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Greencastle, a small Western Indiana university town, not long ago was diagnosed as terminally ill, following the much publicized pullout of the IBM distribution center that provided 70 percent of the local industrial payroll. But now the city boasts seven new industries, all lured within four years.

Greencastle, with 8,984 residents, is the seat of Putnam County, population 30,315. It is located 40 miles west of Indianapolis and 35 miles eat of Terre Haute. U.S. 36 is nine miles to the north and Interstate 70 seven miles to the south. The city has access to the CSX and Conrail railroads. Location was a key factor when International Business Machines set up shop in the mid-1950s.

City officials say they never dreamed IBM would leave, taking a fifth of the local tax base, nearly three-quarters of the local industrial payroll and just under half of all local jobs. But in November 1986 the startling announcement came, and it could have been the death of the city. If not for volunteers' economic planning prior to the announcement, the city would still be wondering what to do, according to Mayor Michael Harmless. Today, Greencastle is not ailing but rather flourishing with the new industries that provide it with an even larger tax base and more employment than when IBM called it home.

Greencastle now boasts the title of All-America City, an honor it received in 1991 along with 10 other cities. In the past four decades, only 400 other U.S. cities have earned that title from the National Civic League in Denver. The title honored citizens' voluntary efforts to rebuild the city economically after IBM's pullout, the efforts of a volunteer group--Main Street Greencastle--to revitalize the historic downtown, and a volunteer group's work toward providing affordable, low-income housing. As a testimonial to the good things happening in Greencastle, the city was the only one in the Wabash Valley to show a population increase in 1990, and the county showed the largest percentage increase in tourism in the state last year.

The economic rebound "didn't just happen," Harmless says. "Many people think 'oh that Greencastle, they're just lucky.' No No No No! It involved planning six years before the whole thing broke loose. You have to be prepared to respond. If you go around and talk to other communities, I think you're going to find we are absolutely volunteer heaven."

The death of Greencastle, in fact, was predicted even before IBM left. Harmless says a 1984 housing study predicted that by the mid-1990s, 30 percent of Greencastle's housing stock was going to be empty. That study was the city's "call to arms," he says. About 125 volunteers from all sectors of the community formed Greencastle 2001, which addressed social and economic concerns. Main Street Greencastle was formed to oversee the renewal of the business district, and the Quality of Life Forum also was developed. Greencastle was on its way to having an economic plan.

With that plan and the generosity of IBM--which gave the city $1.7 million, its annual $120,000 United Way contribution for three years and its 350,000-square-foot facility and acreage--Greencastle avoided the obituary column. With the assistance of IBM and community leaders, the Greencastle Development Center was brought to life the day of IBM's announced departure. Within 13 months that group and other community leaders had persuaded three industries to move to the little Putnam County town. Within 90 more days, three more industries had claimed Greencastle as their hometown, and the seventh announced the summer of 1990.

The seven industries, representing an investment of more than $100 million, include a Sherwin-Williams paint distribution center; Heartland Automotive, a manufacturer supplying Subaru-Isuzu Automotive; Shenandoah Industries, a manufacturer of interior trim parts; F.B. Distro, a distribution center for the Fashion Bug and Fashion Bug Plus clothing shops; Technotrim Inc., a manufacturer of auto seat coverings; Happico Corp., a manufacturer of auto exterior trim parts; and a 1,000,000-square-foot Wal-Mart distribution center. Together they employ more than 2,000 people with an annual payroll of $43 million.

These industries joined others such as Lone Star Industries, a manufacturer of cement; Lobdell/Emery, a metal-stampings manufacturer; and North American Capacitor.

Today there are three banks in Greencastle. Among them, First United Savings Bank's stock was one of last year's Indiana Business Magazine All-Star Stocks, based on increasing value.

And, of course, there's DePauw University, a leading liberal arts university and the city and county's largest employer. In addition to jobs, the university brings cultural and recreational advantages to the city, and that has been a positive asset in drawing new industry. Also, the faculty, staff and many of DePauw's 2,400 students are active in community-service projects.

Tourism was the "final leg of economic development" that was added to Greencastle, says William R. Patterson, executive director of the Putnam County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Community leaders looked around and said, "'What else can we do to help our people?'" Patterson says. "The tourism business was the final touch on the economic-development formula."

Last year, Putnam County saw a 20 percent increase in tourism, more than any other county in the state. Tourism dollars are flowing into Greencastle and the county--an estimated $27 million annually in direct spending and $42 million in indirect spending, Patterson says. That's made tourism the county's number-two industry, behind agriculture.

Thanks to the bureau's efforts, Greencastle hosts such events as the Indiana Quarter Horse Association's convention and the 1994 BMW Nationals, an event to be held at the new Putnam Park Road Course. The privately owned facility has turned some Putnam County hills into a 2-mile, 10-turn, state-of-the-art Grand Prix-style race track, and is expected to draw some 42,000 racers to the city this year. The road course is bringing national attention to Greencastle as well, including a Cable News Network segment and a major feature in the September issue of Car and Driver.

Patterson, a seasoned convention and visitor's bureau director, says he came to the community because of its vision and ability to get things done. His bureau was developed, he says, because "enough community leaders said, 'what about tomorrow?' 'What are we going to do?' And the bureau was just part of that big answer to that big question. They didn't want to leave any stitch undone," he says.

The plan has worked. Greencastle is healthy. There is a great diversity of industries, businesses and private enterprises. The city is no longer as dependent upon one industry as it was six years ago. It would be easy for leaders to sit back, smile and say "well done," but they're still busy working to ensure Greencastle's future. There's a new plan in place and there are new strategies.

Phil Junker, director of the Greencastle Development Center, says, "From an economic-development perspective one always needs to be looking to the future, always attempting to attract new business, and we'll be doing that, but our focus now is going to be more of a focus of supporting existing business and industry, to help them mature and nurture them to keep them here as healthy prosperous businesses." Up to 85 percent of the new jobs created in a community come from existing businesses and industry, Junker notes. The Greencastle Chamber of Commerce also is working with small businesses to help them deal with the changing business climate and to effectively serve their changed community.

Quality of life issues are at the forefront. The city is busy "investing in the community," Harmless explains. New sidewalks are being built, new street lights and fire hydrants are being installed, storm and sanitary sewer improvements are being made, child-care services are being expanded and affordable housing for low-income families is being addressed.

"We're dealing with all of the issues that are here, because we continue to remember that the key to our success in the past was that this was a great place to live and work and raise your family. We have to continue to identify all those issues," Harmless says.

The community's many volunteers also are still at work. The "2000 by 2000" committee was formed after a storm roared through Greencastle, destroying 1,000 trees. Its goal is to plant 200 trees each year by the year 2000. There's a Clean City Committee that has managed to get 70 percent participation in a voluntary recycling program, and volunteers created a SPARK program to provide organized fun for children in the city park during the summer. A church group sees that those children have breakfast every morning before play.

Those are just a few of the volunteer efforts of the community. "It's caring people genuinely helping other people," Harmless says. That's the real key to Greencastle's miraculous recovery.
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Title Annotation:Regional Report: Terre Haute & Western Indiana; small Indiana town
Author:Hopkins, Marjorie
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Previous Article:Not just another printer.
Next Article:Western Indiana update.

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