NEW ALBANY, Ohio (WCMH) – Before the 1980s, there wasn’t much in New Albany. It was a tiny village of fewer than 500 people surrounded by farmland on the northeastern edge of Franklin County.
Then Les Wexner moved in and brought with him his L Brands empire. And in the decades since, New Albany has grown into one of the wealthiest places in Ohio, an 11,000-resident hub for major companies with a $20 billion Intel computer chip campus on the way.
“The old saying that New Albany used to be a one-stop-sign town and then a billionaire moved to town and everything changed, that is kind of true, right?” said Mayor Sloan Spalding, a resident since 2002.
“Mr. Wexner came in and started purchasing land for what was going to be his estate and then started thinking bigger,” Spalding said. “What could happen here if we assemble all this land and sort of have a whole community that we could develop with a plan?”
Guiding the city’s development boom has been the Wexner-founded New Albany Company, which manages the 6,000-acre New Albany International Business Park, a strategically planned web along State Route 161.
The headquarters for Abercrombie & Fitch was the main seed for that garden and is still New Albany’s largest employer at more than 5,000 people.
Other L Brands retailers joined later, Spalding said, “but we started to realize that if you want to have a successful business campus, you need to sort of – just like you do with your stock portfolio – start to diversify.”
Companies now headquartered there include Bob Evans Farms and Red Roof Inn. Discover, Aetna and Swiss bank UBS have offices in the park, and Amazon and Facebook have data centers there. Google broke ground on one in 2019.
Spalding wasn’t there for Discover’s major investment in the early 1990s, but he said it had a similar pitch to what was made to Intel: location, location, location.
“The story goes that they drove these folks out to a cornfield and said, ‘Hey, just imagine what could happen. We could build all these things around here,’” he said. “And it came true.”
Along with ample land, Intel officials have lauded New Albany’s closeness to a majority of the U.S. population and an educated, STEM-savvy workforce in the Columbus area. Spalding also mentioned his city’s “stable tax structure, stable government, access to low energy costs (and) access to water.”
The decision came down to “strong infrastructure, favorable regulatory environment, and most importantly, the ability to attract and develop diverse talent,” Intel VP Keyvan Esfarjani said during Friday’s announcement.
Intel’s computer chip project will use up to 3,190 acres annexed to New Albany from Jersey Township, just across the border in Licking County. Intel expects it to be the largest semiconductor manufacturing facility in the world.
“We work very hard to get them from selecting New Albany to getting the doors open as quickly as possible,” Spalding said of past developments.
The $20 billion Intel campus will be the largest private investment in Ohio history, more than tripling the New Albany business park’s capital investment total of $7 billion-$8 billion, the mayor said.
Intel expects the two chip factories will create 3,000 internal jobs and 7,000 construction jobs by the time chips can start being made in 2025. The average job at the plant will pay $135,000.
The median income for a New Albany household is more than $203,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than three times higher than for Franklin County. The poverty rate is just 1.2%, and the median home value is just shy of $500,000.
The state will contribute $1.2 billion in investments and incentives to help Intel build their facility in New Albany. The city’s contribution, meanwhile, has not been finalized, said Director of Community Development Jennifer Chrysler, so right now “it would be unfair to speculate given the scope of the project.”
Spalding said New Albany’s “tried and true formula” for pitching to businesses includes some level of property tax abatement, some money for income taxes and a community authority that acts like a homeowner’s association. Businesses pay a fee that the city uses for infrastructure improvements.
“The one question we always ask with every economic development deal: Is the city going to, at some point, make revenue within hopefully a three-to-five-year period,” the mayor said, “and what’s the positive impact on the people who live in New Albany?”
“If there’s not a positive impact, it’s probably not a business that we’re going to try to go after.”
Last year, city officials published a 10-year strategic plan that projected the city to grow to 14,000-15,000 residents and to 29,000-30,000 employees. City revenue is 80% from income tax dollars, and the majority of that money comes from the business park.
But as a concrete jungle grows the town’s borders, Spalding said, the city has been “very careful” in its layout and traffic flow so to separate it from residential areas.
“I kind of smile at times when I run into residents and they’re surprised to learn that we have a Facebook facility or Google, because they don’t drive by it every day,” he said. “And that’s by design.”
Spalding said the next decade will likely see “the completion of what New Albany is going to be” as it grows to capacity.
“I think we want to have a vibrant, corporate campus that provides a great tax base to support the high-quality municipal services that we provide,” the mayor said. “But something that I guarantee every resident in New Albany is focused on is maintaining that small-town feel.”
“Those things, they don’t they don’t always make sense together, but we’re going to work really hard to achieve it.”