Laura Brunner tells people to drive down Spring Grove Road along the Mill Creek.

“All you can see are these closed manufacturing buildings,” says the president of the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. “My favorite is a building in Lower Price Hill that once employed 300 in manufacturing and now has no employees and stores pillows.’’

These aging artifacts are more than remnants of Cincinnati’s industrial past. They’re monuments to more than $40 billion in lost manufacturing output and nearly 100,000 lost manufacturing jobs in Hamilton County since manufacturing activity peaked here in 1969, according to an analysis done by the Economics Center at the University of Cincinnati for the port authority and TechSolve, the Bond Hill process improvement and innovation organization.

With the UC analysis in hand and with the support of the Cincinnati Business Committee, the port authority, an agency with broad economic development powers, has embarked on an ambitious and expensive strategy to acquire, redevelop and market initially 500 acres of old industrial sites mainly along the Mill Creek corridor by 2022. That effort could support 8,000 new manufacturing jobs and generate an estimated $14 billion in property taxes, the port authority says.

Longer term, the port authority envisions a 20-year program to bring back 2,000 acres of manufacturing zoned land in Hamilton County, a effort that could create 32,000 manufacturing jobs and $40 billion in direct and indirect economic impact in the county.

“We think we can get it done faster. But we’re trying to be conservative,” says Brunner. “That would represent $33 million in new income taxes and $54 million in new property taxes. When you look at how governments here are struggling that would make a big difference.”

This month the port authority takes the first step in that effort, completing acquisition of the 54-acre former Gibson Greetings Inc. site in Amberley Village.

The agency will pay $8.5 million to acquire the property at 2100 Section Road that had been leased to a bath products distributor. The port authority expects to spend another $4 million to demolish the outdated, 660,000-square-foot building and begin marketing the cleared site for sale to a new manufacturer within the next year.

Because of its size and location, the port authority hopes the site can eventually accommodate up to 1,000 new manufacturing jobs paying more than $70,000 a year.

Manufacturing has long been a cornerstone of the Tristate’s economy and while manufacturing jobs have declined since 1969, manufacturing wages have risen dramatically. Thanks to technology improvements and increased productivity, the UC study says manufacturing wages have risen from about $49,000 in 1965 to nearly $75,000 last year. While manufacturing jobs have declined, both nationally and locally, the UC study says, things have stabilized since 2010 and manufacturing remains an important economic generator.

The factors that made Cincinnati a manufacturing powerhouse, such as location, transportation infrastructure and workforce are still in play, says Brunner.

The Cincinnati Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI), which is leading business expansion and attraction efforts, says a lack of available industrial sites, typically 40 acres or more, is hurting its efforts to attract new manufacturers.

“We just don’t have sites of a certain size,” says Brunner, citing REDI data from last year that 10 out of 25 prospects it dealt with were looking for sites of 50 acres or more.

“That’s 40 percent who were looking for more than 50 acres, and right now we have zero until we can get [the Gibson Greetings] site ready,” she says.

Most of the old industrial sites in the county are parcels of less than 10 acres, reflecting how manufacturing has changed over the years.

“Back when these sites were created manufacturing was done in a vertical fashion, that’s one reason the parcels are so small,” says Brunner. “They didn’t need parking. People didn’t have cars and factories worked vertically. Now we have manufacturers who work horizontally and they need parking. So that’s driving the acreage requirement up.”

The port authority has developed a shopping list of industrial sites for acquisition.

“We’ve got a long list of possible sites,” Brunner says. “The geographic area is broad enough we can move around and not stay in one place.”

To assemble sites of the needed size, the port authority, in most cases, will have to acquire and combine multiple sites and then clear the sites for new plant construction. To reach its goal of 500 acres by 2022, the port authority expects to acquire 75 to 100 acres annually.

“That’s where the economics of this doesn’t work, which is why the private sector isn’t doing it. In many cases we’ll pay more for the land than we’ll sell it for while spending more to clear the site, do environmental remediation and make it developable,” she says.

The port authority is counting on a diverse mix of public and private funds to finance its efforts.

About $2.5 million for the Gibson Greetings project will come from the southwest Ohio regional bond fund that it participates in with the Dayton-Montgomery County Port Authority. Another $6.5 million will come from a so-called “patient capital fund,” private individuals and businesses willing to make interest-free loans to the port authority to fund site acquisition, remediation and demolition.

The concept is like that used to fund the highly successful Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) except it used an equity fund rather than loans to buy real estate. The goal of this so-called “impact investing” isn’t to make money for those who invest, but to have an impact on the community, in this case creating jobs and generating economic growth.

“We’re asking them to loan us the same amount we think we can sell the land for later,” says Brunner. Raising “patient capital” isn’t easy, Brunner says. “But I’ll tell you the story of what we’re doing has resonated with everybody we’ve talked to.”

The port authority’s goal is to raise $20 million in “patient capital” this year.

It is also looking for funds from government grants, philanthropy and sector grants to complete its financing package.

“I think the No. 1 challenge we face is capital,” she says. “We know how to execute. We have the expertise and the relationships to do it. We just need the money to do it.”