When John Orlando, CEO of the 120-year-old Orlando Baking Company, looks out of the conference room at his company headquarters on the Opportunity Corridor and sees thousands of cars a day flowing past his front door, he likes what he sees. Before the $322 million, 3.5 mile roadway between East 55th and University Circle was completed in late 2021, he estimated that only a few hundred cars drove past their facility each day. Now, he said, it’s more like 20,000.
“That wasn’t happening before,” said Orlando during a recent interview and tour of his factory. “Nobody wanted to come down here before.”
Although critics are quick to point out empty, trash-filled lots along the corridor, Orlando said the completion of the corridor has helped to grow his business. The road has trimmed the company’s delivery times, allowing it to serve more customers. The bakery employs about 330 people at its headquarters at Grand Ave. and E. 75th St. on the city’s east side – down from 350-360 before the pandemic – but it’s actively hiring more workers now that the road is done.
“It’s brought awareness to a local company, and it makes deliveries easier,” said Orlando. “We’re saving 10-15 minutes off getting to the plant. It’s also bringing more opportunities to hire people, because they can get here right off I-90.”
Orlando estimated that 50-70% of his employees live in the city of Cleveland, and they make $15-17 per hour with health care and benefits and have opportunities to move up to higher-paying positions. When this article was published, the company had nine jobs posted on its website and invited applicants who didn’t see the job they were looking for to submit their resume.
Orlando and the industrial developer Weston are also building a new $32 million cold storage facility across the street with the help of a $2 million Jobs Ohio grant and land from the city. The 156,000 square foot project is expected to create 70-plus new jobs, according to a release from the Greater Cleveland Partnership. Right now, Orlando sends 6-8 trucks a day to a cold storage facility in Columbus, but that will change once the new facility opens in August, as the company will be able to store that bread locally before it’s shipped out to stores and restaurants around the country, saving on trucking and shipping costs. The developers also plan to rent out freezer space to other local food companies in Cleveland and elsewhere, and about 45% of it is spoken for.
“Across the country this is a great need, and there aren’t a lot of investments taking place,” said Orlando of the demand for cold storage and the need for a new facility in Northeast Ohio.
City not tracking impact on existing businesses, but companies tell The Land about improvements
The city of Cleveland does not have any information about expansion of existing businesses along the corridor other than the cold storage facility that Orlando is partnering to build, said John Fahsbender, the city’s brownfields and site coordinator. Although the roadway has been open for a year, no one at the city has yet studied its impact on local businesses, he said. It’s not clear if there are any future plans to do so.
Nevertheless, two other company leaders besides Orlando told The Land they’re making investments big and small in their facilities, in anticipation of the increase in business the Opportunity Corridor will bring them.
Allen Raymo, general manager of Farm House Foods at 9000 Woodland Ave. just off the corridor, said the company has invested in a larger kitchen facility and new signage. The firm has experienced steady growth in its retail business and is girding for more. Allen notes the transportation network has improved, resulting in increased access to the store by residents and employees of University Circle and the Cleveland Clinic. It’s also easier for trucks and deliveries to get in and out of the store.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s been worth the wait,” he said of the corridor.
Maria Miceli, director of marketing at Miceli Dairy Products on E. 90th St. and Buckeye just a half block from the corridor, also touted increased efficiency, saying that the company is able to save 20 minutes round-trip on deliveries. “Over time, this accounts for a measurable 10-15% in increased efficiency, which means we can hire more employees and serve more customers,” Miceli said.
Miceli said about 50% of its employees come from surrounding neighborhoods, and the improvement of RTA stops in the area as well as the bicycle and pedestrian path along the corridor have also helped people get to work.
Now, the company is planning to expand, possibly on the north side of its building abutting the Opportunity Corridor. For Miceli, the corridor helps to provide the springboard and the conduit for an increased presence of Miceli Dairy Products in the immediate neighborhood and beyond.
