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City spotlight: Crawfordsville.

September has always been a special month in Crawfordsville. The leaves in Montgomery County's state park and nature preserve begin to show their fall colors, bringing visitors from throughout the Midwest. The students return to Wabash College.

There's also an abundance of community events, from fish fries and square dances to end-of-summer tournaments at the city's five lighted softball diamonds and the annual "Labor Day Breakout" at the Old Jail Museum downtown.

But this September promises to be even more special, as Crawfordsville's more than 13,000 residents open their arms to welcome the newest member of their thriving industrial base. Western Publishing Co. Inc., a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of children's books and games, will begin operations this month at its new distribution center.

The 400,000-square-foot facility, vacant since 1990, will initially employ up to 250, says Mayor Phil Michel. But employment could double if Western Publishing expands the site to accommodate manufacturing. The company already has purchased an adjoining 90 acres for that purpose, Michel notes. "If they want to expand, they've certainly got the space."

Industrial growth is nothing new to Crawfordsville, says the two-term mayor. There have been 10 major expansions in the last five years, including three at R.R. Donnelley & Sons. The latest, a 140,000-square-foot addition, was completed this spring. Employing some 3,500 at its south-side facilities, the Chicago-based commercial printer remains the city's largest provider of jobs.

Hi-Tek Lithonia Lighting and Raybestos Products, with 700 employees each, also are leading manufacturers. And Nucor Steel, operating less than five years, employs almost 500 at its state-of-the-art minimill outside of town. A dozen smaller industries contribute as well, creating a total industrial base of nearly 9,000 jobs.

Mayor Michel estimates that nearly two-thirds of the city's new jobs come from existing industries, while the remaining third comes from new industries like Nucor, Western Publishing and Heritage Products, a Japanese supplier to Lafayette's Subaru-Isuzu Automotive. Combined, they've helped Crawfordsville maintain an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent.

The diversity of Crawfordsville's industrial base also keeps unemployment low, adds Dan McIlrath, executive vice president of the Crawfordsville/Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. Local companies manufacture a wide variety of products, he says, such as brake materials, injection moldings, corrugated boxes, mill parts, closures for beverage containers and plastic sheeting.

What's attracted such an unlikely collection of industry? "We have a reputation as a pro-industry town and work hard together as a community to improve the quality of life," Michel says.

The city's prime location also is part of the city's economic-development secret, the mayor notes. Crawfordsville offers access to nine major roadways, including Interstate 74, and close proximity to Indianapolis, Lafayette and several other Midwestern cities. There's also a pair of rail lines, Amtrak service, an airport and hubs for seven truck lines.

And Crawfordsville's electric and sewage companies are locally owned, offering some of the lowest utility rates in the state. "All these things combine to make us attractive to industry," Michel says.

These factors also were keys to Crawfordsville's ranking in "The 100 Best Small Towns in America," a recent book by Norman Crampton. The author placed the city 78th on his list, based on its per-capita income, government spending on education, percentage of college graduates, crime rate and health-care facilities, among other criteria.

A vibrant and friendly downtown is another contributor to the city's quality of life, adds Bill McCormick, owner of Mac's Apparel for Men and president of the Downtown Council. There are four antique stores, a pair of men's apparel shops, five women's clothing stores and more than 20 specialty retailers offering everything from imported coffee, musical instruments, toys and exotic animals to flowers, candy, crafts, rare books and fine art.

The county seat's downtown also boasts eight restaurants, three museums, plenty of professional office space and abundant parking.

Historic architecture is yet another of downtown Crawfordsville's drawing cards. In fact, it's been designated a Historic District by the Department of Interior.

Stately, well-preserved homes line the side streets, and a downtown walking tour includes visits to a pair of Historic Register mansions. And because the majority of commercial buildings are locally owned, McCormick says it's been easier to make renovations or new construction projects complement the city's existing architecture. "We're trying to develop a cohesive visual image of the downtown," he explains.

If you're thinking by now that Crawfordsville sounds like a great place to take the family for a weekend getaway, you're more than welcome to come on over, says Cindy Schirtzinger, executive director of the Montgomery County Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Tourists have a choice of seven hotels, plus two historic bed-and-breakfasts. And for more rugged vacationers, there's Shades State Park and nearby Pine Hills Nature Preserve. Crawfordsville also is home to Indiana's second-largest canoe livery, which provides trips along scenic Sugar Creek.

Such richly diverse offerings brought more than 16,000 visitors to Crawfordsville and Montgomery County in 1992, she reports. And while the city's efforts to promote tourism are just beginning, growth is imminent. With assistance from a regional network of Visitors Bureaus, tourism is increasing 50 percent annually, the Crawfordsville native says.

Many visitors to Crawfordsville choose to stay. That's what happened in 1832 when a group of visiting ministers founded Wabash College. Only 10 years younger than city itself, the liberal-arts college is almost like another industry, employing some 230 with an annual payroll of more than $8 million. In most other ways, however, it's in a category by itself.

Perhaps most notable is Wabash's distinction as one of only two all-male universities (without an all-female affiliate) left in the United States. It's a policy that continues to spark debate among students, faculty and alumni, but a 1992 decision by the Wabash Board of Trustees will keep the college all-male indefinitely.

The college's 800 or so students come from nearly everywhere, including 44 students from 26 foreign countries. But they all have at least one thing in common--they're very smart, and most will be very successful.

One of the 10 mostly richly endowed academic institutions in the nation with more nearly $140 million in alumni contributions annually, Wabash College boasts rigorous admittance standards and even more rigorous learning standards. Some 80 percent of its students go on to graduate or professional school; nearly 13 percent ultimately obtain a doctoral degree, ranking Wabash 16th among the nation's colleges and universities.

McCormick, who's owned his downtown store for a quarter century, says all of the factors combine to make Crawfordsville an appealing hometown. "In my opinion, there's no better place to live and raise a family," he says. "If you want the excitement of a big city, you can get in your car and drive 45 minutes in just about any direction. Then you can come back to your nice quiet home in Crawfordsville."
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Title Annotation:Indiana suburb
Author:Nelson, Eric
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:1139
Previous Article:Beyond the open office.
Next Article:North-central Indiana update.


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