Economic Development Projects Have Economy Looking Stronger

The local economy has seen significant improvement for not only 2010, but 2008 and 2009 as well.  During the year just ended, Huntington County saw five new industrial development projects, with a capital investment of over $32 million in Huntington County, notes Mark Wickersham, executive director of Huntington County Economic Development - the agency charged with attracting new economic development to the county.

That brings the total number of new economic projects over the past three years to 24, projects that will add more than 1,000 new jobs once they're all fully up and running.

"Obviously, we're not in a full recovery, but things are definitely improving," Wickersham says.

Those 24 new economic development projects include seven projects that have used vacant industrial buildings, totaling 1,315,000 square feet of "backfilled" industrial space.

Wickersham believes that the county has more of an advantage in economic development than other areas because of the unique relationship government and private sector leaders have.  "We genuinely have a team approach to economic development in Huntington County," Wickersham says. "Companies don't need to come to Huntington to argue over whether their project is a good idea or not ... our county is really good at seeing what it can do to help. It's unique to Indiana that economic development starts from the perspective of the business, not bureaucracy or government."

And from the government perspective, Huntington County Commissioner President Tom Wall agrees.  "I'm seeing so much teamwork coming together," Wall says. "We see what we can do as a community to help (businesses) come to Huntington, Indiana."  Wall cites meetings local officials had with Helena Chemical last year as evidence for government support of business. "I'm hoping to see great things next year, and hope we get some of these empty buildings filled," he says.

In addition to the government-corporate relationship, Wickersham says the county has other infrastructure that has successfully contributed to economic development. Those include U.S-24 (the Hoosier Heartland Industrial Corridor), I-69, the Norfolk Southern rail line and even the Huntington Municipal Airport.

"The airport was absolutely critical in getting Onward Manufacturing to Huntington County," Wickersham says.

State and local incentives have also helped to entice businesses to the county. Most of these have come through tax abatements, which boil down to the local government phasing in taxes on new corporations instead of hitting those businesses with taxes all at once.  Wickersham says incentives are not an expense to the taxpayers, but instead an "incremental growth of new revenue."  The county hasn't forgotten about what it already has, however. "Our number one assets are the companies and people we already have," says Wickersham.

In addition to new industry in the City of Huntington, HCUED has made progress over the past year across the county.  In Markle, Wickersham says the town has worked to develop its industrial park into a "shovel-ready site," meaning that lots are ready for development, and the town is looking at additional infrastructure for the park.  "They've taken three months off the development process," says Wickersham.

In Warren, HCUED is working to continue potential development at the Brickley Industrial Park, which includes sites at exits 73 and 78 along I-69.

In Roanoke, Wickersham says it is important to continue to lobby for the A-7 Corridor and to continue to look for projects like the Jackson Square Apartments.

For Andrews, Wickersham says he has shown the former Dana Corp. building several times, and said companies have recently expressed interest in developing the facility.

"We want companies to be able to say that coming to Huntington County was the best business decision they could make," Wickersham says.  The overall improvement comes despite an increase in the Huntington County unemployment rate from October to November.

The county's unemployment rate rose to 11.0 percent last November, up from a 12-month low of 9.5 percent in October. In October 2009, the local jobless rate was 12.9 percent.  The increase in joblessness can't be attributed to a loss of jobs in Huntington County, Wickersham says.  Instead, the jump may be due to a temporary shut-down of the General Motors Plant in Allen County. In early November, GM temporarily shut down that facility, affecting more than 230 GM employees that live in Huntington County. Because unemployment rates are by location of residency and not by location of employment, the Huntington County jobless rate was affected.