Preparing for – and still seeking – new development
Although there have been recent news reports about site development projects, the city hasn’t announced any new projects since the road was finished more than a year ago. While some hailed the city’s recent decision to build its police headquarters in the ArtCraft building at E. 22nd St. and Superior Ave. rather than along the corridor, that has left yet another forlorn development site with trash blowing through overgrown weeds along the corridor.
“The road is built, and residents are rightfully asking, ‘Where is the opportunity?’” Jeff Epstein, the city’s chief of integrated development, told The Land in an interview at city hall. “That’s what we’re driving towards.”
Site assembly is the first step to bringing new businesses to the corridor, Bryce Sylvester, director of site strategies with Team NEO, told Cleveland City Council’s development, sustainability and planning committee in February. Throughout Northeast Ohio there are a lack of large, developable sites, leading to the difficulty of attracting new businesses or helping businesses expand. The proximity to highways, roads, transit, and rail is important, and the Opportunity Corridor has all of these things in spades. He also stated that food packaging and industry was a strength along the corridor, and more could be done to grow this industry hub.
Behind the scenes, Epstein said, there’s a lot of activity. He touted public and private entities working to clean up land on nine parcels to create shovel-ready sites where companies can relocate and create new jobs. According to Epstein, the dearth of large development sites in Northeast Ohio makes the Opportunity Corridor well-positioned for business attraction.
“Fundamentally, when lead opportunities come out, the name of the game is to be ready way before that,” Sylvester said. “If you don’t have sites that have done their due diligence, have trees cleared, have utilities in place, and you don’t know every piece of information about that dirt, it’s really hard to stay in the game.”
Epstein is on the same page. “This is an opportunity to clean up sites in order to take advantage of (economic development) opportunities,” he said in a presentation before Cleveland City Council’s development, planning and sustainability committee in February. “The Opportunity Corridor has 10-plus acre sites that can be assembled if a company wants to come in. There’s a lack of these in the city.”
Following Epstein’s presentation, the city council approved spending $3.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that would be matched by Jobs Ohio funds to clean up the properties and ready them for new projects. This work is beginning to get underway now, said Epstein.
City wants high-impact development projects
One of the projects that has been deemed a success story is Innovation Square, a new mixed-income, mixed-use development with 223 residences that is rising on the west side of E. 105th St. between Cedar and Quincy Avenues. Fairmount Properties is constructing a six-story, market-rate apartment building above a parking garage and a new Meijer grocery store, the supermarket’s first foray into the city. With a lack of full-service grocery stores nearby, the area is considered a food desert (the closest one is Dave’s Market at E. 61st St. and Chester Ave., which is two miles away).
Epstein said the city has also been meeting monthly with a group of stakeholders to plan the future of the corridor, something that had languished during the Jackson administration. After agreeing on a vision for the types of jobs they wanted to create, the group set about preparing sites for development. The focus, Epstein said, is on bringing dense development that can create high quality jobs available to city residents. “I don’t want a gas station or scrapyard taking up a prime site on the corridor,” Epstein told The Land. “There’s been enough public money that we want to envision something that would truly benefit the public and the community.”
According to Epstein, the city and its partners want to focus on three industries – food production, health care and technology, and advanced manufacturing. They envision bringing health care and tech jobs to the northern part of the corridor near the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and University Circle, while they see food production being clustered in the middle of the roadway and advanced manufacturing being located closer to E. 55th St.
Having sites ready for new businesses or the expansion of existing businesses like Miceli’s is exactly what the city is driving towards, said Epstein. He said the city receives 4-8 emails a month from Team NEO asking them to submit 20-acre sites for consideration for companies looking to relocate or expand, but the city has no large sites to offer them. That’s why they’re cleaning up sites on the corridor – to make sure the city is ready for new opportunities when they come.
“This is a beginning,” said Epstein. “We’re working on a citywide plan with the state. But the Opportunity Corridor is a preview, where we can help create high quality jobs that are close to population and transit.”
To learn more about economic development in Cleveland, visit the city of Cleveland’s economic development department website at makeitincleveland.org. To learn more about Cleveland City Council meetings, including how to provide public comment, visit www.clevelandcitycouncil.org.
Roger Williams participated in The Land’s community journalism program.
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