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Mount Vernon.

Mount Vernon is a community poised to land a large industrial plant.

Many other towns might be thinking the same thing, but this Posey County community has come close many times and experts in Southwestern Indiana agree it is only a matter of time until the big fish is reeled in.

Mount Vernon, nestled in the southwestern pocket of the state, has a lot to offer industrial and business clients:

* It's only minutes from Evansville, the state's third-largest city.

* It's home to the Southwind Maritime Centre, a large Ohio River port with huge parcels of undeveloped land.

* It's already home to the some of the area's largest employers, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and GE Plastics.

* The local government--after a 20-year struggle--this year finally passed a countywide zoning ordinance.

* It boasts a skilled labor force of 12,290 workers who so far have shunned unions; of the county's top 10 employers only one--ADM Milling Co.--is unionized.

Nancy Gibson Burns, executive vice president of the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce, says the community likes to tout that its industries can thrive without a lot of union activity. "We're very proud of that," she says. The community of 7,300 people, the county seat of Posey County, is poised for economic-development gains because, Burns says, it has abundant land, great resources and good infrastructure.

GE Plastics is the county's largest employer. At a sprawling facility south of Mount Vernon near the Ohio River, the company makes plastic materials that wind up in cars, coffeemakers, hair dryers and even professional football helmets. Some 1,700 people go to work at the plant.

Another major area employer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, has its headquarters, offices and some production facilities in Evansville, but has huge pharmaceutical manufacturing, packaging and warehouse operations in the cornfields outside Mount Vernon. About 800 employees package and distribute, among other things, products for Bristol-Myer's Mead Johnson division, including Enfamil and Prosobee infant formulas.

GAF Corp. also employs about 800 in the Mount Vernon area. The company makes roofing materials. Some of the community's other industrial employers include Babcock & Wilcox, a producer of solid-rocket casings for the space-shuttle program; ADM Milling, which operates Indiana's largest flour mill in Mount Vernon; Indianapolis-based Countrymark Cooperative, which has a petroleum-refining operation in Mount Vernon; Mount Vernon Screw Products, a manufacturer of automatic screw-machine components; Polar Minerals, maker of mineral pigments for the paint and plastics industries; and MG Industries, with products including liquid and gaseous oxygen and nitrogen.

Despite the competition between Southwestern Indiana communities for economic-development prospects, a bond has been formed between Evansville and Mount Vernon, a link important to both communities, Burns says.

The cooperation between Posey County and Evansville, Vision 2000 (the area's economic-development agency) and Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Co. became cemented after the state and local officials lost a battle to build a huge Scott Paper Co. plant east of Mount Vernon. "It's easy to work together now," she says.

After Scott Paper picked Owensboro, Ky., for its site in 1990, Posey County officials turned to an aggressive approach to try and land new prospects instead of waiting for industry to come calling.

The Posey County Redevelopment Commission in Mount Vernon created a long-range economic-development plan that identifies prospects likely to move in, helps existing businesses expand, helps new business start up and identifies prime sites of varying size.

Work on the plan started in July 1990 when Scott was still evaluating Mount Vernon. The commission was created to assist Scott, but turned its efforts to overall development when the Scott deal fell through.

"We wanted to find out why we didn't get Scott Paper and what we needed to do to be more attractive to business and industry," Burns says.

The report identifies key industries likely to locate in the Mount Vernon area--among them agricultural processing, telecommunications, trucking and distribution firms, commercial printing, automobile parts, plastics and tourism.

Burns says the plan will help add to the industrial base already in place. "We have some really good smaller companies here," she says. "The General Electrics with their 1,500 employees don't come in very often, especially not these days."

A key to the new plan is getting zoning in place. After more than 20 years of controversy, Posey County this spring passed the county's first comprehensive zoning ordinance. Burns says that ordinance will make a critical difference.

"That's extremely important because now we don't have to take just anything that comes along," she says. "We only have to take the types of industries we want to take."

