Official silence jeopardized Miller brewery decision
By Jim Blount
Rumors circulated in Butler County in late 1978 and early 1979, leading to suspicion about a project that had secretive government support. Most stories were accurate about the appropriate location, but the mystery and doubts varied about the nature of the business or industry and its impact, positive or negative. When official silence ended, public distrust had built to the point that the development was in jeopardy. It required a referendum to clear the way for construction of a new brewery by the Miller Brewing Co.
It wasn’t until December 1979 that Miller spokesmen and state and county officials made the official announcements that the company’s eighth brewery would be built on acreage in St. Clair Twp. between Overpeck and Trenton, east of the CSX mainline. Miller was reported to have considered more than 400 Midwest sites before choosing the tract five miles north of downtown Hamilton.
Unofficial reports had surfaced more than a year earlier that a Butler County location had survived Miller’s preliminary search. Miller’s name wasn’t mentioned in open meetings of the Butler County commission and county planning and zoning commissions. There also was no hint of its product or products.
A request to rezone 370 acres along Wayne-Madison Road was filed in November 1978. The planning commission voted unanimously Jan. 3, 1979, to recommend the change. The zoning commission took similar action the next day.
The guessing game continued while legal steps continued, including a public hearing where some residents questioned or opposed the changes for the secret company. County commissioners Cale L. Logsdon, Donald G. Schirmer and Arthur F. Reiff refused to name the industry Feb. 12, 1979, when they approved rezoning 370 acres from agricultural to general industry.
Despite official silence, the Journal-News, relying on sources outside Butler County, reported Feb. 16, 1979, that "the Miller Brewing Co. is the unnamed company." Official reaction was "no comment" while opposition to the rezoning and resentment of the secrecy mounted.
The official intrigue ended March 6, 1979, at a public meeting at Edgewood High School, just northwest of the proposed brewery site. Logsdon told about 90 people attending the meeting that Miller would create about 1,500 new jobs if the brewery won approval.
A week later, March 13, the project was in jeopardy when a petition, signed by 152 people, asked commissioners to hold a referendum on the rezoning question. It was reported that Miller would go elsewhere if it had to wait eight months until the November general election for a decision.
That crisis was averted by quick action in Columbus. Rep. William Donham of Middletown sponsored emergency legislation to allow a county commission to call a special election on a zoning referendum within 60 days after the vote had been requested. It was co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Fox of Hamilton. In a bipartisan vote, the bill was approved 90-0 in the Ohio House of Representatives. Sen. Donald E. (Buz) Lukens introduced a similar measure in the Ohio Senate. It was approved 32-0 April 3 and Gov. James A. Rhodes signed the combined bill the next day, April 4. The county commission voted April 5 to hold the special election June 5, 1979.
The turnout was small, but the result was emphatic. Rezoning for the brewery won 86.2 percent approval (1,016 to 162) with only 54.8 percent of St. Clair Twp. voters (1,178) participating.
Nov. 28, 1979 -- after environmental permits and other legal matters had been expedited -- county commissioners, Gov. Rhodes and Miller officials signed a 28-page agreement specifying state and county services, incentives and tax abatement for the brewery. It was reported that 2,000 people would be employed in building the facility.
Dec. 10, 1979, in Hamilton, Miller made it official. William K. Howell, Miller president, said "the brewery, when fully operational, is expected to have an annual economic impact of more than $133 million on the state of Ohio in terms of salaries, wages, material purchases and other production costs."
The company said construction would begin immediately, reported then as a $411.6 million facility with a capacity of 10 million barrels a year, to employ about 1,475 people in a 1.2 million square foot building on 1,087.9 acres.
Miller said the brewery would be in operation in 1982 -- but that’s another story for another column.
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Miller brewery mothballed 10 years before production start
By Jim Blount
A bright spot during the recession of the early 1980s was the anticipated 1982 opening of the Miller brewery near Trenton. The company’s eighth brewery, reported in 1979 as a $411.6 million facility capable of producing 10 million barrels of beer a year, would employ about 1,475 people, Miller had announced. State and county officials granted Miller several financial inducements as part of the agreement to locate in Butler County, one of more than 400 Midwest sites said to have been considered by the Milwaukee-based brewer.
The state pledged to reimburse Miller $1,662,500 "for construction of a water treatment supply system and other extensive site improvements related to the ‘public benefit.’" The state also agreed to issue at least $50 million in industrial development bonds "to assist in financing pollution control and solid waste disposal facilities."
Butler County commissioners promised to create "a community reinvestment area and will include all of the firm’s 1,070-acre site in the area eligible for tax abatement. Tax abatement will be granted to brewery improvements for 15 years," the Journal-News said. The report noted that the "action represents the first time tax abatement has been used by commissioners, who have stated they intend to limit the granting of the incentive to major new developments only."
The county also agreed to recommend that Miller’s facilities and equipment be classified as real property -- eligible for tax savings -- rather than personal property, as permitted by Ohio law.
With paper work completed, Miller took title Jan. 24, 1980, to 1,085.48 acres in St. Clair and Madison townships from Martin Farms Inc. The price was reported as $4,749,215.
