By Konstantine Fekos
VERNON TOWNSHIP —
The Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County is calling the latest investments in Crawford Business Park the largest single initiative ever undertaken on site.
The upcoming multimillion-dollar project, paid for in part by state grant funding, involves major redevelopments on the southern areas of the industrial park, expected to bring the 1-million-square-foot complex to 100 percent occupancy.
Located just beyond Meadville’s Fifth Ward, the sprawling site formerly housed American Viscose (later Avtex Fibers), a major synthetic yarn production facility that was shut down in 1986. It has undergone massive rehabilitation under the direction of EPA in recent years.
“Our intent was to do pretty much what we’ve done; rehabilitate this blighted area to promote economic growth and development as well as create new jobs, one piece at a time,” said Mark Turner, EPA executive director.
Aerospace parts company Acutec Precision Machining Inc., currently representing about 80,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space, has reportedly added $4 million to what began as a $2.65 million expansion project, with plans for further investment.
EPA reports indicate collective investments could grow to $10 or $12 million in the next three years.
The process will ultimately double Acutec’s operational capacity with an additional 80,000 square feet of climate-controlled manufacturing space.
“The facility growth is phenomenal,” said Ashley Porter, Vernon Township engineer, who worked on plan designs. “They were filling the space as we were finishing it.”
Acutec administrators took their approximate 32 neighboring companies into account during extensive planning stages and accrued space from Family Services of NWPA in return for funding the organization’s relocation to the central area of the park.
“We’ve grown 25 percent in the past year,” said Rob Smith, Acutec president and owner, who called the project at large a team effort, for which Family Services played an important role. “The number one thing we needed was space, and thank goodness we have a good quality space.”
Smith announced plans to provide Family Services with brand new office space on the second floor of park building 13 as the project’s primary focus, with tentative completion projected for June 2013.
Other project components, including building renovations and removals as well as parking expansions and stormwater management construction are expected to continue into the remainder of next year, with talk of additional phases in 2014.
With a financial commitment from the Department of Community and Economic Development Infrastructure Development Program, to the tune of $843,250, Turner believes 100 percent occupancy will be a “good news, bad news situation,” looking into the future.
“We have about 1,000 employees for 2012 in the business park,” said Turner. “We’d like to accommodate 1,500, but we’re running out of property space. It’s a physical issue.”
During a project tour following an EPA press conference on site Wednesday morning, Smith announced 20 open positions at Acutec, an employment opportunity for skilled machinists or workers with the “attitude and aptitude to be trained.”
“The community is the ultimate beneficiary here,” said Turner, excited at the almost immediate prospect of job creation, a primary EPA focus.
Porter and other Vernon Township supervisors echoed anticipation of a positive impact on the local economy, emphasizing the strong qualities of the organizations and companies involved.
“We’re very proud to have this facility in our township and to see it come back to life,” said Bob Davis, Vernon Township chairman, briefly recounting the Business Park’s history. “People built their lives around this place many years ago. Generations of families worked here.”
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.