Some residents--and area environmentalists--are still bitter over a proposal by chemical giant BASF to build a huge chemical plant outside Mount Vernon in the mid-1980s. The plan polarized the community and the lack of zoning made the plant seem difficult to stop. BASF eventually dropped the idea of the Mount Vernon plant.

As part of the zoning plan, the local chamber of commerce, which often works closely with the Metropolitan Evansville Chamber of Commerce and Evansville economic-development officials, is touting five prime industrial sites, raging in size from 5 acres to 1,200 acres.

One of the sites, of 745 acres, is located inside the Southwind Maritime Centre, one of three Indiana ports. The port has been growing steadily in tonnage, thanks in part to a recent addition of foreign-trade zone status, which puts the port officially outside of U.S. Customs territory and thus can yield duty breaks and other benefits.

Donald R. Snyder, the port director, also has assumed the role of economic-development booster for the region. He says the location of the port in Mount Vernon has helped industry immensely.

"The port is very instrumental, not only because of its domestic use, but because of the link it gives us to the world," he says. Since its opening in 1977, more than 42 million tons of goods have been shipped through the port, mostly coal. And its use is rising. In 1992 alone, 4.3 million total tons were shipped. Of that, 3.1 million was coal.

Snyder says the port's location gives Southern Indiana's high-sulfur coal a better chance of being sold elsewhere because of the easy access to other markets. "Some people think the goods here are going down the river a few miles when in fact they are going all over the world," he says.

Among the businesses operating at Southwind are Consolidated Grain & Barge Co., which stores and handles grain; Mount Vernon Barge Service, which services barges and boats; and Mount Vernon Coal Transfer.

When he's not running the port, Snyder is a tireless cheerleader for the area. "Southwestern Indiana is the place to be right now," he says. The infrastructure, including highways and utilities, already is in place.

Mount Vernon is, indeed, well connected to the rest of the country, says Keith Moore, who runs Moore & Associates and MAI Environmental with his identical twin brother, Kent. Though they chose to locate their firms with roughly 25

employees in their hometown of Mount Vernon, they have clients all over the country and in Canada. "It's easy to travel out of Mount Vernon," Keith Moore says. Moore & Associates provides engineering and construction-management services, while MAI Environmental focuses on clients' environmental needs. The Moores' companies have a variety of Fortune 500 customers, mostly in heavy industry.

Though there are few vacant factories, the rebirth of the Babcock & Wilcox plant has many local observers grinning. Since it was closed decades ago, the sprawling plant kept on a skeletal staff and a dedicated property manager hoping something would work out.

It did three years ago when the company landed a huge contract to manufacturer casings for space shuttle solid rocket boosters. Now there are about 200 employees at work there.

As for quality-of-life issues, Burns says Mount Vernon offers small-town living with quick access to a bigger city. The town's quaint downtown, centered on a historic--but still active--courthouse square, will be getting a major face lift this summer.

The city received a $328,000 grant from the state's Community Focus Fund that will be used to revamp the downtown area. Planned for this summer are new sidewalks, curbs and major landscaping improvements--some of the little touches that encourage life in a small town. This spring, a group of civic volunteers and laborers rebuilt the town's riverfront Sherburne Park. That's yet another example, Burns says, of quality of life in the town, which was settled in 1809.

Burns says one of the key selling points of the town is the public school system. A high-tech junior high school was built in 1990, the high school was remodeled and a new computer system links the four elementary schools.

And the area is blessed with the Ohio and Wabash rivers and the resulting recreational opportunities. Harmonie State Park on the Wabash offers more than 3,500 acres of beauty. Hovey Lake, a 4,300-acre wetland frequented by thousands of ducks and geese, is a paradise for hunters.

The county has more than 100 miles of river frontage. Also, the nearby community of New Harmony is one of Indiana's historic treasures, with its galleries, shops and remains of communal societies of yesteryear.
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Title Annotation:attractions to businesses in Mount Vernon, Indiana
Author:Derk, James S.
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:Southwestern Indiana update.
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