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Top business stories: southwest Indiana update.

Stick your card into an automated teller machine in southwest Indiana and it may ask you if you want English or Japanese instructions.

That's one clear sign that life is changing in the Evansville area.

Indeed, the impact from Toyota's gleaming new pickup truck plant is starting to rumble through the area in terms of economic development and growth, especially since the Japanese automaker announced expansion plans before the plant was even finished.

Other new employers include AK Steel Corp., which is building a $1.1 billion steel facility in Spencer County; ConAgra, which is planning a $224 million soybean processing plant in Posey County; and Grain Processing Co., which is building a $250 million grain-processing facility in Daviess County.

And all of it has come without the construction of Interstate 69, the so-called "Evansville to Indianapolis highway" that remains in the planning stages. The construction of that highway, which will stretch from Mexico to Michigan, is the key to additional growth in the region, experts say.

But even without the interstate, it's been a banner year in southwest Indiana.

VANDERBURGH COUNTY

The biggest news in Evansville is the purchase of Welborn Baptist Hospital by cross-town competitor St. Mary's Medical Center. When the purchase of Welborn, for about $70 million, is completed, St. Mary's will become the city's largest employer, adding Welborn's 1,600 workers to its 2,450.

St. Mary's also is undergoing a corporate restructuring with the creation of a new parent company to oversee all of St. Mary's holdings, which will include St. Mary's Warrick hospital, the White County Hospital in Carmi, Ill., and the Harrisburg, Ill., Medical Center.

Because Welborn is a not-for-profit facility, its value has to be returned to the community in some way. Its sale will create a new non-profit community foundation, with assets of $80 million to $85 million from proceeds of the sale, to help support health and charitable services in the Evansville community.

Meanwhile, Evansville's largest banks continued to not only resist takeovers but play their own version of Pac-Man with smaller banks.

CNB Bancshares, parent of Citizens National Bank, became Indiana's largest bank holding company in 1998 thanks to a series of acquisitions. Its holdings now stand at $6.6 billion, and the bank was the first Evansville bank to launch full services over the Internet.

National City Bancshares, the city's third-largest holding company at $1.5 billion, completed or launched more than a half-dozen acquisitions in the last 12 months. In May, the company also unveiled its new $15 million, nine-story headquarters in downtown Evansville.

It's just another sign of the explosion in Evansville, which is heading toward a record in apartment construction. Over the past two years, permits were granted in Vanderburgh County for construction of only 226 apartment units. But in the first three months of 1998, developers have proposed nearly 1,200 new apartment units.

The city's east side remains on a building boom in both retail space and new homes. In addition, more than half a dozen new hotels have been completed, including Casino Aztar's 250-room luxury hotel on the riverfront.

The major downside for the year was the planned closing of the GenCorp gasket plant, resulting in 230 jobs lost.

GIBSON COUNTY

Last year's big news in Gibson County, if not the state, was the $700 million Toyota truck plant. This year it's a $500 million expansion to the not-even-completed facility.

According to reports in the Evansville Courier, the addition of an as-yet-unnamed sport-utility line will yield another 1,000 jobs at the plant, bringing the total workforce to 2,300. The first phase of the plant will begin production in December. Toyota plans to produce 100,000 T150 trucks per year. The expansion will allow the company to build 50,000 new vehicles by 2000.

There's no question the plant has been a hit. More than 55,000 people have applied for the jobs, which will pay up to $19 an hour.

"There's been a lot of activity," says Helen Hauke, director of the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce. "A lot of people are enthused about the impact of Toyota." Evansville-based Dunn Hospitality Group built two hotels in Princeton, a 101-room Hampton Inn and a 75-room Fairfield Inn, to support new visitors.

The county also is expecting a flurry of suppliers to Toyota to open soon, and several existing companies, including Hurst Manufacturing, already are adding on. "It's a good time to be here," Hauke says.

SPENCER COUNTY

The big news here remains this fall's planned opening of AK Steel Corp.'s Rockport Works.

More than 2,500 construction workers are on site getting the massive $1.1 billion plant ready for operation. Rockport Works will employ about 400 workers to start and produce 1.8 million tons of steel annually at full production.

Several spin-off plants already have been announced or are under construction, further adding to AK Steel's impact. For example, Precision Strip Inc.'s $4.7 million development will provide eight jobs to start, paying about $35,000 each. The steel-slitting facility will take large steel coils and cut them into smaller sizes.

Among the newest developments are the $3 million Dale Home Center near Rockport, which will house Simflex Upholstery Systems, Unlimited Accessories and Modular Concepts, creating up to 250 jobs.

Steelport, a $24 million residential and commercial complex near the AK Steel plant, could provide up to 500 jobs. The complex is slated to open this summer.

The Spencer County Central Commerce Center in Chrisney, which cost $12 million, is expected to provide up to 80 jobs. The development houses industrial supplier Vendor City and commercial operations.

Other projects include the South Chrisney Plaza, a $20 million combination truck stop and strip mall. The Rockport Industrial Park, planned for this summer, could house up to 200 jobs. And Spencer County is looking forward to the year 2000, when the Natcher Bridge over the Ohio River is completed.

PERRY COUNTY

The news in this county has been centered on the construction of the vast Waupaca Foundry near Tell City, which already is expanding.

The $65 million, 200,000-square-foot expansion in Perry County's Riverview Industrial Park is expected to employ 200 additional workers and expand the foundry's production line.

Phase II construction will be complete in about six months and add to the foundry's existing 270,000-square-foot production space. Phase II will include production of iron castings for heavy-duty automotive parts in addition to brake components and other automotive parts. The plant already employs 260 workers.

"Waupaca has been great for this region," says Greg Wathen, executive director of the Perry County Development Corp.

