Union County has been identified as a leader in autonomous vehicle research. Developments like the fiber loop connecting TRC to Dublin, dedicated short range communications towers along U.S. 33, Marysville’s connected intersections and the city creation of an Innovation Park have helped the area earn that reputation. In this 2016 photo, then Ohio Governor John Kasich was in the county to watch as an autonomous truck drove on U.S. 33. It was part of a project that brought local, state, federal and private dollars together to create a smart mobility corridor. (Journal-Tribune photo by Mac Cordell)
Top stories of the past 10 years
By Mac Cordell and Kayleen Petrovia
The decade between 2010 and 2020 saw many changes for Union County, some universally appreciated and others more controversial.
While a single story or issue can dominate headlines or be the top headline for a year, it is trends that develop and tell the story of a decade.
Those trends influence the community and its leaders. Journal-Tribune staff has worked to identify the major trends that shaped the decade and have positioned the community moving forward.
Residential and Commercial Growth Surge in County
As the decade began, the recession slowed growth. Several slated projects were canceled. However, those projects that moved forward experienced a boom. Commercial, retail and hospitality businesses flooded the area. Kroger, Meijer, Best Buy, MC Sports, Dunham’s, Rural King, Costco and other big box retailers moved into the area. Local shops have also flourished. New hotels more than doubled the number of available beds in the county. Restaurants like Boston’s, Leon’s, Sakura, Arby’s, Whit’s, Roosters, The Ville Grill, Texas Roadhouse, Hinkley’s, Carvers, Panera, Bibibop, White Castle, as well as dozens of smaller local restaurants have started service.
Some of the new businesses have remained, some have changed repeatedly, some have closed and others are still in the planning stage, but it is clear: businesses have targeted the community.
Residential development has also increased tremendously.
In the decade, more than 3,000 single family homes and about 2,000 apartment units have been built or permitted.
While the number of homes has increased, nearly all have a sale price more than $250,000 or rent for more than $1,200 a month. Officials around the county created a housing council to address the lack of affordable housing options in the community.
The growth has had a mixed reaction. Some residents welcome the new homes, recognizing the new homes will lower home prices and attract new jobs and business opportunities. Others fear the growth will change the dynamic of the town, tax city services and overcrowd schools.
Changing Face of Marysville Exempted Village School District
Marysville Schools spent the early portion of the decade trying to get ahead of a projected negative balance. Teachers, coaches, administrators and staff members were cut. Teachers took a pay freeze in an effort to help balance the books.
In 2012, the district hired Diane Mankins to replace longtime superintendent Larry Zimmerman.
In 2013, the district secured a $12 million grant to renovate the former high school and create a science, technology, engineering and math-focused Early College High School. The building was opened two years later, starting with a freshman class, then adding a new class each year.
The district also began accepting open enrollment students and created an all-day, every day kindergarten program.
In 2015, the district reduced bussing in an effort to cut costs. That same year, the high school changed criteria for school valedictorians, no longer selecting the top single performer, but instead selecting any student earning a 4.1 grade point average.
Memorial Health has spent the decade growing beyond the county it has its roots in.
Both the expansion of current facilities and construction of new ones have marked recent years for Union County-based health system.
Construction of the heart pavilion, a collaboration between Memorial Hospital and The Ohio State University Medical Center, kicked off the decade and wrapped up in 2012.
The project was completed within its $11 million budget, as it featured a combination of renovations and new building space.
The facility opened its doors in 2013, the same year another partnership with OSU began, this one for the care of stroke patients. The second partnership was highlighted by a mobile robot which allows experts at Ohio State to oversee care in the local facility.
Memorial embraced its growth in 2014, rebranding the health system to drop “Union County” from its name.
Now called Memorial Health, the name change affected more than 20 facilities and represented an expansion beyond the county’s borders.
However, the health system continued to expand within the county, as 2014 marked the opening of the Memorial City Gate Medical Center. The 35,000-square foot facility relocated Memorial Urgent Care from its previous location near the YMCA building, as well as Memorial Orthopedics and Sports Medicine from offices on Route 31.
Memorial Health announced its largest project yet in 2015, when the system asked the county commissioners to use $35 million of the county’s borrowing capacity to expand facilities at the London Avenue campus.
The announcement came only two months after plans to construct an $8.3, 23,000-square foot facility in Urbana.
Aside from new plans, Memorial Health also opened a wound care clinic in Coleman’s Crossing during 2015.
In 2017, the fundraising campaign for Memorial Health’s expansion secured $3.3 million of the total cost of approximately $50 million.
The health system also opened Memorial Primary Care Urbana, Memorial Gateway Medical Center and Memorial Family Medicine Richwood during the year.
The next year, contractors broke ground on the $50 million, “Memorial 2020” project that would create state-of-the-art inpatient and outpatient facilities and replace all existing patient rooms, aside from the obstetrics unit and nursery.
Honda Marches On
It was a decade of ups and downs for Union County’s largest employer, Honda America Manufacturing.
A massive earthquake in 2011 off the coast of Japan caused flooding and triggered a number of nuclear accidents on the island nation. The disaster in Japan caused a critical shortage of certain parts needed for production locally. Because the parts were unavailable, production was slowed. As Honda was pulling out of that crisis, flooding in Thailand meant that some critical parts made there were unavailable. In response, for several months production was cut in half. Through the natural disasters, Honda repositioned the Marysville Auto Plant as its “Global Mother Plant” meaning it would take the lead on many production related issues and insulating the plant from shortages around the world.
