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Al Kinzer, who was Honda of America's first employee, drives the company's one millionth U.S.-produced car off the assembly line at Honda's assembly plant in Marysville, Ohio, April 8, 1988. (AP)

Honda's Growth Helps Tow Ohio Out Of Recession

Apr 5, 2013 (All Things Considered / WOSU Public Media)

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich (left) and Hide Iwata, president and CEO of Honda of America Manufacturing, unveil a new 2013 Honda Accord at the Marysville Auto Plant on Aug. 20 in Marysville, Ohio.

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Honda is moving its North American headquarters from California to Ohio. That's just the latest bit of good news for the Buckeye State and Honda, whose fortunes have been closely tied for decades now.

Honda has been an economic heavyweight here since it was lured to central Ohio in the 1970s. The company's footprint is big, and it continues to increase.

Honda's sprawling Marysville Auto Plant opened outside Columbus in 1982. Since then, it has grown to nearly 4 million square feet and now sits on a campus of 8,000 acres.

More than 4,000 employees build 1,900 vehicles here every day, including Honda Accords and several Acura models, and the company is adding 100,000 square feet to the plant to build a new hybrid.

That means more work for nearby engine and transmission plants, and for the more than 150 Ohio companies that sell parts to Honda.

A Broad Impact

Company spokesman Ron Lietzke says with Honda's Ohio operations in a continuing growth spurt, it makes sense to move the headquarters here.

"It will increase the speed of making decisions, it'll increase the speed of introducing new models, and it will improve our communications activities throughout the organization in North America," he says.

With more cars being built here and expanding global markets, Honda of America expects to soon become a net exporter of vehicles for the first time, sending cars to Asia and the Middle East. And as Honda goes, so goes much of the rest of central Ohio's economic development.

A Boon To Housing

Brothers Adam and Justin McMahon have helped run a family roofing business since high school. When business took a hit during the recession, they decided to try to take advantage of the housing crisis.

They started buying up rundown houses in foreclosure, then renovated them and flipped them for a profit. It's been so lucrative that Adam McMahon is considering doing it full time.

"It's a lot easier. It'd be nice — I think there's more money in it," he says, "so we started buying houses through the winter, and that gives us our profit for that year."

And there's plenty of profit to be had. The latest report shows statewide home sales up 10 percent over last year — up 20 percent in the Columbus region. The auto industry is also picking up in Cleveland, Toledo and other parts of the state.

Attracting More Employers

The state's unemployment rate is about 1 percentage point below the national average, and incomes in Ohio are rising faster than in all but two other states. Higher land and commodity prices have also helped agriculture, Ohio's largest industry.

Michael Brandl, an economist at The Ohio State University, says Ohio is becoming increasingly attractive for both workers and employers.

"Ohio has a great advantage over some other places where people are thinking of locating, in terms of sound infrastructure, relatively low cost of living, a decent educated workforce," he says. "You can see why lots of firms are thinking about and relocating here, as well as starting here."

Brandl says those startups should help diversify the economy here even more and ensure that Ohio continues to outperform other states clawing their way back from the recession.

Copyright 2014 WOSU Public Media. To see more, visit http://wosu.org.

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