Huntington TAB article: Economic development fared well in 2013

Source: Rebecca Sandlin, Huntington TAB, 1/20/14

Photo caption: Todd Miller, president of Auger Torque USA, LLC, attaches a hose guide to a trencher machine. The UK-based company planted a location in Huntington in 2013 and expects to employ as many as 35 workers in the next five years. (Photo credit: Rebecca Sandlin)

Despite what is being called a "historically slow" economic recovery from the Great Recession, Huntington County's economic development fared well in 2013, and local officials expect it to be on track for more growth in the new year ahead.

Mark Wickersham, executive director of Huntington County Economic Development, presented an encouraging report to various officials around the county about how well efforts in Huntington County went in 2013. Wickersham says the success surprised even him.

"A year ago at this time if you had suggested to me that 2013 would have been a year where we would experience a record amount of new capital being invested in our county I probably would have been a skeptic, at best," he told the Markle Town Council last month.

Last year Huntington County welcomed new employers DIY Group, Inc., Auger Torque USA, LLC and Echo Lakes Foods. 
Additionally, HCED worked with 12 clients on economic development projects, consisting of nearly $38 million in private investments - creating 250 jobs and retaining another 900 existing jobs, Wickersham says.

City and town projects such as the construction of a new water tower in Markle have added to the county's allure to potential businesses, with Wickersham showing the Markle Industrial Park to six clients - four of them based internationally.

"All of them are evaluating our asset as a potential opportunity," he says. "All of our clients who have looked at the property have been very encouraged to see the readiness that our community and county and agency have taken on to make sure the property is marketable."
In addition, occupancy rates in the county's existing industrial properties are up and the unemployment rate is down, Wickersham says.

Huntington County began the year with a 9.4 percent unemployment rate. That number was 6.8 percent in November 2013, up slightly from 6.5 percent in October. 
According to Indiana Department of Workforce Development reports, the state saw an increase of 25,300 private sector jobs in November, the largest one-month increase on record.

"Even in a year where, in Huntington's case, the Unilever plant closed and there was an acquisition of the Mignone printing company, our numbers countywide remain very strong, and regionally we're actually seeing the beginning data show an increase in per-capita income for the first time in a long time," Wickersham says.

That's welcome news to Mayor Brooks Fetters, who has been working to promote Huntington as an attractive destination.

"Coming into 2014, we continually want to be pro-active in the way that we want to market the city as a great place to get work done," Fetters says.

Fetters cites efforts to develop the Regional Learning Center, which will retrain workers to fill jobs requiring high-tech skills. The city is supporting the project by contributing $200,000 from CEDIT funds.

"As we bring jobs to Huntington and we look to bring even better-paying jobs to Huntington, you have to have a workforce that has the modern and contemporary skill sets needed in an ever-increasing technologic workforce," he says.

Huntington County Commissioner Leon Hurlburt says the county still has some economic challenges ahead this year but it has been fortunate to bounce back in comparison to surrounding areas.

"I think we're poised to really have a good year," he says. "Nothing but good things are happening. A lot of people - not only in Huntington, but also in northeast Indiana - are talking about what has happened here. 
"There are things looked at like quality of life issues. I know we're looking at trails, we're looking at improving roads, anything we can possibly do to attract new businesses."

Hurlburt said one of the most effective strategies for bringing new industry to the county has been what Wickersham describes a "team sport" - a collaboration of local economic and government entities working together to attract business and offer incentives.

At Auger Torque, one of Huntington's newest businesses, President Todd Miller says local officials made it an easy decision to come to Huntington.

"People here are fantastic," Miller says. "We did a walk-through with the mayor and some of the city and county officials ... Mark Wickersham, the mayor and Steve Kimmel at the chamber have been great and very friendly to work with."

Miller expects to hire workers within the next month and hold a grand opening of the business this spring.
In a report released by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, economic
researchers predict that the national economy will continue to perform poorly in labor markets, impeding capital investment and slowing hiring. In Indiana and the Midwest, employment growth has likewise failed to fully rebound, according to the same report.

But the report says that much of the recovery that has occurred in the Midwest can be attributed to recovery in the manufacturing sector, including in northeast Indiana and Huntington County. The CBER forecasts the northeast Indiana region to grow 2 percent in its Gross Domestic Product in 2014, and see an increase of more than 3,800 jobs. Personal income is also expected to rise by 2.3 percent, led by growth of durable goods manufacturing, construction, trade and finance.