Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

November 5, 2013

Regional economic director advises county panel

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — BROOKVILLE – Trevor Lane wasn’t bragging, just stating a fact. When it comes to economic development, “I understand what works best.” The Indiana Economic Development Corp. Southeast Indiana regional director covers 19 counties, from Louisville up to Union County, he told the three Franklin County Economic Development Corp. members Oct. 29 – President Bill Schirmer, Brookville; Mike Martino, Brookville; and Robert Braun, St. Marys, the newest addition.

“Communities have to plan,” he reported. “If a company comes in tomorrow, do we have a plan?” It could involve a potential tax abatement or constructing a spec building.

The director recommended that FCEDC fund a strategic plan. “It’s kind of like a business plan for a company .... Let somebody from the outside come in and evaluate your community.” He wondered if the Lawrenceburg Regional Economic Grant Program would pay for all or half of a plan’s cost. The plan would explore what infrastructure improvements are needed to lure businesses and also “where do we want to be in 10 years?” Having a specific, in-depth plan could help the county apply with future Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs grants, Lane pointed out.

Schirmer reflected that people come to Franklin County for the “lake, scenery, hillside, Metamora ... Oldenburg.” He maintained leaders have to capitalize on that. He asked which was a better way to grow the local economy, tourism or economic development? Lane said IEDC doesn’t get involved with assisting service industries, such as hotels. Manufacturers are what the organization likes to attract. “If it’s a huge call center, inbound, for instance, or a financial institution or health insurance, we would look at it.”

The FCEDC president believed, “Tourism needs to be focused on. Manufacturing … needs to be a side show.” According to Lane, “A big part of Madison’s economic development, which we don’t incentivize, is their downtown. You have that same opportunity over here” with the area’s country charm. “How do you get to where you want to be? That’s up to your local leadership.”

The director added, “We do take into account economically depressed areas.” If IEDC is unable to help with a project, he can find other resources. “We don’t tell communities what to do. It’s up to them to come up with a strategic plan.”

A commercial site’s location is critical. The Jennings County resident reported, “Probably the busiest area we have is along I-65 … a major artery. A lot of businesses want to locate within five miles of an interstate.”

The director said he’s “really trying to develop the I-74 corridor between Shelbyville and Cincinnati. We think there are a lot of possibilities there.” Pointing to the corridor on a map of 2013 projects, he said, “There are not a whole lot of dots there, but there’s a lot of land out there” that possibly could be developed.

During the last two weeks, he called on site consultants in Louisville and Cincinnati. Cincinnati commercial real estate agents can’t work in Indiana unless licensed here. “It’s a commission thing.” Lane will try to address the issue with one of the regional economic development groups.

One drawback to attracting new businesses: “We don’t have a lot of (vacant) buildings in this area,” pointed out the Purdue University graduate. He discussed a recent “great success story” in the county, Uni-Ref. When Lane got involved, one of the company leaders already had looked at the former J&J building in Brookvillle. He asked the director about incentives. Lane called former FCEDC member Hans Beck and “we came up with a plan” of local and state incentives. “Thanks to you guys, we got that huge building off the market.”

Because the FCEDC members have little experience, Lane recommended talking to effective economic leaders, such as the private Clark-Floyd organization. He said most economic development groups are public-private partnerships. The only public director he knows of is in Batesville (Mayor Rick Fledderman). “Call them, research their Web sites” to learn best practices.

Lack of money can hang up a project. The director said IEDC has two funds that can support local efforts. The Industrial Development Grant Fund provides up to $200,000 in infrastructure grants to communities on the condition 50 percent is reimbursed. The Skills Enhancement Fund offers training reimbursement. Martino was interested in the first grant. Lane noted details are on the Web site at http://iedc.in.gov/. “It’s project specific, based on net new jobs, wages, investment. Say a community needs to put in $500,000 worth of road or sewer improvements.” Instead of paying the company a customary $8,500 per worker, that state money could be set aside for upgraded infrastructure. IEDC can provide up to $250,000 with the local entity matching half of the project’s cost. During the negotiation process with a company, the grant can be awarded.

Schirmer asked what Lane’s connection is with the Lawrenceburg grant program. “I have an advisory role” on the grants committee, the director explained. Lawrenceburg program leaders want to know how IEDC is involved with a potential project. “Actually, I bring leads to them.” Lane likes those grants to be used to better infrastructure, because if a company comes to an area, then leaves, the city or county still has the infrastructure. He warned, “Communities have to protect themselves” in agreements.

Commissioner Tom Wilson asked whether Franklin County should offer tax abatements. Lane answered, “I’m not aware of any community that doesn’t.” He reminded that an abatement must be approved by a city or county council.

There is strength in numbers. According to Lane, “If you just say, I’m going to promote Brookville, Ind., it’s a tough sell.” He advised becoming affiliated with a regional group. It is unclear if Franklin County still is a member of the I-74 Business Corridor (www.i74biz.com says City of Batesville and Dearborn, Decatur, Franklin, Ripley, Rush and Shelby counties are partners) and Southeastern Indiana Growth Alliance (members are City of Batesville and Dearborn, Franklin, Ohio, Ripley and Switzerland counties, according to http://southeastindiana.org).

The self-professed “farm boy” said so far in 2013, 65 percent of 81 site searches by companies considered the I-74 corridor territory, according to the IEDC Web site. Only economic development directors are allowed to enter details about sites for sale or lease. “You’ve got to make sure the landowner is on board with you showing that property. You must have an option on the property and a stable price.”

Schirmer admitted, “For the most part,” updating county offerings on the state Web site doesn’t get done. “We don’t have the manpower … it’s a volunteer system. Now we have part-time assistance.” A secretary is supposed to work six and a half hours weekly, but Schirmer pressed for her to be able to work up to 15 until the money runs out.

“There’s a level we have to play at and we can’t afford to play at that level … we’re doing the best we can to play at this level… our hands are tied toa certain degree financially.” Adding potential sites to the Web site “is something we will try to address in the next couple of months.”

Lane encouraged the commission to seek funding for a full-time director, noting he has never worked with a part-time director in his region. FCEDC has had paid directors before, most recently Frank Thompson and Rene Stivers. The IEDC director advised, “If you want to focus on economic development, you’ve got to commit to it.”

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

First in a two-part series • Part 2: Indiana Economic Development Corp. has many assets to help, Nov. 8