The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 25, 2008

Nordic Air a JEDD success story

By CARL E. FEATHER - Lifestyle Editor - cfeather@starbeacon.com

HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP – While 2008 is shaping up to be a gloomy landscape for the national economy, things are looking good at Nordic Air in Harpersfield Township.

Owner Ron Clutter says the company has enjoyed six straight years of growth and 2008 is in line with that trend.

“Our outlook is continuing to still be very nice,” Clutter says. “Any type of growth is nice.”

Nordic Air produces climate-control equipment for a variety of markets, including the military.

“Every market we serve has grown,” he says.

Started in Jefferson by three partners, the company had 18 employees when Clutter purchased it. Nordic Air entered 2008 with more than 200 workers at its two plants in Harpersfield Township.

Clutter relocated Nordic Air to Harpersfield Township, but he ran into roadblocks when it came time to expand. The Environmental Protection Agency capped the size of his operation at 100 employees unless the plant hooked up to sewers.

Clutter presented his case to the city of Geneva and Harpersfield Township officials, who agreed to work toward extending sewers to what would become a joint economic development district (JEDD) located in Harpersfield Township. A JEDD is a separate taxing district set aside for economic development. Townships are not allowed to tax income per state law; however, creating a JEDD within that township establishes a taxing district.

Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County orchestrated the project.

“Growth Partnership was one our initial calls,” Clutter says. “Growth Partnership coordinated all that. They were the central office to bring all the different incentives together.”

Those incentives included low-interest loans for equipment to help the company expand and bring new jobs to the area. Clutter says he prefers low-interest loans from the state or the local 503 Corporation revolving loan fund to seeking tax abatements.

He says the JEDD has proven hugely successful, providing a rapid pay back on the loans while increasing the tax base. He is projecting at least $200,000 in income-tax revenues from the JEDD, much higher than the conservative $120,000 originally projected. Both Geneva and Harpersfield Township coffers will benefit from the revenue.

“This is a huge success story for our area,” Clutter says. “And it’s only going to get better when we bring in other factories or hotels or restaurants.”

Clutter says Nordic Air, which hires hourly production workers through temporary employment agencies, always has at least 200 applications on file. New employees spend their first 90 days working through the agency. Their next 90 days are spent as Nordic Air employees, on probation. Only after 180 days of proven work attendance and performance are they brought in without probation.

“We do it that way for 180 days because you might be able to fool us for 90 days,” says Clutter, who insists upon a strict drug-free workplace and reliable attendance. “It’s a lot harder to fool us for 180 days. We give them 180 days to learn what it will take to have a career here.”

Employees, both temporary and full-time, are subject to random drug-testing throughout the year.

Clutter says the company provides a clean, comfortable environment in which to work. It’s also very high tech, with robots doing much of the routine work, like painting.

“We’ve invested significantly in very, very high-caliber machines,” he says. “We buy state of the art — the latest and greatest we can get.”

The company employs at least two dozen salaried engineers. Clutter says it is extremely difficult to find engineers in Ashtabula County. Many of his salaried positions are filled by persons who live in Geauga, Lake and other surrounding counties.

“You would not believe how hard it is to fill engineering positions,” he says.