Belpre touts business additions

BELPRE – The past year was a positive one for the city of Belpre, with several new or expanding businesses beginning or opening, the passage of an emergency services levy and the addition of a new canine officer to the Belpre Police Department at no cost to the city.

“I think we had a good year,” said Mayor Mike Lorentz. “We had 14 ribbon cuttings, either businesses coming to Belpre or expansions. To my knowledge, that is probably a record for this little city to have that many ribbon cuttings and legitimate business openings.”

In addition to new businesses like Taco Bell and Inspire 111, Lorentz also cited existing businesses that remained in Belpre while expanding their facilities or offerings like Bob’s Market, First Settlement Physical Therapy and the Memorial Health System.

“I think that’s hopefully kind of a result of the way we act and the way we accept business here in the city,” he said. “When people coming in looking for a piece of property or help with permits and so forth, we’re here every day.”

Lorentz believes one reason for that success in the past couple of years has been an expanded role by the area’s business community and chamber of commerce in economic development efforts. In previous years, Lorentz said he and the city’s safety-service director might be the entirety of the city’s economic development department, with help from the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce.

For the past several years, area businesspeople and others have become active in that effort, with anywhere from 12 to 20 people attending monthly meetings to discuss what is needed in Belpre and to discuss ideas for future efforts, he said.

“We have to decide what we’re going to be,” Lorentz said. “Are we going to be a retirement community or are we going to be a business hub for small business in southeastern Ohio?”

Lorentz also praised the community’s willingness to step forward and help where needed, citing the efforts to fund and purchase a drug dog for the Belpre Police Department through community donations and the passage of an emergency services levy during the November election.

He is also hopeful the new year will see new life brought to a longtime fixture in central Belpre. In October, plans were announced by the Becks, the owners of Boxers Bed and Biscuits, to purchase and renovate the former Middleton Doll factory on Washington Boulevard to convert it to a large dog grooming facility. As of late December, Lorentz said those plans are still working their way through the system and remain a viable option.

Looking ahead at 2018, Lorentz said he is looking forward to working with the new Belpre City Council as returning members are joined by newcomers.

An organizational meeting for the new year will be 10 a.m. Monday at the Belpre Municipal Building. That meeting is expected to be short and will involve a swearing-in ceremony for those council members and elected officials returning or joining council as a result of the November election.

Council president Will Neff and city auditor Leslie Pittenger will be returning. Drew A. Smith will be joining the city as the newly elected treasurer. On council, returning members are Susan Abdella, Donna Miller and Judy Drake. Newly elected members will be Timothy Gant, Joshua Campbell and Penne Riffle. Elmer Lee Shutts will also be joining council as a newly elected member, although he has served since spring after being appointed to fill a vacancy in an unexpired term on council.

One thing the city will be working on in the new year is filling a vacancy in the Belpre Police Department. Lorentz said civil testing will take place in January with the goal of finding a new officer for the department, a process which generally takes about three months.

Lorentz also plans to approach City Council with the idea of hiring a grant writer to help the city access more funds for projects and programs. He said grant funding is disappearing or becoming much more competitive and the city needs to look at ways to improve its ability to access that funding.

“If we can pay a stipend and have someone who researches that professionally, that does it for a living, to do that I think maybe our success rate would come up,” he said.