HANCOCK COUNTY — As the Hancock County Economic Development Council focuses its attention on drawing new business to the area, local officials say they fear the needs of companies that already operate in Hancock County could be overlooked, prompting discussions about the need for more manpower.
As interest from prospective businesses climbs, so does the workload placed on local organizations vying to bring them to the area; but an additional staff member for the council could be called upon to focus solely the concerns of existing companies, officials said.
Skip Kuker, executive director of the council, wants to hire a part-time employee who would serve as a liaison to the established business community. Demand for help from the council from outside companies looking for information is high, and the council’s resources are stretched thin, he said.
“Most of our growth is coming from existing companies, and we want to make sure we’re there and can do as much as we can. But with a two-person office, it’s difficult,” he said. “There’s just not enough time to do everything.”
As matters stand, Kuker has to devote most of his energy to building relationships with new businesses. He gave this example: If a company opts to construct a new building, the council is called upon to help with the permit process, which takes time and coordination among parties.
If the council can secure funding for a part-time worker — members plan to seek private donations, having already received a $15,000 boost in city funding for 2016 — Kuker said the employee would focus on retaining and expanding the operations already set up in the county.
“We need someone who can get in to talk with existing businesses just to make sure they’re happy here,” he said.
Jeff Somers, council treasurer, said that while the county remains an attractive site for interested businesses, given its easy access to the interstate and proximity to Indianapolis, eventually, the real estate will fill up. Once that happens, he said, the council will have to focus on expanding existing companies — and it’s best to already have a good relationship.
“We really need to be ready for that when it happens, rather than reacting when it’s too late,” he said.
Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell said that, while he’s pleased to see the burgeoning demand from new businesses, he also recognizes the importance of keeping existing companies happy.
“Retention is a key factor in our economic development,” he said. “It’s very important that the businesses who are here want to stay here; and anything we can do as a city to help them, we’re going to do.”
Fewell said city funding given to the council is money well-invested, and he hopes to see continued progress from the council’s efforts to attract new development while maintaining good relationships with existing businesses.
Kuker said the council has an electronic system for existing companies to request assistance from the council, but the needs of each business are nuanced and require some critical thinking.
“We have the software and the hardware side covered,” he said. “We just need another set of hands so we can get out to the people and help them do business.”