Construction began in February 1980 and was complete in September 1981 -- in time for the expected 1982 opening. Instead, the building sat idle with no announced startup plan..
"We breathed a large sigh of relief," said an editorial in the Middletown Journal in February 1983, "when we learned that the Miller Brewing Co. was not pulling out of its commitment to open a new brewery south of Trenton,. The news was not good that Miller officials announced at a super-secret meeting with area officials at the Manchester Inn. Miller will not be opening the new brewery in 1983 as anticipated. The opening date has now been made indefinite, but at least that killed rumors that Miller would not be opening the plant at all."
Hope was renewed in June 1984 when the brewery completed a test brew -- about 7,750 gallons, or about 500 half barrels of "Buckeye Sparkling Dry Beer," sent to a Dayton distributor.
A month later, the Ohio Department of Taxation said Miller faced paying property taxes on the brewery in 1985 because of the test. But the company remained silent on plans for partial or full production.
Four years later, in October 1989, state and county officials asked Miller to "give us jobs or give us taxes," the latter a total of more than $11 million in abated back taxes. The letter said Miller would be expected to pay the abated tax until the Trenton brewery opened.
A year later, in October 1990, Miller said it would open the brewery in January 1991 with production expected to start in June or July. In May 1991, Miller reported it had 52,000 applications for a startup force of 253 employees.
July 16, 1991, the Journal-News said "the 10-year-old brewery is scheduled to ship its first truck load of beer [2,156 cases] today to Hamilton Distributing, which will almost immediately ship the product to nearly 700 retailers." The first batch was Genuine Draft, which "was brewed about one month ago, aging in refrigerated warehouses before delivery. It is the beginning of what is expected to be 500,000 barrels of beer to be produced locally this year."
Beer production for 1992, the first full year of operation, was 2.4 million barrels. It reached 7.5 million barrels in 1995 and 9.3 million in 2000 when brewery employment was 460.
Two years later, Ohio’s largest brewery and the biggest Miller operation experienced another change. In May 2002, Miller’s parent company, Philip Morris Cos. Inc., announced the sale of Miller to South African Breweries PLC, a transaction that created the world’s second-largest brewer. The new company was named SABMiller PLC.
Although its been more than 25 years since Miller selected the Trenton site, part of the original state commitment to the company hasn’t been fulfilled. That omission will be covered in a future column.
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State-promised road to Miller brewery still in limbo
By Jim Blount
Financial inducements from the state and tax abatement by the county were part of the agreement involved in the Miller Brewing Company's 1979 decision to build a new brewery near Trenton. Another element of that pact -- one aimed at improving safety and reducing business costs -- hasn't been fulfilled by Ohio or Butler County.
About a week before Miller announced its choice, the Journal-News reported that the state had promised highway improvements -- including a Trenton bypass -- within five years of the company's commitment to build in Butler County.
The report said the state "is to provide access to Ohio 4 via Ohio 73, including a bypass around Trenton, which would begin on the east side of the city, loop south and connect with existing Ohio 73 west of the city. The improvement is to include the upgrading of the intersection of Ohio 73 and 4 to enable it to serve anticipated traffic increases."
Other highway "improvements to be funded by the county are a reduction in the grade of Liberty-Fairfield Road south of the bridge over the Great Miami River to six percent, and improvements and widening of portions of Wayne-Madison and Liberty-Fairfield roads, including the installation of north and south turn lanes off Wayne-Madison Road for the brewery entrance."
The report said the county and state "also agreed to make other road improvements to be funded by county, state and federal money. Improvements are to include the resurfacing of Liberty-Fairfield Road from Ohio 4 to the Miami River and of Wayne-Madison Road from the river to Hamilton-Trenton Road. Other agreed-to improvements include reconstruction of two bridges along Liberty-Fairfield Road that span the B&O Railroad [now CSX] and Miami River and extensive improvements to the intersection of Ohio 4 and Liberty-Fairfield Road, including signals and restructuring turning lanes."
The $411.6 million brewery, designed to produce as much as 10 million barrels of beer a year, was projected to employ about 1,475 people. Although expected to open in 1982, Miller didn't start production until 1991 -- 10 years after completing construction.
During the decade, several related road improvements were completed, but not the Ohio 73⁄Ohio 4 upgrade. Now, after nearly 15 years of brewery operation, Miller's improved access to I-75 and the interstate highway system is still in limbo, delayed by routing changes, residential development and questions about who will pay for the roadway promised by Gov. James A. Rhodes more than 25 years ago.
In the interim, the emphasis has changed to extending Ohio 63 west from its terminus at Ohio 4, or an alternative, instead of building an Ohio 73 bypass around Trenton.
Planning also expanded to an Ohio 63⁄Ohio 73 corridor stretching from Monroe through Trenton to Oxford, described as an area 28 miles long, four miles wide and covering about 112 square miles. Still later, the Oxford segment became part of a separate project, the Northwest Butler Transportation Study.
With truck traffic to and from the brewery steadily increasing, Miller has periodically reminded state officials of the 1979 promise and Ohio's inaction on improving the situation.