In addition, spin-off development already has begun. American Colloid Co., a blending factory that will supply raw materials for Waupaca, has selected the Tell City Industrial Park near Troy for its $2.5 million factory. It will mix powdered clay and coal with other chemicals to supply Waupaca with material for metal castings.

The county also is aggressively marketing the former Maxon Marine property on the Ohio River, now operated by the Perry County Port Authority.

POSEY COUNTY

ConAgra remains undecided on a site for its $264 million soybean processing plant, but it is sold on locating it somewhere in Posey County.

The company is applying for permits to build at West Franklin near the Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Co.'s A.B. Brown power generating station. However, it is also considering land at the Southwind Maritime Centre at Mount Vernon.

Once in operation, the company plans to process 2.1 million tons of soybeans annually.

The county's largest employer, GE Plastics, has spent the past year entirely changing the way business is done at the Mount Vernon site.

The first change was to base the global headquarters of three GE Plastics business divisions - including the one producing its flagship product, Lexan - in Mount Vernon. In addition to the divisions creating the products Crystalline and Ultem, the plastics division's global research and development headquarters is now in southwest Indiana as well.

But Jeff Barnes, human resources manager, says the biggest difference has been a change in culture that has resulted in major savings and increased production. Although employment has remained steady at about 1,650, production records have been shattered. As production has gone up, emissions levels have gone down.

Nancy Burns, director of the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce, says there have been other success stores as well, including an expansion at LimPac Plastics, another at B&M Plastics, a $35 million addition to Bristol-Myers Squibb and a new motel in the Riverport Commercial Center.

Consolidated Grain and barge also added a soybean-processing facility, adding 20 new workers.

WARRICK COUNTY

New housing development and population gains are the big stories here. The county leads the region in growth, a nearly 12 percent increase in five years, as legions of people move from Evansville to this neighboring county.

Subdivision development continued at a record pace in the last year and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, thanks to the county's proximity to the new major industrial projects.

County officials, who were miffed that Warrick was not included in the series of recent major plant announcements, did bring in a new economic-development director, Gary Gentry.

Boonville Mining Services Inc. is moving nearly $6 million in equipment to its Boonville operations and creating 20 new jobs. The company also is planning to make about $500,000 in improvements to its Warrick County facility.

DAVIESS COUNTY

Grain Processing Corp. is planning a fall 1999 opening for its $270 million grain milling plant near Washington.

The construction project has employed up to 900 workers. After the plant is completed, the wet-milling operation initially will employ 125 people and be capable of producing 600,000 tons of product a year. The plant will consume up to 75 tons of corn per hour to make alcohol, starch, meal and other products.

Several existing businesses, including Cornelius Manufacturing, Graber Post Buildings, United Films and Hoover Precison, also announced or began expansion plans, says David Cox of the Daviess County Growth Council. "It's been a good year for several major businesses here," he says.

The bad news came with the loss of a U.S. Postal Service mail-processing center, which was slated to move to Terre Haute this year. The move will result in the loss of $800,000 in annual payroll and 35 jobs.

DUBOIS COUNTY

Kimball International remains both the county's largest employer and a bright spot in community development.

Kimball, a diversified manufacturer of consumer durable goods, including office, residential, hospitality and health-care furniture, also makes other products such as television cabinets and stands, audio speaker systems, home furniture and pool tables, and produces plywood, dimension stock and other lumber products. It has invested more than $30 million in its Dubois County facilities in the last year and also has taken strong steps to improve the quality of life for its employees.

The company in March selected a tract of land just southwest of Fifth Street School for the site of Kimball Kids, the company's child development center for employees' children and the first such corporate-sponsored center in Dubois County. The site is located between the company's two main areas of employee population in Jasper. Construction began in May and the center could be ready for operation later in the year.

Maintaining existing employees and finding new ones is a major problem in Dubois County, which had a low unemployment rate even before all the new area plants began hiring, says Nancy Eckerle, director of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce. "That's the biggest thing right now, not companies adding on, but searching and re-searching for the right people."

The Jasper campus of Vincennes University is building a new technology building and is becoming refocused on meeting the educational needs of area employers, she says. With that commitment in place, she says, the county's residents will be better able to fill skilled job openings.

In addition to Kimball, two other major employers announced expansion plans in the last year. Ditto, a manufacturer of metal and glass furniture, moved to a new facility in Jasper, while Jasper Wood products built a new facility in a private industrial park.

KNOX COUNTY

The effort here is on selling the county to future prospects, says Chris Kinnett, executive director of the Vincennes Area Community Development Corp. This year the development agency got a new president, Phil Rath, controller of Vincennes University.

Both the city and county agreed to give the development corporation half of its future economic-development income tax funds to support its economic-development efforts.

And the university and the group are forming "Pathways," which is designed to improve the skills and training of local workers to assure a steady stream of qualified applicants for area industrial jobs.

The corporation will spend upwards of $50,000 in 1998 to market the county worldwide, including in Japan. The corporation also has formed a Business Retention Committee to meet monthly with existing business owners to work on their concerns.

PIKE COUNTY

The focus also is on the future in Pike County, says Paul Lake, director of the Pike County Growth Council.

Though a new asphalt plant and several retail and food establishments were built in the county in the last year, the area really is looking for spin-off development from 'some of the major new plants.

"There is a lot of what I would call 'sniffing around' right now," Lake says. "With Toyota, AK Steel and the Grain Processing plant all in this area, you know there will be spinoffs from that."

Land prices in Pike County and throughout the region are rising now that the demand is there, Lake adds. Developing a new industrial park is being considered to help prospects find a home in the county.

There's a shortage of new homes, too. "Business is booming in the home-building industry," he says.
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Author:Derk, James
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 1998
Words:2319
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