Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

November 8, 2013

Online data elevates economic efforts

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — BROOKVILLE – When Trevor Lane went to work for former Gov. Mitch Daniels at the Indiana Economic Development Corp. in 2005, “I liked the way he set things up, running the state as a business,” the Southeast Indiana regional director told the Franklin County Economic Development Commission Oct. 29.

Statewide, there is positive news to report. Elkhart’s recreational vehicle industry is “booming again.” A recent success is the 6,000-acre River Ridge industrial park just across a bridge north of Louisville. “We located Amazon down there last year,” adding 1,000 jobs to the Hoosier economy.

To win deals over Ohio and Kentucky, he works with a new state leader, Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith; Charlie Sparks, IEDC vice president of business development; and IEDC President Eric Doden, Fort Wayne. “Eric’s our day-to-day guy, Victor is out beating the bushes” to get companies to invest here.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. also has a liaison who works with state agencies, such as the Natural Resources, Environmental Management and Transportation departments. “If there’s an issue, she can help mediate that. We’re a business-friendly state for a reason. We get the deal done with the least amount of tax dollars possible.”

The director over 19 counties, based in North Vernon, reported, “We run at the speed of business, not the speed of government. If they need an offer in two hours,” it happens. “We’re very, very responsive.” Lane gets calls at night and on the weekends. “It’s like farming. You do the work when you’ve got to do the work.”

The definition of which companies IEDC helps is “a primary employer (that) creates a product or service sold outside of a region, generating new income into that region.” Lane said typically the firm is industrial, not retail or service oriented. He divulged, “We’re doing more vetting of companies,” especially startups, using public information, not private financials. Officials explore track records and criminal backgrounds.

Employees of the state agency work to engage companies involved in a location analysis to determine where to grow their businesses; assist healthy, growing companies in need of additional space; help companies with excess capacity considering consolidation projects; and aid in attracting and expanding firms.

New this year is an online Transparency Portal “to manage taxpayer dollars with integrity” on the bottom right of the iedc.in.gov home page. Click on IEDC Transparency Portal, then Tax Credits, Grants & Loan Contracts, and a county and enter a company’s name. It shows Honda Manufacuring of Indiana, Greensburg, has been given $7.73 million of $23 million in the Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) tax credit program and has added 2,064 jobs by 2012 to comply with its contract. More recently, Uni-Ref, Brookville, inked an EDGE contract with IEDC May 30 for $500,000 to add 50 jobs. So far, 10 have been hired and no tax credits have been given.

The Purdue University graduate noted, “Eighty percent of our business comes from existing businesses already here.” Suppliers and customers want to be near large industries. After responding to 641 leads in 2011 and 723 in 2012, IEDC workers have answered just 217 inquiries so far in 2013. Lane admitted, “It’s down a lot this year. What we’re noticing is smaller deals,” such as companies with 60 employees.

In 2012 IEDC officials helped conduct 212 site searches. The director said, “We’re starting to see more Japanese companies interested in Indiana because of the tsunamis and floods (in Japan). They can’t afford for those parts not to get to Honda in Greensburg.” According to Lane, “Lot of leads” want 600,000-square-foot buildings. He advised, “We do not tell clients where to look… we give them all the scenarios .... We don’t pit communities against communities.”

ZoomProspector within the IEDC site must be updated by the local economic development director. Lane is dismayed when leaders at the city and county level fail to post possible commercial acreage and buildings. “If your sites aren’t on here …, people don’t know where you’re at.”

Because of the detailed documentation involved, Lane recommended that directors of city and county groups not reply to a request for information unless a potential site seems like a good fit in regards to size, ceiling height, distance to an interstate, daily gallons of water, type of electricity and other specifications.

Once a site is chosen, IEDC offers incentives. With the state wage average around $21 hourly, “we won’t incentivize anything under $12” hourly. He said, “We work with the local community” to create financial enticements. When IEDC leaders receive a local letter of support, they can get a company to sign a pre-commit letter within 30 days.

The Jennings County resident emphasized, “Our incentives are based on (jobs) performance” and are not given upfront. If a company leaves the state without fulfilling its promises, “we’ll go back after our incentives. We have in the past. We have agreements … we have a legal team that does that.” He admitted, “We don’t want to do that unless we have to. If it’s a struggling business, we may give them an extra year on their contract.” Daniels advised IEDC leaders, “Help them, don’t penalize them” and Gov. Mike Pence feels similarly.

The state has made a commitment to infrastructure, the director noted. A $10 billion improvement plan is underway. Indiana boasts three “world-class ports,” according to the former Jennings County economic development director.

“Of course we’re going to get out and tout ourselves” and it’s easier to do that as Indiana gets high national rankings. The newest accolade, in October: “We knocked off Texas” from the Tax Foundation’s top 10 list of best states for taxes on business. Indiana came in at No. 10 in the U.S. and first in the Midwest. “That’s a big deal for us.”

Three other magazines recently listed Indiana near the top: sixth nationally in business environment, according to Area Development in fall 2012; second most competitive state in the nation, said Site Selection in May; best business climate in the Midwest and fifth nationally, noted Chief Executive that same month. Indiana also is second in the nation for lowest workmen compensation rates just after North Dakota. Lane maintained, “That’s a huge incentive for companies.”

Indiana’s recent right to work legislation has been another selling point. Some companies’ representatives told him, “‘We never would have contacted you if you weren’t right to work.’”

Simple geography also can help boost the economy here. Lane beamed when he pointed out 80 percent of the U.S. population is within a day’s drive of Indiana.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

Second in a two-part series • Part 1: IEDC director advises Franklin County leaders, Nov. 5