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Bluffton: big-city convenience and small-town ambiance.

In 1944, Ed Schaefer and Wayne Kehoe founded a company to manufacture electric motors and decided to locate in a small town. Schaefer thought a company had a better chance of success in a small town "because you can get to know the people." The small town in which Kehoe and Schaefer chose to locate their new venture, Franklin Electric, was Bluffton.

Franklin, the world's largest manufacturer of submersible electric motors, now has a worldwide reputation. But it still makes its home in Bluffton. Franklin CEO William Lawson believes the people of Bluffton have a can-do attitude that makes the community special. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce recognized it when it named Bluffton Indiana's Community of the Year in 1990.

There are other significant reasons why Bluffton has been successful in keeping local businesses happy and attracting new ones.

For one thing, it costs less to do business in Bluffton than many other places in Indiana and the Midwest. According to a study by the Wabash Valley Power Association, property tax rates are about two-thirds the Indiana average in Wells County, and manufacturing wages are about 75 percent of the Indiana average.

Chamber CEO Clay Powell says utility rates also are lower because Bluffton has its own electric utility. Most of the rest of the county is served by a rural electric membership cooperative.

Transportation costs may be lower in Bluffton because of its central location. Peyton's, which distributes non-grocery items to more than 1,000 stores from New York to Colorado, has a distribution center in Bluffton. Its general manager, Harold Combs, says Bluffton has been an excellent choice for Peyton's.

"We are centrally located and served well by all the regular means of transportation. A major highway (Interstate 69) is close by, we have good rail service from Norfolk and Western, and an airport is only 20 minutes away" in Fort Wayne.

Education is playing a much larger part in determining what makes a viable and growing business community.

Powell believes the three school systems in Wells County do a good job in preparing young people for the work force. "Wells County has the lowest dropout rate in Northeastern Indiana, about 2 percent, and more local kids go to college."

For those needing new skills, employers work closely with the local Job Works and Private Industry Council to develop training plans and find the appropriate programs. "We want to have our work force employable if one large employer leaves town."

In 1980, the largest employer in Bluffton--Corning Glass--did leave town. The move, however, did not fatally wound Bluffton like it could in so many other small towns.

More than most small towns, Bluffton has a diversified economic base that helps it continue to grow despite problems locally or nationally. It's similar to other Indiana communities that have a sizable stake in the auto industry, but that industry does not dominate the local economy. The largest local employer now is Caylor-Nickel Medical Center.

Bluffton's economy, in fact, has continued to grow throughout the latest economic downturn because of the success of its snack food manufacturers, Keebler and Pretzels Inc. "The recession has helped them," Powell says. "In tough times people stay home and eat snacks."

The favorable business climate contributes to the favorable quality of life in Bluffton. Among the business community, the most significant organizations in terms of community leadership are probably Franklin Electric and Caylor-Nickel. Not all that many small towns have two such organizations with as much national respect, as many financial resources and staffs that are as highly educated.

Caylor-Nickel Medical Center provides Bluffton with the latest in healthcare expertise and facilities (including such high-tech equipment as a magnetic-resonance imaging unit), but it still maintains the feeling of a smaller, physician-run clinic and hospital. Greg Kurtz, the physician recruiter for Caylor-Nickel, says doctors like working there because "you can practice the highest quality medicine in a small town with less stress than a big-city practice. Here, you can leave your farm and be at work in just a few minutes."

Other factors, as well, contribute to the high quality of life in Bluffton. "People like the way it looks," Powell says. "It is known as Parlor City."

Bluffton does have its share of beautiful old homes and beautiful sights. The Wabash River runs through the middle of town and Ouabache State Park is on the edge of town. There's a river greenway that runs nearly out to the state park.

It's that blend of big-city convenience and small-town ambiance that impresses visitors. Kurtz says physicians that Caylor-Nickel brings into Bluffton often are surprised. They say "it's bigger than I expected."
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Title Annotation:Regional Report: Northeast; Bluffton, Indiana
Author:Miller, Chuck
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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Next Article:Northeastern Indiana update.

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