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Evansville: cranes in the air over Indiana's third-largest city.

"CRANES IN THE AIR and new buildings are two of the most important factors in attracting new businesses to Evansville," says Ken Robinson, executive director of Vision E, Evansville's regional economic-development corporation. "It promotes a certain image. It says that Evansville is a growing community."

Indiana's third-largest city, with a population of 121,900, is in the midst of a development boom, with significant activity downtown and elsewhere. "Every city's downtown is its identity," says Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel. "It's very important for us to focus resources on downtown development."

Recent improvements downtown include new headquarters buildings for Old National Bancorp and Vectren, projects with a combined total investment of more than $70 million. Old National, the state's largest bank-holding company, built a 225,000-square-foot, eight-story building along the riverfront with a three-story pavilion and glass atrium along with a public lawn amphitheater. Energy provider Vectren dedicated another eight-story building last month totaling 135,000 square feet and providing Ohio River views from the site where the Riverside One apartment complex once stood.

"One Vectren Square represents not only a commitment to our one million customers, but also reflects our belief that a thriving downtown Evansville is necessary to spur additional development in southwest Indiana," says Niel C. Ellerbrook Vectren chairman, president and CEO. "We are committed to growing our corporation from our Evansville location."

Also downtown, Casino Aztar's $20 million capital-improvement project includes a $6 million meeting facility that opened in August 2004, several new restaurants and upgrades to the casino and its adjacent entertainment pavilion, as well as extensive renovations and improvements to the casino's 250-room hotel.

Residential development also is taking off downtown, thanks in part to the city's $20,000 matching grants for development of loft living spaces. "I've been pleasantly surprised by the response to the loft developments," Weinzapfel says. "It shows that people are interested in living downtown if the housing is available."

Evansville's economic base is diverse and vibrant, as evidenced by a list of the city's major employers: Bristol-Myers Squibb, Whirlpool, Deaconess Hospital, St. Mary's Medical Center, TJ Maxx, American General, Casino Aztar, Vectren, Berry Plastics and Industrial Contractors. Alcoa, GE Plastics and Toyota have facilities in nearby communities that also have a positive impact on Evansville's economy.

Recent activity includes: a new $85 million, 116-bed hospital that Deaconess is building; an $11 million expansion project that will add 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 140,000 square feet of warehouse space to Berry Plastics' Evansville headquarters; Azteca Milling's $24 million expansion that will add a third production line and additional on-site storage to its plant just north of Evansville; and plans by Tenneco Automotive, a Toyota supplier, to lease a 28,000-square-foot spec building in the VIP Industrial Park for a manufacturing and assembly plant.

The convention and tourism business is on the upswing as well. "The renovations at The Centre and the Executive Inn have been very helpful," says Laura Libs, who heads marketing communications for the Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The Executive's new owner put the hotel back to convention quality very quickly. He also built a crosswalk between the hotel and The Centre at his own expense."

Evansville's intellectual capital is also growing. The University of Southern Indiana is the state's fastest-growing university, having recently added a four-year engineering degree. Earlier this year, Ivy Tech State College dedicated a $20 million expansion to its Evansville campus. Enrollment also is up at the University of Evansville, and the school has received a Lilly Endowment grant to establish an international-business program. A $50 million regional vocational-technical high school is on schedule to open in 2006.

Even with the flood of good news, challenges remain. Evansville's once-thriving tool-and-die industry has been decimated by low-cost competition from overseas, and downtown still has far too much vacant office space. And progress on Interstate 69 continues at a snail's pace.

"I-69 is critical," says Robinson. "There's not a bigger arrow in our economic-development quiver than a north-south interstate highway."
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Title Annotation:economic development
Comment:Evansville: cranes in the air over Indiana's third-largest city.(economic development)
Author:Yancey, Madonna
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3IN
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:666
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