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Robert Torres: Stamping Canton with his economic development expertise while fostering Sister City relationships with México


By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


Ex-Toledoan Robert Torres is leaving his mark on Ohio’s 7th largest city, Canton.


The former Toledoan, who has been Canton’s Director of Development since February 2008, is enthused over the November 23, 2009, vote by the Canton City Council to adopt a resolution to link up Canton with Sister Cities Saltillo, México and Akko, Israel, and possibly others in the near future.


Torres was a strong booster of Toledo’s successful Sister City program and publicly frequently praised it in terms of aiding economic development.  If linking with a Sister City in Mexico made sense for Toledo, it makes even more sense for Canton.

Robert Torres


Why? Simply because Canton is no stranger to Mexican economic development. It is already home to Republic Engineered Products, Inc., the largest Mexican owned company in Ohio.


Employing 500 people in its Canton operations, Republic Engineered Products, Inc. was established in December 2003 with the purchase of operating assets from Republic Engineered Products, LLC. The company was acquired in July 2005 by Industrias CH, S.A. de C.V. (ICH), a rapidly growing steel producer and processor based in México City. Republic is a subsidiary of Grupo Simec, Guadalajara, México, of which ICH is the majority owner. It also has a production facility in Lorain, Ohio.

México has long been a major participant in the annual World Games held in Canton adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That helped make Mexican industrialists familiar with the city and the region, explains Torres.

La Prensa asked Torres why he decided to leave Toledo where he served as a Development Specialist under Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. 

“I made the decision with the understanding that Canton has a very progressive mayor, William J. Healy II. He had served in the state house of representatives with Gov. Ted Strickland and served alongside our current United States Representative John Boccieri. He is an individual with a MBA in business and has international business expertise.

“In addition, he is a believer in regionalism, and we play a key role with the Northwest Ohio Association of Mayors and City Managers, and work closely with the Stark County Authority, The Chamber of Commerce and the Canton Community Improvement Corporation. Because of those factors, we have been very fortunate and very aggressive with our development projects. Although we have been working in economically challenged times, we have brought more than one billion dollars in investments to Canton,” says Torres.

The teamwork of Torres and Healy has been instrumental in key annexation projects. “We received $178 million for downtown redevelopment including the old Hercules Engine factory. That was a project that developer Robert Timken spearheaded.


“We’ve received millions of dollars in stimulus money through the state, and through it we have been reinventing downtown. It has become an attraction for suburban communities to connect with us through events such as our First Friday celebrations and concentration upon the arts,” Torres adds.


“We sell our city…and we ignore the naysayers. Even in these tough times, we are open for business,” says Torres.


Another gem in Canton’s economic development crown is the Rolls-Royce Fuel Cell Systems Center for global fuel-cell research at Stark State College of Technology in North Canton.


And Torres has accomplished other impressive results. The city’s previous administration had only five minority participants, now there are 63. The city now works with numerous minority contractors including those from Akron and Cleveland.


Torres and Healy also recently instituted the first Project Labor Agreement in the state for civic projects including a fire station and the city courtyard. The Project Labor Agreement allows Canton to be able to use local labor in projects they fund 100 percent. It has proven a boon in terms of supporting local jobs.


Now Healy and Torres are taking their success story on the road. “We were in Toledo three weeks ago to meet with the building trades, the county commissioners, Joe McNamara and the school board,” says Torres.


Although Mayor Healy personally knows President Barack Obama, it is interesting to note that Canton’s stimulus funding is not federal but comes through Columbus. As Torres points out, it was the U.S. Conference of Mayors that instituted stimulus requests and spearheaded the funding. It started with the big city mayors, but there are major differences in the disbursement depending upon whether the allocation is for a charter or rural location.


La Prensa asked Torres why he supported Mike Bell in Toledo’s mayoral campaign. Torres replied that in supporting Bell, he was not seeking a position with the city under the upcoming Bell administration. He said he was not motivated by a desire to return to Toledo despite his commuter marriage with Sonia Troche, the Toledo-based executive director of Adelante, Inc., and longtime community activist in both Toledo and Cleveland. 


“I had absolutely no expectations of a job.  I did it [supported Bell] to benefit the city. I knew he would be a progressive mayor. Remember, I served in city government with Mike for 13 years.  I knew Mike was the person to do it. I talked to Mike and told him I’d be happy to support you,” says Torres.


“Mike is a person with leadership. I think Mike is the right person for the city at this time. Toledo needs someone to look to and who will provide leadership. Mike believes in working together with other communities. He knows that the success of Northwest Ohio is the success of the City of Toledo and especially its industries. Mike is a collaborative manager,” adds Torres.

An economic development professional for over 20 years, Torres specializes in the coordination of new business development projects using loans and grants from public and private funding sources. 

Prior to joining the development team for the City of Toledo, he served in the administration of then-Mayor Jack Ford as Director of the Toledo Youth Commission.  During this time period, he also acted in a dual capacity as director of the city’s office of latino affairs from 2003 to 2006 (called the Hispanic Affairs Commission, or HAC—the HAC’s directorship position was eliminated by soon-to-be retiring Mayor Carty Finkbeiner). 

In addition to his official duties for the City of Toledo, Torres was elected to the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education in 2005, and later went on to be that body's vice president until he resigned in 2008 to accept Mayor Healy's appointment.

Torres graduated from Bowling Green State University with his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Public Administration after serving in the United States Marine Corps from 1986 to 1988 and again during the Desert Storm conflict from 1989 to 1990.  He is a member of the President’s Leadership Academy Advisory Committee at BGSU, and is the first Chair of Adelante, Inc.’s Board of Directors, which was founded by Jack Ford. 







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