In 2012, Honda unveiled a new Accord and celebrated 30 years of production at the Marysville Auto Plant. The company also exported its millionth American-made vehicle.
The company announced it would build the Performance Manufacturing Center in Union County. The facility is the exclusive producer of the Acura NSX, Honda’s supercar.
In 2014, Honda marked 10 million Accords and 20 million vehicles produced in America. The Honda Heritage Center, a $35 million, 160,000-square foot museum and Technical Development Center with office space on Honda Parkway was built. The museum, which opened in January 2015, looks at the evolution of Honda motorcycles, cars, power equipment, robots, racing and other innovations.
In 2015, Honda began investing $210 million into expansion of the Marysville Auto Plant’s paint facilities. A year later, Honda committed $53 million to construct an information technology operations center and a market quality operations facility on Johnson Road.
2017 saw another major investment as the company announced it would create about 200 new jobs and invest more than $220 million at the Marysville Auto Plant and invest about $47 million and add 100 new jobs at Honda’s Anna Engine Plant.
The Marysville-produced Accord was named “America’s Best Sedan” by Car and Driver magazine.
That year, the company also donated more than $1.8 million to local health care facilities.
The year also brought some bad news for Honda. The company agreed to a $484 million settlement in connection with recalled Takata airbags. Additionally, production was cut several days a month at the Marysville Auto Plant.
“This decision will help us maintain the appropriate level of inventory at dealer lots to meet customer demand for vehicles produced at the Marysville Auto Plant,” according to a release.
In April 2019, Honda of America Manufacturing announced it would suspend the second shift on Line One at the Marysville Auto Plant beginning Aug. 1.
The Marysville Auto Plant, which used to have two production lines with two shifts each, is continuing with two shifts on Line Two and one shift on Line One.
The change also impacted production at the Anna Engine Plant, the Honda Transmission Plant as well as suppliers and logistic companies.
Officials said employees would offer a “voluntary resignation program” to certain eligible associates. Other associates were moved to a different shift, a different department or even a different plant, based on where the attrition took place. In a release, officials said the change, “will enable the plant to align supply with current market demand and utilize this period to update manufacturing capabilities to prepare for new technologies including electrification.” Officials said the company expects to “resume second shift within a few years.”
Through the decade, tariffs, dock worker strikes on the west coast and customs delays also had impacts on the company production schedules.
In March of 2016, the Union County Council of Governments approved a $50,000 agreement to reroute and replace fiber optic lines coming into the Marysville Early College High School. The decision was part of a long-term strategy to place high speed internet around the City of Marysville. Later that year, Columbus won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge based on a plan to integrate wireless transportation technologies along U.S. 33 from Columbus to the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty.
In July of 2016, the Ohio Department of Transportation expressed interest in partnering with Union County officials to apply for a federal grant to create a Smart Mobility Corridor along U.S. 33. ODOT committed millions of dollars to create a fiber loop along U.S. 33 to TRC then back on secondary roads to connect to Dublin’s fiber near the U.S. 33/Route 161 connection with I-270.
Days later, the federal government agreed to pay for hundreds of short range communications towers along the corridor. The towers allow vehicles to communicate with each other, traffic officials and the infrastructure itself, paving the way for autonomous vehicles.
In 2018, Honda and the City of Marysville partnered to create a smart intersection where autonomous vehicles could communicate with signals and other vehicles. The city became a testing ground for companies wanting to research mobility technology. Every intersection in the city will eventually be connected, meaning a driverless vehicle can get on the road at The Ohio State University, to Marysville, around the city and return while being connected to the infrastructure the entire time.
In 2016, Marysville, recognizing the potential of the research, purchased 203 acres between U.S. 33 and Industrial parkway for the creation of an Innovation Park. While the project has had many suitors, there are no tenants or construction at the site yet.
City Improves Facilities and Infrastructure
In 2010, Marysville voters narrowly passed a 0.5% income tax allowing the city to pay off debt and plan new projects.
The new money allowed the city to stay financially strong, even while other communities were struggling with the recession.
In 2012, the city began construction on a new police and courts building on W. Fifth Street, a new City Hall and Municipal Services Building on Main Street, as well as the Maj. Gen. Oscar Decker Fire Station on County Home Road.
The city also created several new parks, the most visible of which are Partners Park with the Memorial Health Pavilion, which sits at the site of the former city hall on the corner of S. Main and E. Sixth streets and the city dog park on N. Maple Street. A pedestrian bridge was constructed over U.S. 33, connecting the Jim Simmons Trail in Mill Valley to the Marysville High School area on Amrine Mill Road. Other parks and recreation projects included a nearly $650,000 renovation of the Uptown’s Town Run area, a relaxation park at the corner of Main and Fourth streets and the Mill Valley South Park.
The city also funded infrastructure improvements to city bridges, roads and utility lines. Those improvements. To make those improvements, many roads were closed or under construction, often for months at a time. Those closures caused headaches for business owners, residents and commuters in the area.
County Finances Solid
The decade began with the Union County Commissioners laying off employees. The commissioners said finances were difficult and a variety of things – including a soon-to-be-needed third judge, infrastructure projects and changing laws at the state level threatened the county revenue. For 2009, the county pulled in about $16.2 million. While officials continue with the same concerns, revenue has steadily increased, setting records nearly every year. County officials have increased a variety of fees and recreated many of the positions they eliminated in the early portion of the decade. The county is expected to go into the new decade with more than $16 million in carryover. County Auditor Andrea Weaver has set the 2020 revenue estimate at $26.8 million.
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