NORTH CANTON  Residents driving up and down Main Street in North Canton may have noticed some new building taking place including a new Goodwill store and a new Starbucks at the Applegrove intersection and a new dental office next to the plaza where Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom is located. There is also a new Pav’s Creamery that just opened along South Main Street.

Residents, however, might also notice a number of empty buildings clustered between Mississippi and Fifth streets. Some of the businesses that have recently closed include Automotive Techniques, Rust and Found, Ohio Tank Specialties International (OTSI), Zampino’s Drum Shop and on Jan. 22 Lobster Louies restaurant closed.

Other businesses that have closed in the past few years include George’s Foreign Car Service and the Just Hair Salon, due to both owners retiring. The podiatrist across from Waggoner Chocolates has moved to a new location at Washington Square.

Plus, there are number of sections of the Hoover District building that still need to be filled. Most of the office section has been rented but there are still more industrial spaces open for rent. The side of the Hoover building facing Main Street has been under development for several years and still has a long way to go to be completed.

North Canton City’s Director of Administration Patrick A. DeOrio said this kind of coming and goings are typical in the economic development cycle.

"There are some locations in the center of North Canton that do have small businesses move in and out," DeOrio said. "We are always getting calls from businesses out of the area that are looking at moving to North Canton. Many times the square footage of some of the older buildings in that area on Main Street are too small and don’t offer the space a company needs."

DeOrio said the city works closely with the North Canton Chamber of Commerce for economic development. North Canton Chamber President Doug Lane wrote in an email interview that the chamber’s role is to get people who are interested in moving into any section of North Canton connected to the proper departments in the city such as permits, fire inspection, zoning and others.

"We also help them find land or facilities that fit their needs and once they are established we advocate for them, helping with issues that arise," Lane wrote. "If they become chamber members, through our various programs, we make sure our members and the community know what goods and services they offer."

Lane added the Chamber works closely with the Stark Economic Development Board, Business Resource Network, Stark Entrepreneurial Alliance and other government and private entities to make sure they are aware of all the city has to offer such as a low tax rate, free parking, quality of life and superior services.

"I've lived in the City for 30 years and been with the chamber almost 10. During that time there have been several businesses, both big and small, come and go for a variety of reasons such as retirement, sale, death of the owners, failure to connect with shoppers or outdated products, online sales, etc.," Lane wrote. "I believe what's different this time around is that the empty facilities are clustered along Main Street, a very heavily traveled thoroughfare. To offset dwelling on the vacancies, we hope residents see the construction of new businesses and relocation taking place up and down Main as a positive sign."         

Both DeOrio and Lane stated a lot of new commerce is taking place around the Applegrove to Orion area along with pockets of growth on South Main and on East Maple such as the Washington Square area. They both are optimistic that over the next year a number of the empty buildings will be filled with new occupants. 

"There is also growth happening in the Glenwood/Whipple area where the new Children’s Hospital facility is opening. There’s a lot of land between there and Auto Nation that can be developed.  Applegrove has turned into a major thoroughfare cutting across the northern part of Stark County and that has spurred a lot of growth along that section," DeOrio said.

He added that North Canton is a great location for small business. He said that businesses, big and small, look at locating within a community for a number of reasons such as a great school district, low taxes, low crime rates and other attributes. North Canton offers all of that and a more mature demographic with effective fire and police services and a highly rated school district.

North Canton is looking at ways to better use the land and the facilities along Main Street. DeOrio said that area is land locked.

"Some of the older buildings like the one where Zampino’s Drum Shop was can come down and make room for smaller shopping plazas. We’re also looking at different ways to use the current buildings such as renting the first floor for commercial and then renting the upper floors for renters or other businesses. That would pull more people into the downtown area," DeOrio said.

Both DeOrio and Lane said the economic lookout for North Canton is positive. DeOrio said the forecast is, "stable and improving, incrementally growing but stable. "

He cited that the city collected $7 million when the Hoover Company was still operating. After Hoover closed, the city’s tax collection dipped to $5.5 million. Now, the city is back to the $7 million level. He said the city made major cuts during the lean years and it continues to operate efficiently with those cuts still in place today.

"In general I believe the outlook for 2018 is very positive. Without a lot of fanfare, we've seen a number of small businesses open in North Canton in the last few months, as well as entities like Walsh, Goodwill, Starbucks, McDonald's, Acme and Perennial Smiles reaffirming their commitment to the city," Lane wrote. "As a chamber, we added 28 new and returning members in the last quarter of 2017 so we continue to see growth as well."