The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 10, 2008

Hundreds of jobs may be heading to Conneaut

Two firms announce interest in city

By MARK TODD - Staff Writer -

CONNEAUT -- City Council Monday heard heard two separate presentations that could create hundreds of jobs in Conneaut within the next five years.

Michael Ratcliffe of Painesville told council his company, Saxcliffe -- located in Los Angeles -- is very interested in locating its building material enterprise in the city. The firm sells a high-tech, low-cost building system, and some components for the system would be created locally, he said.

"We've pretty well settled on Conneaut," Ratcliffe said.

One hundred jobs would be created within the first year, and another 500 to 1,000 jobs within three to five years, Ratcliffe said. The bulk of the employees would be clerical, with some manufacturing and warehousing workers, he said.

The operation would be housed in a new 60,00 to 70,000 square foot building, and the company is looking hard at land in the East Conneaut Industrial Park.

At issue is construction of a new type of wall that provides superior strength at a low cost. The Conneaut location would create the studs used in the building system, and also stock other parts and materials used in the process, Ratcliffe said.

The business already has garnered interest around the world, Ratcliffe said. As a result, the company would want to find temporary quarters in Conneaut to support sales staff until the new headquarters is ready, he said.

If possible, the building would be ready for use by December 2009, Ratcliffe said. The firm has already retained a local accountant and is dealing with a local real estate company, he said.

Council convened an executive session after the regular meeting to discuss land acquisition. Also, members said a draft ordinance regarding the sale of property could surface for discuss at next week's work session.

Council was inquisitive but non-committal during the meeting. "This is exciting," said Councilman-at-Large Chris Castrilla.

Ward 4 Councilman Tony Julio said he has spoken to Ratcliffe previously about the project.

Moments later, council heard from Charles Rowe Jr. of IRG Capital Group of Wadsworth. Rowe said he represents investors poised to acquire Tartan Yacht, which operates the Novis Marine business in Conneaut, and a Rhode Island boat-building business.

The group plans to bring the Rhode Island business and its 100 jobs to a site in Ohio. Conneaut is a strong contender, given the experience of the Novis workers, but a pending foreclosure action brought by the city "clouds the future" of the Novis building, Rowe said.

The investors are asking council's help to "bring some quick resolution (to the matter) so they can move forward with the transaction," Rowe said.

"They can go forward with their business plan if the uncertainties are removed," he said.

The city is pursuing foreclosure on the owners of the Novis building, Broad and Jackson LLC, to recoup some of the $283,000 spent to demolish the old Astatic building a few years ago.

Council was cordial but cautious. Ward 3 Councilman Greg Mooney said the city needs assurances the investors behind the plan aren't the same people involved in Broad and Jackson.

Rowe said he understood council's hesitation and felt future dialog would be helpful. "We would be willing to craft a certain set of assurances through discussions that would give both sides comfort, he said.

The investors would like to move on the Rhode Island/Tartan takeover by the end of the year, Rowe said.