Development focused on building communities, attracting business

GREENFIELD – With 2,693,700 jobs in Indiana, there are more Hoosiers working now than ever before.

It’s a good problem to have, said Michael Fruth, president of the Hancock Economic Development Council.

The state’s unemployment rate is at 3.7 percent, lower than it has been in years, Indiana Economic Development Corp. president Elaine Bedel told local business owners and community stakeholders this week.

Keeping up that kind of forward momentum into the new year is a challenge, but local officials have project plans for 2018 to keep Indiana and Hancock County going strong, said Bedel, keynote speaker at the local economic development council’s annual meeting. Locally, that focus is on making it easier for businesses to set up shop in Hancock County and ensuring its communities are attractive places to live.

Indiana succeeds in attracting out-of-state students to study at public universities, Bedel said. The trick is getting people to put down roots here after they graduate and to contribute their new career skills to communities like Hancock County.

Fruth, who was sworn in Wednesday as the new president of the county economic development council, agreed with Bedel’s sentiment, adding that economic development today is more than just adding a new street or business here and there. It’s also about providing a community with restaurants, parks, trails and other features that make its people want to stay, he said.

“The county as whole has got to be attractive,” Fruth said. “Just because the unemployment rate is low here locally doesn’t mean that there aren’t still people searching for jobs or people who are wanting to move up in their career,” Fruth said.

The county is positioned for increased economic success after last year, especially for those in the manufacturing industry, said HEDC executive director Skip Kuker. The steady growth of local businesses such as BeijingWest Industries, Keihin and Stanley Black and Decker have provided the community with a reliable economic foothold, Kuker said.

“Those are good, stable, long-term jobs that don’t go away,” Kuker said.

The HEDC is additionally working toward increasing the number of shovel-ready sites in Hancock County, Kuker said. Shovel-ready sites are locations under redevelopment where starting businesses can either start a lease with existing building or quickly begin building a work space that matches their specifications and needs.

Hancock County currently has six shovel-ready sites within its borders, but the council is making efforts to expand its available industrial space even more, Kuker said.

Kuker added that it’s reassuring to see how entrepreneurs today have increased mobility in comparison to those he has seen in the past.

“It’s amazing how fast companies want to move,” he said. “I used to work projects for two years. Now they work for two months, and they’re rolling.

“Businesses have money to spend, and they want to spend it on capital projects,” Kuker added. “Buying machinery, buying buildings, expanding. The economy’s going well, so they’ve got to hit all these areas, and they’ve got to go now.”

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Evan Myers is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3228 or emyers@greenfieldreporter.com.