Lights out in Warren

WARREN – Officials with a California-based lighting company that had been close to striking a deal to manufacture energy-efficient bulbs here said the deal is dead for now.

Mike Fonda, who works at Titan LED’s Austintown location and who was involved closely in talks with then-safety-service director and current Mayor Doug Franklin, said the company initially had been excited about the prospect of coming to Warren, but said talks fell silent largely after the potential for startup grants fell short of the company’s needs.

A local economic development official said, however, the company failed to provide needed documentation for possible funding assistance.

Company officials had toured several building sites in May 2011 along with representatives of the Regional Chamber and the mayor’s office. At the time, company officials had said their goal was to locate to a 30,000-square-foot facility to manufacture and distribute the company’s LED lighting products on the East Coast. Plans included the establishment of a training facility and showroom, representatives had said. They said they anticipated the new site would generate jobs, but officials never gave specific numbers.

At the time, the company even had called a news conference to share plans and excitement about a potential Warren site.

Since then, however, the company has moved on to alternate plans, deciding to manufacture 4-foot tubes it had planned to make locally instead in California.

Since opening the new location in California, the company has continued to thrive. One of its highest profile projects includes the recent relighting of NBC “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno’s 100,000-square-foot garage. There, Titan LED replaced conventional 40-watt fluorescent tubes with the kind of 15-watt 4-foot LED tubes it would have been manufacturing in Warren, if the deal had been finalized.

Titan LED senior national sales director Dave McGeary, who also was involved in the May 2011 news conference, last week expressed his frustration that the deal never came to fruition.

“We have a lot of Mahoning Valley customers, and it’s a shame that we are not manufacturing the products here. It’s very frustrating,” said McGeary, who works out of the company’s regional office on Raccoon Road in Austintown. “We are all about putting Americans to work. Our business has taken off. We have been doing a lot of projects.”

Sarah Boyarko, Regional Chamber vice president of economic development, business retention and expansion, recalled visiting various Warren sites with company officials and having phone conferences with them about relocating to the area.

“We were at the point of waiting for additional details from them, and they never provided any of the appropriate documents,” Boyarko recalled.

Franklin and Fonda confirmed they remain in contact periodically, but there are no more immediate plans for a new location.

“If they want to come back, we are here with open arms and with all the packages that we laid out the first time,” Franklin said. “The buildings that we showed them are still available.”

McGeary said, however, it’s unlikely the plans could be revisited now.

“Anything could happen, but at this point, from what I have seen, it’s a dead issue right now,” McGeary said.

Still, Fonda predicts that by 2014, the growing LED lighting industry will reach $200 billion.

“What’s happening right now is not even scratching the surface of where this business is going,” he said.

That leaves local officials with lingering hope, if not for Titan LED, perhaps for another LED manufacturer.

“I meet monthly with the Regional Chamber and they are very aggressive and somewhat encouraged about some overseas contacts regarding the LED market,” Franklin said.