Sunday, January 16, 2022

It’s True! The Nation Enjoys Salmon, Crab Cakes, and Tuna Straight Out of Heath, Ohio


It was announced recently:  The nation’s first plant-based salmon burger is “caught” right here in the heart of Licking County.  Salmon is just the latest plant-based seafood option among many under brand name Good Catch created by a manufacturer who produces one-of-a-kind products in the Port Authority’s industrial park.

This international-worthy news has quietly been building up locally in Central Licking County for a few years now. Seizing upon an international trend, Gathered Foods markets salmon, tuna, crabcakes, fish sticks, and other Good Catch seafood products aided by a clean new building and an able workforce.  Order your first plant-based seafood at today.

It’s true!  Plant-based food is a thing in Licking County.  Big time.

A British-Chinese joint venture was first.  GB Food and Gushen America found a new industrial building built on speculation by the Port Authority and started up in 2017.  GB expanded in 2018 and combined with Gathered Food’s new location to achieve a total manufacturing capability six times bigger by 2019.  Nature’s One followed in 2020 and KeHo Foods in 2021.

Plant-based food has indeed found Heath to be a good home.  In four short years, the numbers went from zero to five companies and from no buildings to five buildings combined with over 223,000 sq.ft. under roof.

It’s been quite a trend.  Plant-based food produced and distributed out of Heath now includes a wide variety of ingredients (soy protein crisps and non-GMO soy isolates) to consumer products (protein bars, organic baby formula, and some amazing tasting, chef-inspired seafood without fish in it). 

Plant-based foods are trendy in their own right.  The pandemic has proven the value of protein-rich, shelf-stable options.  The Plant Based Foods Association reports, in 2020, that 57% of American households brought some plant-based food into their kitchens. It’s the faster growing segment of the growing food industry, by almost double.

The trend isn’t left to just vegans and vegetarians.  According to the PBFA 98% of plant-based buyers also buy animal meat. Fully 79% of Millennials and Generation Z eat plant-based foods. 

Licking County is a place for this growing industry sector to thrive too.

The recipe for plant-based food industry success is the same recipe for manufacturing success.  Mix manufacturing culture, an available manufacturing workforce, and manufacturing-focused educational infrastructure. Fold in a pipeline of future manufacturing workers, streamlined planning processes, smart incentives, and ready-to-go sites and buildings. 

The community is building on these trends.  There’s a Southgate Corporation 65,000 sq. ft. new spec building available right now which is well-suited for food production. A clean, new speculative building is being built next door to these other producers by the Port Authority.  Before Summer, another 30,000 sq. ft. building will be available for a new tenant. 

C-TEC is gearing up pre-employment training specifically for the food industry workforce. STEM learning efforts at The Works are seizing upon the trend too with a recognition that plant-based food is very much a mix of science and technology.

I’ll predict our community’s oversized role in the plant-based food industry will continue into 2022 and beyond.


This development column is a regular column in The Advocate.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

EcoMOMic Development Depends on Thanksgiving Dinner Talk About Returning Home


Call it EcoMOMic development.  Families have an extra job this Thanksgiving Dinner.  Don’t let your holiday visitors leave without talking to them about a return home.

Homesickness has a cure.  Moving home!

There are job opportunities in Licking County and Ohio that make that easier right now.  Unfilled jobs are unfulfilled economic growth potential upon which Licking County’s future depends. It’s, therefore, all our jobs to promote job opportunities.

Talk about three reasons to help family feel more ready to return.

Higher paying job opportunities are emerging.  In July, Ohio labor market reports showed Licking County manufacturing jobs grew 40%, adding over 9,300 jobs since 2010.  Those reports showed the manufacturing sector remains the largest in Licking County, with growing wages too.

Reshoring and onshoring of manufacturing are contributing to future trends.  New Albany’s Beauty Park in Western Licking County is a shining national example of where overseas manufacturing has successfully returned to U.S. shores. Statewide, JobsOhio has seen five large projects announced of products being made in Ohio, including Peloton bikes and American Nitrile gloves.

Diverse industrial development is happening.  Licking County enjoys a diversity of industry that is unparalleled.  Our job base is not dependent on one or two large employers.  The manufacturers hiring include well-known companies making a wide range of products with openings at all skill levels. Owens Corning, THK, Covestro, Lear, Hendrickson, Ariel, Samuel, Boeing, and Goodyear are among the mix.  They aren’t alone. In fact, the list hiring is too long to name them all. 

