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Michael Heitz uses handshakes and trust to make deals work

Years ago, Michael Heitz might have had greater odds meeting the Koch family on an overseas mission trip or one of his cross-continent bicycling odysseys. But they met at the corner of Webster and Leo streets in Dayton.

“I found Mike by accident,” Boris Koch, an Ahiska Turk whose family eventually settled in Dayton after fleeing persecution in Russia, said.

Heitz, 63, had his shirt sleeves rolled up helping a crew clean out the former Rita Construction building his company had just acquired. The site had become a target for scrappers and a decrepit eyesore in Old North Dayton. Koch, 25, passed by and wondered if the property would be a good place to expand USA Freight, the trucking business owned and operated with two of his brothers.

“I told him I want to buy this place and he said, ‘You’re kidding?,’” Koch said.

Looking back, Koch and Heitz, say it was no accident they met in Dayton, each calling the other among the hardest workers either’s met.

“Traveling around the world I knew a little bit about the Turkish Russian community so we got along from day one,” Heitz said. “We’ve had dinner at his house. Every time we come here they feed us and give us something to drink. It’s like family.”

As the cleanup on the property continued the two agreed on a sales price last summer for part of the site: $200,000.

“He actually didn’t do any contract. He said I trust you,” Koch said.

“It’s like the old time. It’s a handshake,” said Heitz.

Heitz’s Garrett-Day LLC initially acquired the 11-acre site and building through the Montgomery County Land Reutilization Corporation after the property owner fell delinquent, owing nearly $170,000 in taxes. The site is one of eight commercial properties in Dayton Garrett-Day has taken over.

“We’re really happy about this one,” Heitz said.

The site at Webster and Leo streets could well be the Land Bank’s best example of a blighted, tax-delinquent, or foreclosed and abandoned property turned back to productive use.

The Koch brothers, Boris, Izmir and Murad, who came to America as boys speaking no English, now employ 30.

“Now we have taxpayers here. They’re paying taxes on the property and created jobs for the area right here,” Heitz said.

A sturdy concrete slab, once under 270,000 square feet of roof, is now a lot where semi trailers are loaded and tarped and trucks repaired by the brothers, their extended family, and other employees. The company dispatches and tracks its fleet of 12 trucks and their drivers on computers as they haul freight mainly for the defense industry throughout the continental 48 states.

USA Freight owns about five acres at the site but is in negotiations with Heitz to bring other Ahiska Turk-owned businesses to the remaining parcel.

On a recent trip through Dayton, Heitz steered onto the street where the Koch families live to see a Dayton neighborhood being transformed.

“Look how much they’re doing,” Heitz said. More homes are freshly rehabbed and covered with colorful stucco finishes. The Ahiska Turks’ yards surrounded by signature white picket fences demonstrate Heitz’ impact on Dayton beyond the former brownfield a few blocks away.

Boris Koch said he’s purchased three vacant houses in the neighborhood and expects to fix those up to lure more members of the Turkish community to move in.

Heitz and Koch don’t plan to end their friendship — or business relationship — any time soon.

“We’re working on some other projects and it’s going to be a handshake on that, too,” Heitz said.

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