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City spotlight: Warsaw.

The town of Warsaw faces a problem most other towns in Indiana only dream about. Its economy is strong and the town is growing fast--perhaps too fast.

There is a downside to prosperity. "We were at the bottom of all the government lists," says Warsay Mayor Jeffrey Plank. "We had to help ourselves. We've learned to wage war with the future."

Plank and others in this city of 11,300 are in the midst of overhauling economic policy.

Warsaw is a city of curious contrasts. Kosciusko Country is home to 103 lakes, the most of any county in the state. The county is one of the top three agricultural producers in the country, due in large part to the egg-producing and meat-processing companies there. But despite the heavy influence of agriculture throughout the rest of the county, about 75 percent of Warsaw's work force is employed in industry.

Even the industry in town reflects great diversity. Known as the "orthopedic capital of the world," its largest employers--Zimmer, Biomet and DePuy--are manufacturers of orthopedic devices. Approximately 4,000 people work at one of Warsaw's health-care-related businesses.

Yet, R.R. Donnelly and Sons Co., which employs 1,700 and is the second-largest employer in Warsaw, is also the world's largest printer of catalogs. Da-Life Screen Co. Inc., with 360 employees, is the world's largest producer of projection screens. Sun Metal Products, with 205 employees, is the world's largest maker of wire spoke wheels and rims. Another major employer, Bertsch Vending Co., has a work force of 300 producers bottled water and coffee products.

The per-capita income in Kosciusko County is well above the state average; the unemployment rate is usually below average. In 1990, 12 commercial-industrial buildings permits represented $16 million of investment in the community. With many towns in Indiana facing a population loss, the 1990 census showed a 3 percent gain for Warsaw.

With this glowing picture of economic health, Mayor Plank feesl justifiable pride in his community. He and other community leaders know, however, that there are still problems to be resolved before any future growth can be contemplated.

Plank is a great believer in cooperation between the public and private sectors. He believes that the people of the community and what they are willing to do are what determine success. "I like to categorize Warsaw this way: It's real genuine hotbed of entrepreneurial spirit. The town has the vision of Jules Verne, and the spirit of Mayberry."

To that end, Warsaw's public and private sectors have combined forces to fund a variety of improvements. For example, the entrepreneurial spirit and willingness of the private sector to help out led to the construction of a senior opportunity center last year. An athletic complex is scheduled to be completed sometime next year.

Cost-sharing programs have helped the town repair curbs and sidewalks, and will be instrumental in building the second sewer-treatment plant the city needs. Banks in the community sponsor loan pools offering financing with 5 percent interest or below to help downtown businesses restore facades and convert empty upper-level space into apartments.

The downtown area is important to the overall economic development of a town, Plank says. "The downtown is the signature of the people of a community. It shows how much they think of the past, and of the future. We have a philosophy here. Each of us lives in the kind of community we deserve, the kind of community we take the time to protect and create."

Along with the mayor, the Warsaw Community Development Corp. and the chamber of commerce help guide economic policies. The WCDC, which concentrates on the downtown area, is an outgrowth of Warsaw's participation in the state's Main Street program.

Rob O'Brian has been the president of the chamber since February, after five years in economic development in Muncie. He says Warsaw is in a state of reorganization now, as community leaders reveiw what has been accomplished and chart what needs to be done.

"First and foremost, your best opportunity for growth is with the people who are already here. We need to see if we are adequately looking at their needs." To that end, and entrepreneurial council has been established. The mayor also is looking into ways to provide small businesses with better counseling.

Recently, the city and county rezoned 1,700 acres at the western edge of Warsaw, along U.S. 30, and O'Brian thinks the new zoning will promote the development of an industrial corridor. The next step, he says, is to develop the infrastructure with a combination of public and private funds.

There has not been much active recruitment of new industries in the past few years, O'Brian says. The concentration has been in the retail and food industries, which were lagging behind the industrial core. Now, O'Brian says he will be organizing efforts to entice companies to one of Warsaw's two industrial parks, or one of the various industrial sites in town.

Much of the growth in Warsaw's past came from existing companies. "These companies bred entrepreneurs who came up with their own products," says O'Brian. The orthopedic companies are prime example. DePuy, which is now a division of Boehringer Mannheim Corp., was founded in 1895. Zimmer Inc. spun off from DePuy in 1927. The most successful company to emerge independently is Biomet, which was started in the founder's garage in 1977. In February, Biomet reported third-quarter earnings of $9.9 million, or 18 cents a share, an increase of 27 percent over the same quarter of the previous year.

Biomet's president and CEO, Dane A. Miller, also received this year's National Entrepreneurial Success Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration. An SBA guaranteed loan in Biomet's early days helped the company get going, and now that Biomet is a huge success, Miller will be inducted into the SBA Hall of Fame.

O'Brian says he will work to determine what sort of industry would be good for Warsaw. he and Plank agree that companies deciding to locate there will have to be financially sound and able to stand on their own. O'Brian also would like to see companies that are dependent upon diverse technologies.

O'Brian would like to see general plastics manufacturers or other light industrial companies move to Warsaw. Another area he will be exploring is the food processing-packaging industry, or ancillary companies. He also would like to see an expansion in that area to take advantage of the established egg-producing and meat-processing companies in Warsaw and the surrounding area.

Both Plank and O'Brian are confident Warsaw will continue to grow. Plank cautions, however, that the real measure of a city's character is not found in the amount of new bricks and mortar, but in its residents. "The strength of Warsaw is directly related to the hearts of the people who live here."
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Title Annotation:Indiana
Author:Applegate, debra A.
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:1138
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