Talk about diversity.  Six plant-based food industry companies have found their way to Central Licking County making everything from baby formula and plant-based seafood to soy crisps and sterols.  Plant-based food is the fastest-growing segment of the food industry.

STEM jobs are all the rage.  One of Licking County’s largest engineering and technology skills employers, Boeing, secured an 18-year, $1.6 billion contract extension that brought news of economic stability.  Boeing anchors the Port Authority campus which saw 20+ employers combine to increase employment 13% in 2020 despite the crisis.  Sparked in part by a homesick Ohioan, Amgen recently broke ground for 400 biomedical-related jobs in Western Licking County.  There’s more to come.

I suggest talking about two actions to take.

Stop by OhioMeansJobs Licking County.  Licking County’s workforce services are a gem and a big part of why the county agency received and maintains a stand-out national accreditation.  In fact, most of the workforce customers for the one stop operation are job seekers already employed but looking to upgrade in this labor market.  Just stop by 998 E. Main Street in Newark or visit 

Seek out upskilling.  That ticket back home may be just one more credential or skill away from being a reality. C-TEC, Central Ohio Technical College, and Ohio State – Newark offer job training opportunities for job seekers.  Denison has joined in too with Denison Edge, a new approach to career-readiness offerings. is a launching pad for resources, including a cool tool for exploring career options. 

Just stick to it.  Don’t stop after the pumpkin pie.  Keep the important EcoMOMic development work going long past the holidays.  Licking County’s future depends on it!


This development column is a regular column in The Advocate.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Celebrating a STEM Skills Workforce


“The facility’s most important element is people.”  These were the words of Air Force General Mark Bradley inaugurating the then-new Newark Air Force Base in 1962. 

Nearly sixty years later, Bradley’s words are truer than ever.

Twenty-five years ago, when Boeing, the Air Force, and Bionetics - DESG joined with the Port Authority in embarking on a new approach for which there was no roadmap, it was clear the STEM-skilled workforce would continue to be the most important element.

We know, and it should not be forgotten, that of all the reasons that were behind why the work of a closed Newark AFB couldn’t just march off to some other distant place, the most critical of those reasons was workforce.  Wise people like the Port Authority’s Wally Horton and base commander Colonel Joe Renaud then asked, “Would the skills to maintain one-of-a-kind equipment move with the equipment?”  Many rightly pondered, “Could the knowledge from thirty years of remanufacturing precision instruments be replaced elsewhere?”

We’ve never had to answer those hard questions because of a partnership that we celebrate today.

This is a place critical to our local economy but also critical to the national defense.  Availability of STEM skills has made the Central Ohio Aerospace & Technology Center (the renamed Newark AFB) able to continue to achieve unmatched precision and accuracy--the equivalent of a pencil point on a football field levels of accuracy. 

Key to maintaining the important work here was maintaining the important workforce skills here.

Fearing the local consequences of a national statistic that once indicated 80% of parents discouraged their kids from science and technology careers, the Port Authority has made STEM learning a major focal point of our development efforts.  Partnered with The Works and many others in the community, the Port Authority and our customers have made it our collective jobs to provide a dash of local relevance to the recipe for science, technology, engineering, and math skills to be a Licking County emphasis.

Today’s commemorative event isn’t just about looking back.  It’s about paying forward with attention to the future.

Strategically, the Port Authority is doubling down on STEM learning in Licking County.  The Port Authority’s Board has promised $1 million dollars over the next 20 years to a new STEM Scholarship.  The Aerospace Center workforce and Licking County students at COTC and OSU-Newark will be the beneficiaries of a scholarship being funded today.

STEM learning efforts with The Works started more than a dozen years ago.  There are people in the workforce today able to seize job opportunities in STEM careers as a result of those seeds planted long ago.  These national model efforts will continue with vigor.  It’s ingrained in Licking County—STEM skills matter.

An aim to broaden the reach is also being sparked.  In partnership with the YMCA’s All-for-One camp, the Port Authority aims to bring STEM learning to more members of our community.  Integrated summer camps which include special needs children being exposed to the uplifting promise of STEM skills needs to be part of a brighter future for our community.

Let’s all celebrate our STEM skills workforce.  The occasion of 25 years since October 1, 1996 when uncertainty and doubts about the future ruled the day has been replaced with much better sensations--ones of stability and growth. 

STEM learning and a STEM-skilled workforce are behind those sensations and will remain well into our future.


This development column is a regular column in The Advocate.