HCUED director gives update on state of county economy

Source: Article and photo by Toni Thrasher, Huntington Herald-Press, 9/4/13

Mark Wickersham, executive director of Huntington County United Economic Development, discussed the basics of his agency as well as the state of the economy in Huntington County Tuesday at the Huntington Rotary Club’s meeting.

The economy, he said, is stable but is facing challenges.

“The challenges are numerous, but we’re very resilient as a community,” Wickersham said. “We have work ahead of us; we can’t relax and say that we’re there and that we’ve arrived, because we haven’t. We are going to continue to see unemployment statistics be unstable, not because of the economy itself, but because of the many, many factors that go into an employer’s decisions.”

As of July 2013, Huntington County’s unemployment rate was at 9.3 percent, according to data from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. This figure is up from 8 percent in June 2012. The uptick in the unemployment rate, Wickersham said, is due to the closing of several Huntington County plants, including Unilever, Huntington Electric and Cequent Performance Products.

Wickersham said that HCUED, much like the city of Huntington, serves Huntington.

“This is a systematic effort on the part of any community,” he said of the agency. “It’s best described as a ‘team sport;’ I honestly have unilateral control over nothing. It’s a collaborative effort with businesses, elected officials, regional partners and state partners.”

Expansion Solutions Magazine described Huntington County as a business’ “new ally” in an article in its March/April 2013 issue, Wickersham said. During the past seven years, business has flocked to Huntington County: seven years ago, the county started with 2.2 million square feet of empty industrial space. Today, 100,142 square feet remain empty.

Brooks Fetters, mayor of Huntington, said HCUED has made the Great Recession as painless as possible for Huntington County.

“Obviously, we’ve made a lot of progress,” he said. “To have 94 percent of vacant industrial space filled is a huge accomplishment. Obviously, we’d like to see better things happen with the unemployment rate, but we’re on par with the state and the rest of northeast Indiana. Mark has done an outstanding job in rolling out the welcome mat for businesses to expand and to come to Huntington.”