Unless you’re a fan of Glee (that high school’s fictional, by the way), or regularly traverse the I-75 valley, you probably have no idea where Lima, Ohio is. And if you read “Lima, Ohio” you might think, “I thought Lima was the capital of Peru? What’s it doing in Ohio?” (To which I have to say – no. That Lima is pronounced “lee-ma.” The one in Ohio is pronounced “lie-ma”).
But, like the rest of Ohio, Lima is just another well-kept secret. Unfortunately, many cities in northwest Ohio do not get their due, and Lima is no exception. The city has a “middle of nowhere” reputation it doesn’t deserve. Considering its leaders, rich history, manufacturing success, and the art and creativity you can find anywhere in the city, it’s a surprise that Lima isn’t larger than it is.
Let’s start with the arts. Lima has produced several notable musicians and artists over the years – including jazz legend, Joe Henderson; founding member of The Beach Boys, Al Jardine; and renowned actress and comedienne, Phyllis Diller. Small towns are never acknowledged for the intimate environment they offer artists, musicians and other creatives. In a small town, it’s easy to collaborate, make connections, and influence others in a innovative and inventive way. So when you walk the streets of downtown Lima, it’s no surprise that art colors the streets and injects the city with energy. Gaze at the work of local and regional artists in ArtSpace on Town Square; wander through Children’s Garden, which combines plants, art, and history for an eye-pleasing, interactive adventure for all ages; or spend a night at the Lima Symphony Orchestra, established in 1953 and has grown from 50 volunteer musicians to 75 paid musicians since then. With all this, and more, it’s clear Lima and art breathe life into each other.
But art isn’t all Lima has to offer. The city’s two hospitals, St. Rita’s Medical Center and Lima Memorial Health system, serve 10 counties in the northwest and west central Ohio area. St. Rita’s, a level two trauma center, ranks as Allen County’s largest employer (nearly 4,000 employees as of 2006), with Lima Memorial coming in at number three. In 2005, St. Rita’s embarked on a $150 million expansion that would provide 500 new jobs and top-of-the-line, cutting-edge patient care. This expansion opened in 2007 and was deemed “The Medical Center of the Future.” When you look at the leaps and bounds Lima is making in the medical field, there’s no doubt it will be the next Medical Center of the Future.
We would be remiss if we did not mention Lima’s history and important role in the railroad industry. For more than 70 years, Lima acted as a railroad hub for the midwest – the industry carried the city’s name internationally for decades. Many firsts for the locomotive industry happened in Lima – the first locomotive (christened The Lima) appeared in Allen County in 1854; a design that enabled locomotives to use steam at a higher power enabled Lima to capture 20% of the national locomotive market; and the Cheasapeak and Ohio Railway 2-6-6-6 produced in Lima was one of the largest locomotives ever built. In 1906 a freight train, on average, would pass through Lima every ten minutes. Additionally, on average, a passenger train (steam and electric) stopped in Lima every 20 minutes. However, the Great Depression saw the decline of the locomotive industry in Lima, with a slight increase during WWII, only to decline again in the ’50s. The last passenger train to stop in Lima was the Broadway Limited, owned by Amtrak, on November 11, 1990. A handful of freights still pass through Lima, but we cannot deny the role Lima played in making the railroad industry what it is today.
Though the locomotive industry and the manufacturing of locomotives in Lima saw a decline, manufacturing as a whole did not. In fact, the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center (JSMC) has been producing tanks since 1942, and equipment for the United States Marine Corps since 2004. While there are plans to end tank production from 2015-2017 due to a lack of demand by the army, there are no plans to permanently close the center. JSMC will continue to produce other products, and while there is discussion of a layaway of the plant, it is far from ceasing to contribute to the Lima area’s economy.
With everything discussed so far, and considering the determination, dedication, and success of Mayor David J. Berger, you would have to have suffered a head injury to think Lima’s not a swiftly growing city. In 2009, Mayor Berger was re-elected for an unprecedented sixth term, and has overseen many successful projects. Despite the recession and reduced resources, the Berger Administration has maintained the quality of services in Lima. Securing almost $20 million in federal stimulus money, the City has executed numerous projects – such as the Vine Street underpass (completed late 2011) which enables traffic to move around trains, and the new Williams reservoir (completed fall 2011) which adds over 5 billion gallons of storage capacity to the city’s water system. Mayor Berger and the Berger administration are a team that understands what Lima needs, and does not fail to deliver.
Though Lima is a small city, it’s a booming city. And as it grows, there’s no doubt it will continue to be a booming city. With its history of success, a rich and flourishing arts community, a dedicated and committed team of leaders, and high quality healthcare and medical research, it’s obvious Lima is a city to invest in – not a city to brush off as “the middle of nowhere.”