30 years of expansion

HANCOCK COUNTY — For the past three decades, the Hancock Economic Development Council has served as one of the first stops for businesses interested in putting down roots in the county.

Though the organization often works behind the scenes — coordinating with local government officials and business leaders to find solutions that satisfy both parties’ needs — the council has netted countless deals that have led to the creation of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in development for Hancock County.

This month commemorates the organization’s 30th anniversary, and it also marks one of its busiest times, as requests for information from prospective businesses are approaching an all-time high, said Skip Kuker, who’s served as executive director of the council since March 2012.

In 1985, former State Sen. Beverly Gard was one of the first residents in the county to see a need for an economic development council. In September of that year, she and 12 additional founding members gathered to establish the Greater Hancock County Chamber of Commerce.

Gard, who was then serving as president of the Greenfield City Council, said she recognized a growing need for an organization that could fully devote itself to recruiting and attracting businesses, both large and small, to the area.

“At the time, several of the (counties surrounding Indianapolis) were beginning to see a lot of development,” Gard said. “We felt that we needed to take measures to get our fair share of the economic development coming into central Indiana.”

Neither the city nor the county had the resources to create its own development council, Gard said, so the founding board decided to create an organization that encompassed both.

“Realizing what was good for the county is good for the city, and what’s good for the city is good for the county, we decided to get something going,” she said. “And it’s just grown from there.”

Gard remained involved with the economic development council until 1988, when she left for state office. Shortly after her departure, the organization landed its first major deal, a $105 million investment from Indiana Precision Technology Inc., which is now known as Keihin North America.

In 2004, the Hancock Economic Development Council hired its first full-time executive director, Dennis Maloy. Prior to his arrival, the organization had employed private contractors to serve as leaders.

When he assumed the position, portions of the county looked drastically different than they do today, Maloy said.

He recognized the need to expand development to the corners of the county, as well as an opportunity to make use of valuable industrial space near Interstate 70, he said.

Maloy hashed deals with civic and business leaders alike to start a tax-increment financing district in Mt. Comfort, which captures tax dollars from businesses in the area to help pay for infrastructure improvements and expanding business parks.

“It was one of the most rewarding times in my professional career,” said Maloy, who now runs a consulting firm in Bloomington.

But it also was one of the most challenging, he admits.

“Landing those deals can be a lot of work,” he explained. “Every community is competing to create an environment where companies want to invest, so you’re literally competing against the rest of world.”

When Maloy left the office in January 2012, he had assisted in drawing significant business expansions and attractions throughout the county, all of which added up to nearly $370 million in investments in Hancock County, he said.

Kuker, who succeeded Maloy, held a celebration at the Indianapolis Regional Airport on Sept. 24, bringing business and civic leaders together to celebrate the council’s 30 years.

In the time since he assumed the role as director, Kuker has assisted in brokering deals that equate to nearly 2,000 jobs and almost $400 million in economic investment, he said.

He’s made a concerted effort to deliver equal assistance to companies of all sizes, he said.

“When you’re talking about economic development, the little guys matter just as much as the big guys,” Kuker said. “It’s important to maintain a diverse, well-represented local climate to guarantee that we remain a robust economy.”

While attracting new employers is a team effort that involves local officials, council members and business leaders, Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell readily admits that Kuker is always first to act.

“He reacts instantly,” Fewell said. “Whenever a business submits an inquiry to the city, he calls them right away. Usually, he even beats us to it.”

Similarly, Hancock County Council president Bill Bolander said having an organization like the economic development council advocating on the county’s behalf helps ensure nothing slips by.

“We couldn’t do it all if it weren’t for the council,” Bolander said. “Our approval is usually the end of the process, but they’re always the ones that start the process and get it to us.”

Looking ahead, Kuker said he doesn’t see the county’s growth tailing off anytime soon.

In the next decade, he anticipates seeing another access point to I-70 pop up somewhere in the county and expects to see improvements to local roadways, he said.

“There’s plenty of room to grow,” Kuker said. “We want to make sure that once we attract the employers to land here, they’re able to expand. That’s what we’ll continue to build upon in the next 30 years.”

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.