, from as small as 50 pounds to as much as 200,000 pounds. Kukowski says the company invested $12.5 million in its Elyria facility in 2018 and estimates an additional $9.5 million for 2019.
“Demand for our domestic casting has become much greater,” he says. “We need more employees to support the growth we have had.”
Brinda’s team is responding to this too. Kukowski and many other local manufacturers have joined forces with City Hall to try and fill this employment gap with an ambitious pilot program called Elyria Works Now.
Elyria Works Now is a public, private nonprofit partnership aimed at linking unemployed or underemployed Elyria residents with local manufacturing jobs. The program’s motto — Be a maker!
“We still have challenges,” says Brinda. “We have a 22 percent poverty rate. Yet, there are a multitude of job opportunities for folks.”
Participants in Elyria Works Now are connected with a career coach to help them assess their strengths and interests. Participants are connected with other social services, if needed — like substance abuse counseling, child care or transportation — that can help eliminate barriers to getting and keeping a job. Best of all, it is all offered free of charge.
Dura-Line, a manufacturer and distributor of communication and energy infrastructure products and systems — including conduit, cable-in-conduit, pipe and accessories — is one of the corporate participants in Elyria Works Now.
“Finding employees in this region can be very challenging without the right support and community partners,” says Aaron Gayheart, director of manufacturing/multisite manufacturing leader. “Dura-Line was approached by Mayor Brinda on this unique opportunity to make a positive impact to the city’s poverty rate, but to also be given the opportunity to find talent that may otherwise be overlooked simply because they lacked the training and experience to successfully navigate the application and interview process.”
Gayheart says that they have conducted nine interviews so far, and that three full-time employees have started working at Dura-Line. Three more are scheduled to begin soon.
“The new hires have transitioned very well in the Dura-Line culture, and, compared to other traditional recruitment programs, these candidates have shown to be significantly more prepared walking in the door as new employees,” adds Gayheart. “We are excited to support the Elyria Works Now program and we believe it will continue to deliver positive results through 2019.”
Gayheart says Northeast Ohio and Elyria are a good fit for Dura-Line because of the skilled workforce, low cost of doing business and logistical infrastructure. Its location allows for quick market access to more than half of North America and into Canadian markets. Dura-Line is also in a growth mode and considers its Elyria plant as an anchor for its U.S. operations and a flagship facility.
Ryan Kaplan, operations manager with Elyria-based Multilink, also just hired his first employee through Elyria Works Now. The family-owned business, founded by Steve Kaplan, creates components for high-tech fiber optics for telecommunications clients like Spectrum, AT&T and Verizon. The company performs every function from sheet metal fabrication to final assembly.
Kaplan is very happy with his first new hire through Elyria Works Now, who recently filled a position in the fabrication area.
“She did not have experience in this area, but has a great attitude,” says Kaplan. “She is smart and willing to learn and is having great success.”
Mulitlink is in an expansion mode too. The company currently has two active Enterprise Zone agreements with the city. They just bought a former Big Lots retail space, which will add 45,000 square feet of assembly space. The company is also expanding into another 68,000 square feet in a property adjacent to its current facility. The company is well-known in its industry for patenting the first Sno-Shoe for slack storage, a product that dominates the broadband industry.
“I hope the need for Elyria Works Now goes away someday,” says Brinda. “We are filling a gap and a need. Not enough people are pursuing the vocational opportunity — there are a lot of good entry level positions with pathways to building skills for a bright future.”
To that end, Elyria Works Now has brought together community partners from throughout the city including key educational partners like Elyria City Schools, Lorain County Joint Vocational School and Lorain County Community College, as well as many other community-based organizations.
Kukowski and Kaplan both hope that these programs will inspire young people — especially those ages 18-25 — to gain a renewed interest in vocational training.
“These jobs are coming back and there is a need,” says Kukowski. “People lost confidence because there weren’t jobs in this area. Now we are trying to ramp it up again and people don’t have the skills.
Kukowski is also interviewing and hiring through Elyria Works.
“These jobs offer financial security, good benefits and opportunity to grow,” he adds.