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HANCOCK COUNTY — It remains to be seen what new major corporate development projects Hancock County can hook for 2014, but it recently chummed the waters with a fairly significant piece of bait.

The state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs, along with the Hancock Economic Development Council, announced that 225 acres spread across four parcels in Progress Park in Greenfield received a designation as a “Shovel Ready Silver Site.”

In developers’ lingo, “shovel ready” means a site has been properly zoned and upgraded with infrastructure so a developer can get to work right away.

 The site near the Interstate 70-Ind. 9 interchange is the second site in Hancock County to receive the designation in approximately the past eight years.

Some 80 acres situated immediately east of Universtiy Loft Company at Airpark East near CR 300N and 400W carry the designation as well.

“Shovel ready is a huge advantage, and when other counties don’t have that, a project like Progress Park just stands out,” said John Kennedy, president of the HEDC board and president of Greenfield Banking Co.

In addition zoning and infrastructure, sites must have clear title and survey; local government support for development; an established price; an environmental assessment; and an audit to define any protected wetlands.

For site-selection experts poring over maps to locate ideal locations for new ventures, it’s all about efficiency and finishing an expansion in the least amount of time, said Skip Kuker, the HEDC’s executive director.

“It’s a second layer of expediency for the client,” Kuker said. “Things that can take a moderate amount of time to accomplish have already been rectified.”

Cutting weeks, months and possibly years from the development time line is not only a competitive advantage over sites that are not deemed shovel ready; in some cases such an advantage can be critical.

“It’s all about speed,” Kuker said. “As the economy recovers, it becomes very important who is the fastest in getting their building up and the manufacturing going.”

There are no pending projects for the Progress Park sites, said Aaron Greenwalt of Greenfield’s Greenwalt Development Group, which owns the land, but Greenwalt said the shovel-ready certification does nothing but good things for the area’s growth potential.

“I think shovel-ready designation from the state of Indiana is really valuable for sites,” Greenwalt wrote in an email. “The application process essentially helps identify and eliminate most major issues and problems that a site may have; therefore, the site is more attractive to buyers and potential users.”

Additionally, once land receives the certification, it is marketed by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation on the state’s website, increasing its visibility to foreign and out-of-state businesses with a specific package in mind.

“Potential buyers and users may be talking to the state and looking at sites long before the listing broker even knows there is interest in the site,” Greenwalt wrote.

Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell said receiving the designation on the property not only makes Greenfield an attractive development opportunity for companies, but it also allows local leaders to ensure future projects are the right fit for Hancock County.

“If you have the best (sites), you become attractive,” Fewell said. “Then you get to be selective.”

In addition to Progress Park, Greenwalt Development is applying for the certification on a 166-acre site directly north of the new Tsuda plant on CR 300N near Mt. Comfort.

The parcel is known as Energy Park, and when it becomes designated shovel-ready, the county will have just less than 500 acres over three locations that will be primed for business development, Kuker said.

That’s a lot of project-ready land with which to court corporate clients given that the usual request for information the HEDC receives from interested businesses is for roughly 30 to 50 acres acres, he said.

“The fact that we have three (shovel-ready) sites shows that we’re being aggressive,” he said. “Certain clients only want to look at shovel-ready sites, and now we can submit three, so the client has a wide breadth of options to look at.”

Over and above the number of acres and sites primed for development, Kuker said, is the fact that they are all privately owned and funded with no public money being diverted to obtain the certification.

“That’s the best part,” he said.

With the recent announcements, Kuker said he remains bullish on the county’s economic development potential for 2014, adding that in addition to courting corporate relocation, the county is also actively pursuing site selectors, corporate consultants who do the initial homework for businesses looking for a new home or plant.

And the effort is paying off as the county currently has corporate eyes on it, with some businesses returning for a second and closer look.

Kuker said a company’s first visit after considering several sites nationally is always a positive indication, and a return trip to dig deeper is even better.

“You’ve made the first cut, but when they come for a return visit it’s a very good sign – you’ve made the second cut,” Kuker said.

 “It’s a big deal,” Kuker said. “We have very sizeable projects looking at the county now that are physically in our community.”

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