Officials discuss economic development at breakfast

Source: Megan Greve, Huntington Herald-Press, 4/8/14

Local officials emphasized the importance of working together for economic development at the Huntington University Foundation breakfast Wednesday morning.

Huntington County Economic Development Executive Director Mark Wickersham called economic development a “team sport effort to make the community a better place.” He emphasized the role of those in his office as well as community leaders in attracting or retaining 62 projects in the county since he became executive director in 2007.

“Our community stands out because we’re working together,” Wickersham said.

He also talked about the “three-legged stool” of economic development, areas which were recently shown by an outside analyst as reasons to do business in Northeast Indiana: location, workforce and value.

Huntington County Commissioners President Larry Buzzard then told attendees about the three tools the commissioners use for economic development. He spoke of service agreements with HCUED and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. Buzzard also talked about several CEDIT projects the commissioners have approved in the past year and discussed the commissioners’ discretionary fund.

Huntington City Mayor Brooks Fetters talked about all the products made in Huntington, from grills to car parts, then introduced Onward Manufacturing’s president Ted Witzel.

Witzel said “challenges still exist” with competing with Chinese-made goods. Fetters said the grills now made in Huntington were manufactured in China about five years ago, and Witzel said the Huntington facility has not yet turned a profit, though it is very close.

Witzel said the labor and material costs are much less in China. In addition, China provides large subsidies to companies and safety and environmental regulations are largely ignored.

To stay competitive against this, Witzel said his company has to eliminate waste and stay committed to success and safety.

“If we’re not committed to success, if we’re not committed to the safety of our workers, if we’re not committed to the safety of the products, if we’re not committed to the safety of the consumer who uses our products, we’re not going to be successful,” he said. “In business if we’re not 100 percent we have failed.”

While he said there have been some issues with drug abuse in Huntington, overall he has been very pleased with the workforce.

“(Companies) reshore for a number of reasons, but most importantly, the best thing that we have done by reshoring and keeping our production here is we know the people. … That is what’s making our company successful. … We are so fortunate that we have a very, very good workforce here. And I appreciate all the support from Huntington and appreciate the community,” Witzel said.

Also at the breakfast, Steve Zahn, Bob Straight, Rocky Strickler and Gene Snowden were recognized for 25 years of service each to the foundation, while Ted Bendall was recognized for 50 years of service.

The next Huntington University Foundation’s next breakfast is May 14, the foundation’s president Ed Vessels said.