Editor’s Note: The News Journal recently asked Randy Riley — who was a Clinton County Commissioner in 2008 and later served as Mayor of Wilmington — to reflect on the DHL news, from the day it happened in 2008 up to the present. Part 2 of his column will be published in Friday’s News Journal.
It was not just business as usual for Wilmington in early 2008. Business was almost too good.
Since coming to town a few years earlier, DHL hit the ground running. Certainly, as with any major business transition, there had been bumps in the road.
They found that it was difficult to go head-to-head with FedEx and UPS. They hadn’t grown as quickly as they would have liked, but, overall, their potential was still good. DHL was still the giant of international package delivery.
Wilmington was prospering. As president of the Clinton County Board of Commissioners, I knew we were doing well. We even had a few businesses approach us about moving into the community, but when they discovered how low our unemployment rate was, they went elsewhere.
In May, we received a call at the commissioners’ office telling us to go to the DHL website the next morning. We were only told that there was going to be an announcement. None of us knew exactly what to expect, but we all had various guesses about what was going to be announced.
Up to that point, all of the employees who worked in the F-Building, as members of the sort-center crew, were actually employed by ABX. DHL owned the building, but they contracted with ABX to sort the packages. The F-Building is where most of the thousands of employees of the air park worked.
When I heard a big announcement was coming, I thought the most likely news was that DHL was going to transition all the F-Building sort center employees from ABX to DHL employees. Other people had various ideas of what the announcement was going to be.
Almost everyone expected that DHL was going to announce an improvement of their package delivery business in the United States.
At that time, the county commissioners did not have computers at their desks. So, on the morning of Wednesday, May 28, 2008, all three commissioners gathered behind the clerk’s desk so we could see and hear the live announcement as it came from the DHL headquarters in Germany.
We were stunned.
Initially, there was silence in the room.
Then, someone quietly whispered, “Does that mean what I think it means?” The message quickly sank in.
DHL was planning a partnership with UPS. In the near future, they were planning to exit Clinton County. The community, the county, the entire region were going to be devastated.
Unemployment was going to skyrocket. People were going to suffer. Tax revenue would plummet. Many of our citizens would not be able to afford their basic needs. Many people would lose everything.
As the meaning of the DHL announcement settled it, we went from stunned to angry.
It had been less than four years since they announced they were going to buy the air park and make Clinton County their home. I remember asking out loud, “What the hell happened to their five-year plan?”
The fact that DHL had invited Wilmington Mayor David Raizk to be in Germany when the announcement was going to be made, made the entire situation even more baffling. Why would they do that? It was almost like they were intentionally adding insult to injury.
The entire situation was bizarre. We were angry.
With a few telephone calls, we found out that Raizk was on his way home. With the help of the city administration, a meeting was called for the next Sunday. Ohio Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher and Mayor Raizk were going to co-chair a task force to respond to the DHL decision.
That Sunday, we met at Wilmington City Hall and established the Wilmington/DHL Air Park Economic Task Force. Our mission was basically three-fold. Get DHL to change their plan or at least modify their plan in a way that kept the majority of Clinton County jobs. Rebuild: Develop a strategy to grow the local economy as quickly as possible to re-employ as many people as possible. Keep the community alive and vital. Meet the needs of the unemployed and help citizens survive the devastation that was coming.
Early within the process, task force assignments were made. Mayor Raizk and his Executive Assistant, Laura Curliss, were committed to keeping the Task Force moving forward. They scheduled all meetings, developed each agenda and kept a log of actions taken.
The director of the Clinton County Port Authority, Kevin Carver, was tasked with the responsibility of mitigating the impact of the DHL decision.
Mark Brooker, the former county administrator, started acquiring and assessing data that could be used to illustrate the impact of the DHL decision. Accurate data would be used to keep moving the community forward on the path of redevelopment.
Keith Hyde, the director of Workforce Services Unlimited, immediately began filing for education grants that would be used to train and re-employ the people who were going to lose jobs at the air park. Keith did an excellent job.
Many former DHL employees are now employed as nurses or have obtained other, new job skills and employment as a result of Keith’s hard word.
Together, many members of the task force worked to let the state and the country know that Wilmington was still alive and ready to do business.