Whatever you do, don’t tell George Lang that something can’t be accomplished.
 
Lang, a West Chester trustee since November 2003, has been credited with helping attract to West Chester such major corporate powerhouses as AK Steel and General Electric.

During Lang’s tenure, West Chester has experienced consistent growth in corporate identity. He ticks off his list: “GE’s expanded presence, Anthem, United HealthCare, P&G expansions, Health Alliance hospital, AK Steel relocating its corporate headquarters to West Chester, IKEA opening its only store in Ohio in West Chester, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Miami University’s VOA Learning Center,” the checklist goes on.

“In the last six years, West Chester has reaped more than $1.6 billion in new investment, over 25 million square feet in new construction, and over 20,000 new jobs,” Lang observes.

How does he see his role in West Chester? “I believe the role of government is to focus on their core competencies. I define those for West Chester as public safety —police and fire services and infrastructure — roads and storm water management,” he says. “When we focus primarily on our core competencies, we can reduce the size and cost of government, making it more attractive for economic development to take place.”

But what has West Chester done as a government, as opposed to other towns, to attract so much new development?

“For the most part, we have assisted developers in building a good infrastructure and then gotten the hell out of the way,” Lang maintains. “Much of our success is due to two things: One, our location with easy access to I-75 and being located in the middle of the Cincinnati-Dayton corridor, and two, the fact that we have world-class developers. Our developers are second to none and it is they, not the government, who deserve the credit for West Chester’s success relative to economic development. The only thing we as a government can offer is help with infrastructure and to make sure we keep the cost of local government down while reducing or eliminating unnecessary government regulations, which drive up the costs of doing business. The other thing that helps us is that Cincinnati is doing so well relative to other large cities. Our success is directly tied to them. We need Cincinnati, Dayton and Hamilton all to succeed over the next decade in order for us to continue to realize the success we currently enjoy.”

“West Chester and Liberty Townships benefit from a number of attributes that are strong positive influences on growth, including favorable demographics and central location along the Interstate 75 corridor,” agrees Chris Worrell of Graydon Head & Ritchey’s Butler/Warren office in West Chester (Worrell is also a member of the Liberty Township Joint Economic Development District and is on the board of the West Chester Chamber Alliance). “We also benefit from the fact that there are three, soon to be four, exits on I-75 serving our area.

“However, these attributes alone don’t guarantee that the growth we are experiencing will be the right kind of growth,” adds Worrell. “I credit the leadership of West Chester and Liberty Townships for that.”

Giving credit where credit is due, Lang himself lauds the list of major developers in West Chester: “Larry Schumacher and Chris Wunnenberg of Schumacher Dugan have probably done the most development work in West Chester; they were developing here when West Chester was still mainly a rural township. Others who have had a positive impact on West Chester are John Burger of Duke Reality, Dan Neyer of Neyer Properties, Dick Alderson of North Ridge Reality, John Silverman of Midland Atlantic, and of course we have great local developers like Bob Hutsenpiller, Charlie Chappell, Mark Sennett and Tom McGill. These people and others are the ones who have made painful investments of their own money in order to make West Chester the economic epicenter of the Cincinnati-Dayton Corridor that it is today.”

And with 20,000 new jobs in West Chester under his watch, how does Lang address this stroke of good fortune while the rest of the economy is struggling?

He responds: “Keeping government costs down, and not adding unnecessary regulations, this reduces the costs of doing business in West Chester compared to other communities. ... As companies realize this, they look to communities like West Chester to locate in; it gives them an advantage in the marketplace. It is these businesses that are looking for that advantage who have created the jobs, not the government. This is a good thing. Jobs from the private sector are sustainable and healthy for a community. If a community is only growing government jobs, it is exposing itself to a huge risk.

There has been talk of West Chester incorporating; are you in favor of this?

“No. The only reason to incorporate is to be able to charge more taxes and generate more income on the backs of your residents and businesses,” Lang maintains. “We are able to adequately deliver our core competencies without additional taxes. By increasing taxes and the cost of government, we will destroy the pace of our economic development that we have come to enjoy. People should be very cautious before they give more money to the government and should only do so under extreme circumstances. If you give government more of your money, they will spend it. Don’t give it to us!”

Let’s talk about the new GE deal. You brought this deal to the township, why did they select West Chester?

“To be clear, I was working on this deal about six to 12 months in advance of taking it to West Chester, but all of the credit for this deal goes to Duke Realty and GE. Jon Burger of Duke approached me to work on this deal. We were able to put a conceptual opportunity together that made sense for all parties. Then I got Judy Boyko, our amazing township administrator, involved who was able to make all of the details work. Duke needed some infrastructure work and GE was looking for a tax abatement, neither of which we could easily provide. The key to this deal was the implementation of a voluntary JEDD (or joint economic development district), which allowed all of the pieces to come together and create a win-win-win scenario. This project will result in about a $40 million investment and create about 1,400 jobs.”

If you are against the additional taxes that go with incorporation, why did you agree to a JEDD that generates additional taxes?

“The reason is because it was a voluntary JEDD. It was not imposed on an employer by the township but was mutually agreed to and accepted by all. There is talk about putting a JEDD on all commercial districts within the township. I am opposed to this, as this would be similar to incorporating. The only way using a JEDD makes sense to me is if it is voluntary.”

What other major corporate deals or relocations have you had a part in?

“I worked hard on the Amylin Pharmaceutical deal with their general manager, John Pratt. John Pratt’s tenacity helped us to think outside the box to create a win-win solution. This deal would not have been possible without the help from the state. Sen. Gary Cates put a lot of effort into this and was able to secure the help of Lt. Governor Lee Fisher. Lee worked tirelessly on this deal, and without his assistance it would not have materialized. This project is a $400 million project that will create about 450 jobs. This, combined with the new hospitals (West Chester Medical Center, Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Campus and Atrium Medical Center) set to open up in West Chester, will be a huge draw for medical industry opportunities for many years to come.”

On to the big blue box. How did the idea of IKEA locating in West Chester come about?

“To be clear, once again the credit for this goes not to the township, but rather to Schumacher Dugan. Schumacher single-handedly brought this deal to the township. Without question, this was one of the most fun projects we worked on. The folks at IKEA are very unique and truly enjoy what they are doing. IKEA made this project fun, the folks at Schumacher Dugan made it easy.”

What type of incentive did you use to attract AK Steel?

“AK Steel is the only Fortune 500 company that is headquartered in West Chester. To be honest, we were as surprised as everyone when they made their announcement to relocate to West Chester. AK did not ask for one incentive, nor were any offered. Based on conversations I had with Alan McCoy (AK’s vice president for public affairs), I believe the main reason they chose West Chester were the amenities that we had to offer combined with the lower cost of doing business here. The amenities included hotels and restaurants combined with our new Urban Park and the soon-to-open library in our downtown district.”

What projects are you working on now, and who with?

“I can’t discuss the particulars, but there are two potential projects that will be big for West Chester, and good for our region. I hope to have these projects ready to take to my fellow trustees within the next six to 12 months.”