The Wilmington Air Park is in the midst of its fifth year since it was donated by DHL to the Clinton County Port Authority. This is the second in a special series by The Clinton County Port Authority reflecting on the past half-decade as well as future expectations for the county’s most valuable piece of real estate.
WILMINGTON — There is no way of calculating the amount of hours of negotiations over two years — both paid and volunteered by the local, regional and state contingent — that resulted in DHL Express donating the Wilmington Air Park to the Clinton County Port Authority (CCPA).
There were numerous high-profile and unsung heroes and organizations who contributed to the effort to acquire the air park, many of whom continue to work or volunteer in the local spotlight or behind the scenes to grow the air park, and hence, the Wilmington and Clinton County economy.
Local leaders made countless trips to Columbus, Dayton and Washington, D.C. to meet with DHL and public officials.
“It was not an easy transition, but our community and task force came together to make it happen,” said Wilmington Mayor Randy Riley, who remains optimistic about future growth at the air park. “What I am most impressed with is that at no point from May 2008 until today has the air park gone dark. We did everything needed to do to keep the air park open for business. We sent a message to the world that we are still scrapping and fighting.”
Among the key players in the very complicated negotiations pointed to by Mayor Riley were John Limbert, who was chairman of the port authority during negotiations with DHL; Joe Hete, president of ABX Air, which operated the hub for DHL, and now heads the newly structured company that evolved to continue operating the air park; then-Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher; the Ohio Department of Development; and U.S. Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH).
Former CCPA board member and chair Fred Ertel gives much of the credit for the deal to Limbert, and then-Mayor David Raizk, who had a longstanding relationship with then-Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH) and his administration.
Raizk said state officials and other advisers repeatedly told him and the task force that getting local governmental control of the air park was critical to its comeback, something he really didn’t need to be convinced of since he led that push from the first day DHL announced its plans to leave Wilmington.
“They pointed to an example of new development being impeded in in a small Michigan town that lost a major manufacturer and its employee base,’ Raizk recalled. “We wanted to keep control because we have a vested interest in its future.”
Raizk is now the executive director of the Wilmington Community Improvement Corporation (CIC), another local economic engine that proved a good neighbor during negotiations with DHL and still is.
“The CIC and (then executive director) David Bailey was an invaluable partner,” recalled Limbert, who retired as president of National Bank and Trust in 2014. “They have a legacy with the airport in that they were the first owners when the base closed down in the seventies. They stepped up and provided us with some liquidity that was necessary to keep the deal moving forward.”
Said Hete, “John Limbert did a yeoman’s job in getting the air park at virtual no cost and getting some additional funds thrown it to make it go.”
Hete is now president and chief executive officer of Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), the holding company for the other air park companies — Airborne Maintenance and Engineering Services (AMES), Air Transport International (ATI), LGSTX Services, Inc., Airborne Global Solutions, and ABX Air, Airborne Material Services and Cargo Aircraft Management.
Nearly 750 aviation-related jobs were preserved in 2010, some 350 have been added since, and there are an additional 300 or so jobs on the horizon, according to Kevin Carver, executive director of the Clinton County Port Authority.
Those numbers do not include jobs retained or added at long-time air park neighbors Ferno and Laurel Oaks Career Campus or newer neighbors Polaris, L &L Foods, PC Connection and Dealertrack, all located along Progress Way (formerly SR 73) in buildings purchased from DHL before the air park donation, Carver said.
The mass exodus of jobs had made Wilmington a poster child for the recession and led to supportive visits to the community from the likes of Jay Leno, Glenn Beck and Rachael Ray and “60 Minutes” and a meeting in Dayton for task force members with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
In June of 2010, with the air park now under local control, officials now felt confident that it would be in a better position to be part of the recovery.
Future segments of this series will review more whats — what the port had to do to insure the air park’s future, what has been done the last five years and what the future looks like. If you have questions or suggestions about future articles for this series or about the Clinton County Port Authority and/or the Wilmington Air Park, contact Executive Director Kevin Carver at 937-655-7019 or [email protected].
The Wilmington Air Park is an integrated aviation and logistics business park located on 1,900 acres in central Ohio. The park features nearly three million square feet of industrial, office and hangar space. For more information, including a history of the air park or to sign up for an e-newsletter, go to www.wilmingtonairpark.com. For periodic updates, connect on LinkedIn.
The Clinton County, Ohio Port Authority is a special purpose governmental entity formed by the Clinton County Commissioners in 2004. It can be used to operate transportation infrastructure and lead economic development. The Clinton County Port Authority owns the Wilmington Air Park.