Local efforts on behalf of the Miller road were renewed in the late 1990s. For a short time the project seemed to be moving up the Ohio Department of Transportation’s priority list. The estimated cost was $96 million to build a new roadway from Ohio 63, near Salzman Road in Monroe, to U.S. 127, north of Seven Mile That total included $27.7 million from ODOT with the remainder in local money.
Optimism faded in December 2001 when the Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) -- ODOT's project review board -- didn’t include the Ohio 63 extension in its list of projects recommended for financing. In its denial, ODOT cited uncertainty about federal funds available after expiration of the federal highway act in October 2003. (A new six-year federal highway bill wasn’t enacted until July 2005.)
The outcome was negative again when TRAC considered the Miller road in December 2003. ODOT said it was withdrawing the $27.7 million in state money because of the inability of Butler County local governments to provide matching funds.
Despite Gov. Rhodes 1979 promise to Miller officials, the combination of Liberty-Fairfield and Wayne-Madison roads and the Woodsdale Bridge remains a prime route to Ohio's largest brewery.
The inaction raises some serious questions: How will it impact any Miller plans to expand production and employment at the Trenton brewery? How does it affect the state’s credibility in dealing with business and industry considering expansion or relocation in Ohio?
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Fordson Heights perpetuates name of popular tractor
By Jim Blount
Fordson Heights, a Hamilton neighborhood, perpetuates the name of a successful product that brought radical changes to American farming after World War I. "While [Henry] Ford no more invented the tractor than he invented the automobile, his Fordson tractor, like his Model T, revolutionized an industry, brought a powerful new technology within the reach of millions, changed an age-old way of life forever, and had vast economic consequences," wrote John Steele Gordon in American Heritage in 1992.
Ford opened the Hamilton plant in April 1920 to build gas-powered Fordson tractors, selling for about $700. Fordson Heights was annexed to Hamilton in 1919 as the factory was being built nearby at the north end of North Fifth Street. The subdivision -- between Greenwood Avenue, Neal Boulevard and Campbell Drive, north of Greenwood Cemetery -- was built on land acquired by the Detroit-Hamilton Land Co.
World War I -- which started in Europe in 1914, three years before the United States entered the struggle -- had positive and negative impacts on U. S. farmers.
As the fighting in Europe disrupted agriculture and transportation, European grain supplies dwindled. Prices and profits climbed for American farmers who strained to meet export demands.
At the same time, low-tech European armies still depended on horses and mules to pull supply wagons and artillery. Careless handling and battlefield losses -- plus the drawn out war -- took a toll on the animals. The combatants relied on U. S. markets for replacements. U. S. farmers who couldn’t breed enough horses and mules for their own use had to pay the inflated prices caused by American animal exports to European armies.
Henry Ford (1863-1947) had succeeded before the war in producing an affordable car. The Model T, launched in 1908 and priced at $950, fulfilled Ford's pledge to "build a car for the great multitude." When discontinued in 1927, Model T production totaled 15.5 million.
He planned to duplicate his "affordable horseless carriage" success, wrote Gordon, with the Fordson, "a practical, affordable horseless horse" that would ease the work of farmers, replacing draft animals and steam as power sources.
Ford’s partners in building cars, the Ford Motor Co., didn’t share his vision. The mass production tractor business became a separate company, Henry Ford and Son Co., shortened to Fordson. The son was Edsel Ford.
Fordson production began in October 1917 with most units going to England, where the war’s cost in human and animal losses had crippled farming. When World War I ended in November 1918, Ford anticipated a brisk worldwide tractor market.
In 1920, when the Hamilton plant, Ford had plenty of competitors. That year 166 manufacturers produced 203,207 tractors. Ford and Son sold 100,000 tractors by year. But sales began to suffer in 1921, coinciding with a rapid drop in farm prices and a decline in the demand for agricultural products. Fordson sales were 35,000 in 1921 while one of its competitors, John Deere, sold only 79.
Fordson reacted with a price war, cutting its price in 1922 as low as $395, "less than the price of a good team of horses," according to Gordon. Other tractor companies folded during the 1920s, when a Fordson was working on 75 percent of U. S. farms. That number is impressive, but the Fordson never matched the Model T in financial success. The continuing boom in auto sales and the uncertain tractor market brought a quick change in Hamilton.
Tractor work in Hamilton continued for only six months, until October 1920 when the plant was retooled to produce wheels for the popular Model T, turning out more than 12 million wheels in the next six years. The local operation became part of the Ford Motor Co. in 1920 when Ford and Son was merged into the older corporation.
In 1927, the Hamilton plant switched to making wheels for the Model A, producing more than 22 million wheels in 10 years. In the late 1930s it manufactured a variety of auto parts, employing 1,500 people on three shifts during the Depression.
During World War II, 1941-1945, the plant made bomber parts. Ford began closing the factory in April 1950 and sold it in February 1951 to the Bendix Aviation Corp. Later it was occupied by Ward Manufacturing Co., which produced camping trailers, and finally by the Chem-Dyne Corp.