Normally, the words “Port Authority” mean an organization that operates a port on an ocean shore, or at least one of the Great Lakes.
So, how would landlocked counties such as Fulton, Defiance, Henry, and Paulding have a “port authority?”
It’s all due to changes in Ohio laws.
“Port authorities’ original mission when they were created in 1995 was exactly that, maritime commerce,” said Jerry J. Arkebauer, Sylvania, regional director of the Regional Port Authority of Northwest Ohio, or RPANWO.
“The law was changed in 1973 to allow port authorities to operate airports. The Port of Columbus operates the Columbus airport; that’s all they do,” he said.
“In 1988, the law broadened further to cover a host of activities revolving around economic development,” he said.
The law governing port authorities allows them to be involved in “activities that enhance, foster, aid, provide, or promote economic development, housing, recreation, education, government operations, culture, or research within the jurisdiction of the port authority.”
Port authorities can issue revenue bonds, which do not count against the debt limits of local governments. Further, no public funds are used or put at risk in port authority financing projects.
Port authorities also can own or lease land, buildings, and equipment for credit-worthy companies.
In short, a port authority is a handy thing.
“It’s another tool in our economic development toolbox to draw companies here,” said Paul Barnaby, Fulton County commissioner.
The Fulton County Commissioners have been looking at port authorities since October 2007, Barnaby said.
Defiance County created one, as did Williams County. At that time, Fulton County chose not to be involved in the Defiance County project.
“We always intended to be part of a four- or five-county program.
“Defiance County started promoting a four-county program, but no one jumped. We were kind of stand-backish. We were trying to learn all we could about it,” he said.
Fulton County was offered one last chance to get in, and at that point, decided to join.
David Lersch, Sr., rural Archbold, is the Fulton County representative on the port authority board.
R. Timothy Small, RPANWO, said each of the four counties involved in the project agreed to commit $10,000 in start-up costs.
Arkebauer is paid on an hourly rate, funded through fees charged to each financing project.
Arkebauer was with the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority in 1988 when the port authority law was expanded. Over 20 years, he completed 87 bond issues for nearly $1 billion, which helped to create or retain 11,500 jobs.
The total amount of capital investments due in part to all of the financing programs Arkebauer was responsible for, exceeded $1.7 billion.
“There are almost 60 port authorities in Ohio. Most are very passive. Once they are created, their boards of directors are not sure how to proceed.
“We want to look at how our port authority can become active, looking for projects,” he said.
“Port authorities act as a fulcrum on a teeter-totter, linking investors who want to buy bonds, with business and industries.”
In a press release, Arkebauer said, “The future course of the port authority needs to be clear to the board and to the lead economic development persons in the counties.
“Then we need to take the message throughout the four counties that the port authority is anxious to help companies, non-profits, and government agencies.”
Arkebauer, who operates his own consulting firm, was named executive director of the RPANWO at a board meeting, July 17.
In addition to heading up the RPANWO, Arkebauer is also the president of the Blanchard Valley Port Authority in Findlay and Hancock County since January. He is the first person to be the top administrator of two Ohio port authorities at the same time.
When asked if he was ready to go to work for the Regional Port Authority Of Northwest Ohio, Arkebauer said, “Absolutely.
“In fact, we’ve already had some meetings,” he said.