Space savers: once empty, many industrial buildings are now filled
Pulling together has helped Huntington County attract
enough new industry to refill most of the industrial space that was emptied
there by the recession.
That is how Mark Wickersham, executive director of
Huntington County United Economic Development Corp., said the county has been
able to redevelop 94 percent of the industrial space that was vacant when he
came on board in March 2008.
“There were a number of factors that led to the
vacancies in the first place and a number of factors that led to the
opportunities to reutilize those spaces,” Wickersham said.
“Among the things that have helped us regroup … has
simply been a recognition among all of our elected officials that economic
development is a collaborative team sport.”
Huntington County had 2,207,000 square feet of
industrial space to fill in March 2008, and within five years, 2,075,000 square
feet of it has been reoccupied.
That has come about partly because in Huntington
County, “our local officials want to be your allies, not your adversaries,”
“As companies are looking for opportunities and
places to grow and develop, that’s very important to them to know the
government is on their side, in essence,” he said.
The redevelopment of industrial space has helped
stabilize city and county revenue streams by generating about $775,000 in
additional tax revenue each year that goes to local governments, he said.
The importance of that is understood among
public-sector employees in the county at all levels, Wickersham said.
“Whether it’s the city employee who is responsible
for collecting the trash or the person in charge of mowing the lawn at the park
or the person in charge of making sure the potholes are filled, everyone has
figured out that they have a role to play in making the county competitive in
economic-development activity and making the county an attractive place to live
“Sometimes you’d be amazed at how simple, fundamental
concepts become the definition of success or failure for a community,” he said.
The EDC’s contribution to the industrial-space
redevelopment has included improving its marketing and focusing more on the
specifics of economic development.
The organization was developing a new strategic plan
and a new organizational plan when Wickersham was hired to lead it.
“We changed the size of our board and did a little
more fundraising to get some more resources,” he said. “We did a lot of things
differently as an agency, but it isn’t clear which of those things impacted the
Much of the vacant industrial space was in a number
of large buildings that have been filled.
In August 2009, Continental Structural Plastics
committed to invest more than $9 million to establish a plant that would employ
up to 350 in a facility of more than 200,000 square feet previously occupied by
Meridian Automotive Systems.
The plant in the Riverfork Industrial Park is the
sole source of 90 percent of the exterior body panels on General Motors Co.’s
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. A 2010 expansion increased the CSP investment
there to $18 million.
“When you’re looking at the Chevy Corvette, there’s
an emotional reaction that says, ‘Wow, that’s a beautiful vehicle.’ And
whatever you saw that produced that reaction was made in Huntington,”
“The quality that has to be in that vehicle is
immeasurable. The consumer that buys that Stingray is an incredibly
detail-minded and demanding consumer, and that product has to be perfect every
time,” he said.
“And the labor force at CSP in Huntington County is
the best in the world at making the panels for that product.”
Wickersham said Huntington County always has had a
solid work force capable of producing that kind of quality.
Workers employed by Onward Manufacturing Co. in the
Erie Industrial Park in Huntington make a gas barbecue grill, which was rated
the best in its product category last summer by Consumer Reports magazine.
Onward committed in October 2009 to create 300 jobs
at the 1000 E. Market St. plant in Huntington previously occupied by CMF Corp.
The Canadian company renamed its first U.S. facility
Huntington Forge, with plans to introduce a new product line from the
400,000-square-foot plant. It invested $12 million in the plant.
In 2011, 75,000 square feet of space previously
occupied by a former Gotec Plus USA facility on Riverfork Drive in Huntington
was occupied by Huntington Aluminum, a company started by a local entrepreneur.
The $2.5-million project would employ about 30
workers melting down scrap aluminum and forming it into ingots for sale in the
Early this year, Muncie-based DIY Group announced
plans to buy and equip a 408,000-square-foot building on Riverfork Drive
previously used as a Stride Rite warehouse.
The $3.2-million project was undertaken to establish
distribution out of the facility for Weaver Popcorn Co. products. DIY hired 10
workers and “no incentives of any kind were needed,” Wickersham said.
“They like the building, they like the location and
it works logistically for them, and they are very excited about the opportunity
and we’re delighted to welcome them to Huntington.”
The county has seen its unemployment rate come down
as jobs have been created by industrial-space redevelopment and other important
economic development projects — such as the attraction of a $21-million
investment by Helena Chemical Co. to build a fertilizer plant at Park 24 in
The county’s unemployment peaked at 14.3 percent in
June 2009 and had declined to 9.4 percent in January, according to Indiana
Department of Workforce Development.
“When I started and we had all this vacant square
footage, we were running about 2 percentage points ahead of the statewide
(unemployment) average,” Wickersham said.