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City spotlight: Scottsburg.

Great Scott! What's all the excitement about in Scott County? What's happening to this largely rural county half an hour north of Louisville that gained a noticeably diverse industrial base the past few years and is making progress as a tourist and specialty shopping area?

Growth, enthusiasm, growing community pride, teamwork, shifting economics, commuting patterns, even lifestyles. "We've just got started," pipes Scottsburg Mayor William H. Graham, a former civil engineer seemingly as comfortable running a front-end loader for a beautification project as devising infrastructure packages for incoming industry.

"We're not a suburban metro county yet, but we're making some shifts," says Michael L. Smith, an ex-band teacher who orchestrates business and industrial activities as executive director of the Scott County Economic Development Corporation.

Graham and Smith have reason to be enthusiastic: In the past five years, 10 factories located to Scott County, an existing plant launched a second operation, and several existing industries expanded and reinvested heavily in operations, employees, and the community at large. Although many county residents still commute to larger communities for work, the percentage has dropped, Smith says. Since 1988 more than 1,200 new jobs have been created in the county, reversing two decades of decline when unemployment and the number of welfare recipients were among the highest in the state. "We don't want to depend on Louisville, Columbus and Seymour for jobs," Mayor Graham states.

Examples of economic interaction include Holm Industries (with 625 employees, Scott County's largest employer) supplying refrigerator gaskets to General Electric plants in Louisville and Bloomington, and Scott Manufacturing supplying gasoline tanks to Louisville's Ford plant. In addition, Scott County now draws labor from other areas, Smith says. For example, MultiColor Inc. and Bowater Communication Papers hire out-of-county employees for their printing operations.

The mood is upbeat everywhere, from the corporate offices of Morgan Foods Inc. in Austin -- for decades the fulcrum of the area economy in Scottsburg's sister city five miles north -- to fancy little gift, decorator, and gourmet shops that have sprung up on Scottsburg's downtown square. Proprietors say they want to capitalize on tourists and specialty shoppers, particularly traffic to nearby historic Madison, as well as increased local spending and recent efforts to enhance downtown Scottsburg's own historic character.

A $267,000 community development block grant, matched with $60,000 raised locally, brought new brick sidewalks, curbing, lampposts, and park benches to the square three years ago. The project blossomed last year into formation of a citywide beautification committee, which adopted the slogan "Discover Scottsburg, A City Flourishing." The committee coordinates dozens of volunteers and service groups in cleanup and landscaping projects, such as annual planting of 400 crab apple trees in parks and along byways.

Plans are under way to designate the downtown square a national historic district and transform a 120-year-old Penn Central depot to a visitors center, combined with offices and meeting space for the chamber of commerce and the economic development corporation.

Following a consultant's recommendation that Scottsburg is uniquely positioned for an outlet shopping mall, city officials began wooing developers for such an endeavor near the I-65 interchange.

The plants that have opened since 1988 brought more than 500 jobs for such endeavors as blister packaging, producing micro-cellular plastic products and aspirin tins, and printing postage stamps.

The plum of recent locations was Kokoku Steel Cord Corp., commonly called "K-Cord," a Japanese firm involved in drawing or stretching steel wire for steel-belted tires. The plant opened in 1990 with an initial $60 million investment, employing 200 persons on a site west of the I-65 interchange, and has grown to an $80 million operation, employing 234 persons, Smith says.

Graham says he considers K-Cord a real catch since negotiations for the plant transpired 18 months in 62 communities in seven states. David Terrell, manager of human relations, remembers visiting 35 Indiana communities before the choice was narrowed to Brazil, Washington, Greenwood, and Scottsburg. In the end, he says, it was the site's proximity to I-65, community spirit, and local facilitation of infrastructure needs that won out. Graham's arrangement of incentive formulas for utilities proved "very competitive," Terrell says. "He was able to work out a win-win situation."

Through a tax-abatement formula with the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, Scottsburg was able to totally renovate its electrical system at the same time it added a new substation to accommodate Kokoku, whose needs equaled the kilowatt hours used by the entire city of Scottsburg.

As new plants arrived on the scene the past half-decade, existing ones expanded and reinvested, so that while much of the country experienced recession, Scott County actually gained jobs, Graham says. Morgan Foods, which president John S. Morgan says has enjoyed 15 percent annual sales increases, invested more than $20 million the past five years to streamline food-processing operations with state-of-the-art equipment.

Smith says he believes it was Scott County's public-private partnerships that impressed not only K-Cord but other industries as well. "Sort of like a coach, we developed a team approach," he says. In the case of K-Cord, "the city of Scottsburg demonstrated to them that they'd do what they said they'd do: hold a site and help them build the infrastructure. They wanted the city to be an active player. ... They demanded an integrity and we had it to offer."
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Title Annotation:Scottsburg, Indiana
Author:Baird, Bob
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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