CHICAGO — The Summit County Port Authority, one of six port authorities in Ohio, plans to significantly ramp up its bond financings to spur economic development across the northeast region of the state.
As part of the plan, the authority will expand its pool of underwriters and hire a financial advisor.
The issuer has typically worked only with Robert W. Baird & Co. on its bond deals.
The decision to widen its investment banking and advisory pool is one of several recommendations made by an advisory team that examined the authority for nearly a year and helped craft a 24-page strategic plan.
The plan will expand the authority’s bond-backed programs and build its reserves with an eye toward winning a higher rating, said an official with the Council of Development Finance Agencies, which worked with the authority to develop the strategic plan.
Standard & Poor’s currently assigns a long-term rating of BBB with a stable outlook to the authority’s bond fund program. Analysts note the fund has seen limited loan defaults but warn that its borrowers lack diversity and that its reserves are only sufficient to meet default tolerance criteria for a BBB.
Fitch Ratings had rated the bond fund program BBB-minus before withdrawing the rating in August 2010.
The strategic plan also involves the authority clarifying its fees to borrowers in its bond fund program and setting up a structure that would have the fees last for the life of the bonds instead of steadily diminishing.
The Port Authority is a public-private entity that serves as the economic development arm of Summit County. It has the legislative power to finance economic development and transportation projects across the state.
The strategic plan comes as Gov. John Kasich’s administration works to increase the number of public-private partnerships in the state.
“Development finance organizations are critical to the economic future of Ohio, which faces a number of challenges,” the strategic plan report says. “Ongoing policy changes in the state encourage a more regional focus on development, and the state is looking to public-private organizations to lead the way to Ohio’s economic future.”
The Summit County Port Authority helped finance several high-profile projects, including Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.’s headquarters in Akron and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ stadium in Cuyahoga County.
The plan calls for expanding the eight-year-old bond fund, which currently has 14 borrowers and $43 million of outstanding bonds, and renaming it the jobs and investment fund.
Separate from the bond fund, the authority wants to expand its other bond-financing programs by marketing its ability to serve as a conduit issuer and finance deals that feature lease-backed bonds or tax increment financing-backed bonds.
The authority also plans to create a pair of new bond-supported programs.
One would be a fast-track “mini” bond program that would allow the authority to issue bonds for $1 million or less for various small businesses.
The other would be a bond-backed energy efficiency program and allow the authority to finance new energy programs such as the property assessed clean energy program, and help set up special improvement districts or revolving loan funds.