GREENFIELD — They promised to bring nearly 1,200 well-paying jobs to Hancock County. Total salaries were supposed to exceed $45 million.
The facility was going to manufacture cutting-edge technology and revolutionize the auto industry.
But today, six years after EnerDel was the centerpiece of every conversation about the county’s economic future, the lithium battery manufacturer’s Greenfield plant sits practically empty — a sign taped to the front door gives a number to call if no one answers when you knock.
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Now, the Hancock County Council is taking steps to revoke the $30 million tax break it gave to the company that admits its business plan has failed.
It’s the first time in recent memory the county has prematurely ended a tax abatement, deals often negotiated as a means of attracting new development or prompting existing businesses to expand.
The Hancock County facility opened in 2010 to great fanfare, even prompting a visit from Vice President Joe Biden — who touted the company as an example of how the Obama administration had spurred innovation through alternative energy investments — but has since seen setback after setback.
After a series of financial blows, the company recently consolidated its Greenfield plant with one in Indianapolis, leaving the facility in the Mt. Comfort business park absent of any activity.
That’s a stark contrast to the picture business leaders painted when launching the facility six years ago.
When EnerDel moved to the area in 2010, officials predicted it would grow to be the county’s largest employer.
But this week, its CEO told the Hancock County Council the company is no longer operating here. Financial reports show the local facility employed zero of the nearly 1,200 workers its leaders agreed to hire by the end of last year.
Hancock Economic Development director Skip Kuker told the council the company is not meeting the goals it set in exchange for a hefty tax discount six years ago, and council members would have to decide whether to continue giving the break or end it all together.
Company leaders had promised to bring more than 1,000 jobs to the county and invest more than $230 million to lease and equip the 200,000 square-foot-facility near Indianapolis Regional Airport.
But the local facility never met those goals.
In 2011, the company abandoned manufacturing battery packs for electric and hybrid automobiles after the market for battery-powered cars failed to develop as quickly as predicted. It shifted focus to the heavy-duty transportation sector of rail, buses and commercial trucks.
EnerDel’s parent company, Ener1, went through bankruptcy in 2012 after electric car maker Think Global — in which Ener1 invested millions — went under.
Downsizing EnerDel’s workforce followed.
The company fell on hard times because the battery-powered auto industry never took off the way experts expected, CEO Michael Canada said.
This week wasn’t the first time company leaders appeared before the council, pleading to keep the tax incentives.
In 2014, EnerDel leaders reported only 65 employees were working in Hancock County, but they told the council they expected that number to grow.
It never happened.
Now, the company employs approximately 45 in Marion County. They could make 25 additional hires by the end of the year thanks to new clients, but the company won’t rev up manufacturing in Hancock County, Canada said.
When the decision came to consolidate the company’s facilities last year, it was cost-prohibitive to move all the company’s assets to Hancock County, Canada said, so company leaders closed up shop here.
“Right now, today, we essentially have zero full-time employees working out of the facility,” he said. “The facility is pretty much idle. … We are actively engaged in trying to find another occupant.”
Council members said they don’t see any reason to continue the abatement if the building is vacant and employing no workers.
The council voted unanimously to end the abatement; a legally required public hearing on the issue will be scheduled in the coming weeks.
Canada hoped to keep the tax benefit as leaders market the space to other companies.
“It’s unfortunate the tax abatement has to end,” Canada said, “but I understand the purpose for economic development.”
Eliminating the incentive could spur EnerDel to act more quickly to find a new tenant, said councilman Kent Fisk. Finding a new occupant could create new jobs and revenue EnerDel isn’t providing to Hancock County.
“It’s a tragedy … but there’s got to be a time when we step out,” Fisk said.
“It’s a tragedy, … but there’s got to be a time when we step out,”
Councilman Kent Fisk, on the county’s decision to end tax breaks for EnerDel
“Right now, today, we essentially have zero full time employees working out of the facility. The facility is pretty much idle,”
EnerDel CEO Michael Canada, on operations at the company’s Mt. Comfort plant