HCEDC celebrates the anomaly that is Holmes County

HCEDC celebrates the anomaly that is Holmes County
Dave Mast

Bent Wood Solutions was tabbed as this year’s Holmes County Economic Development Council Acorn to Oak Award recipient for the way it has developed and grown from a small business into a thriving company.


An anomaly is something that deviates from the norm. It is something surprising in the face of all the collected data.

According Mark Leininger, executive director of Holmes County Economic Development Council, Holmes County is an anomaly when it comes to manufacturing in Ohio.

Leininger explored some of the reasons why that anomaly exists during the HCEDC annual meeting that took place Wednesday, Oct. 9 at Comfort Suits in Berlin. The anomaly theory was the main topic of discussion as Leininger pointed out how Holmes County continues to create a successful manufacturing environment despite lacking almost every single positive indicator that is present for areas that find manufacturing success.

“We have experienced the rapid growth of our county’s economy in the absence of every amenity typically associated with economic growth,” Leininger said.

That includes an absence of four-lane highways, a rail system, proximity to a city and more factors that usually paint a rosy picture for economic wellness.

Leininger said he has spent the past year exploring the reasons for Holmes County’s rapid economic growth, where he discovered multi-faceted reasons driving the anomaly.

“Not only is the existence of our economic growth confounding, but the nature of our growth is equally perplexing,” Leininger said. “As it turns out, our economic gains are taking place in a business sector that has been in a prolonged period of statewide decline, and that sector is manufacturing.”

Over the past two decades, manufacturing in Ohio has decreased by 32 percent. Meanwhile Holmes County’s manufacturing sector has been producing jobs at a 30 percent increase.

He said it is that kind of sustained job growth that has led manufacturing to become Holmes County’s leading industry sector. He said after the recession of 2009, Ohio as a whole struggled to regain the jobs it lost while Holmes County rebounded within three years to create an increased number of jobs. Jobs statewide were down 15 percent.

“Holmes County, a county unsupported by development-inducing amenities and whose growth is occurring in a waning industry sector, appears to have achieved faster growth and greater resilience than Ohio as a whole. It is somewhat of an economic enigma,” Leininger said.

Leininger said if Holmes County was a race car and the economy was the Monaco Grand Prix, it would be equivalent to Holmes County lapping the field while driving a pedal car in reverse.

“Whatever way you choose to look at it, Holmes County’s economy is thriving,” Leininger said. “A major portion of our growth appears to be taking place in the manufacturing sector.”

Leininger also spoke about Holmes County’s enterprise program. Leininger said over the past year the development council has supported a record five new expansion projects through enterprise agreements, proving that manufacturing companies are coming to Holmes County and thriving.

“The trend of our county’s manufacturing growth continues,” Leininger said.

Featured speaker Dr. Fran Stewart, author of “The STEM Dilemma: Skills That Matter to Regions,” touched on how Holmes County varies from Ohio when it comes to manufacturing and how Ohio in general can improve its manufacturing outlook.

“Holmes County is definitely bucking the trend when it comes to manufacturing growth in Ohio, and it is a bit confounding,” Stewart said.

She said there are generally three different forces that are noted when it comes to the decline of manufacturing. Those three include foreign trade, domestic competition and automation.

Stewart said while foreign trade has garnered headlines lately, it is automation that has been the key issue when it comes to effecting Ohio’s manufacturing output. She said technological advancements have allowed companies to create greater production with fewer numbers of workers.

“Automation has played the largest role, dwarfing the impact of competition,” Stewart said. “Ohio is still largely a manufacturing state. It produced twice as much as it did 50 years ago with half as many workers, due to technological change and automation. But we have to remember that these three forces go hand-in-hand in eroding our manufacturing base.”

Stewart said while unemployment numbers are strong in Ohio right now, the types of jobs that are available are not on the high-paying end of the scale. She said in three decades between 1969 and 2000, Ohio lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs. The jobs replacing those jobs are available but don’t pay the same wages.

Stewart said trade, transportation and utilities are the top employment sector in Ohio. Education, health, government, and business and professional services follow. While manufacturing was once a top producer in Ohio, it now stands at just less than 13 percent of Ohio jobs.

“Holmes County is considerably more dependent on manufacturing than the norm in Ohio,” Stewart said.

Following the look at Ohio and Holmes County’s manufacturing roles and standings, the Acorn to Oak Award went to Atlee Kaufman, owner of Bent Wood Solutions of Mt. Hope. The Acorn to Oak Award was created by the HCEDC to honor local businesses that have nurtured the seed of an idea for a business and matured it into something special.

Presenter Jason Hummel said Bent Wood Solutions has dedicated decades of innovation and hard work toward filling a niche that was much-needed. Hummel said unlike many businesses that crop up because an owner has a passion for what they are doing, Kaufman’s company, which began as 77 Coach in 1981, came about because he saw an unfulfilled need in the county. He recognized a supply chain void in the production of the curved wooden parts used in the making of horse-drawn carriages.

For close to three decades, Bent Wood Solutions has become a leader in the industry of providing bent wood pieces to more than just buggies. Kaufman took the idea of bent wood from buggies to the furniture world, and the company took off. Over the years Bent Wood Solutions has developed a reputation worldwide for its products.

Kaufman said as far as his company’s success, while he was focusing on manufacturing bent wood buggy parts, it took three different visits from Eli Hochstetler of H.W. Chair to convince him creating furniture parts was the way to go.

“Doing furniture was not what I envisioned,” Kaufman said. “I have to give a lot of thanks to Eli for talking me into the venture we are in right now.”

Kaufman also said a dedicated group of employees has been a driving force in the company’s success. He said he doesn’t micromanage, instead allowing his employees to create, invent and lead as they continue to produce bent wood products that are shipped around the world.

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