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Jeffersonville: the sunny side of Louisville.

Jeffersonville The Sunny Side of Louisville

Across the Ohio River loom the dark-windowed skyscrapers of Louisville. On a clear day, southbound motorists on Interstate 65 see the imposing towers long before they reach the first Jeffersonville exit.

Small though it may be, the Southern Indiana city maintains an optimistic attitude. In fact, more than an attitude: Jeffersonville maintains itself as a vital asset in the metropolitan Louisville region.

Historic storefronts nestle together along Spring Street while brick mansions dating back to the early part of the century line Riverside Drive overlooking the Ohio River. Among the parks, golf courses and quiet neighborhoods lies a thriving economy. Within the past year, more than $26 million in new investments and 400 new jobs have come into the city.

Greg Fitzloff, director of the Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce, attributes Jeffersonville's growth to formation of the Southern Indiana Economic Development Council three years ago. Now the chamber assists existing businesses in the area, and the council promotes the area to new businesses. "We now can double the amount of resources," he says.

Up the riverbank spreads JeffBoat, the largest inland shipbuilder in North America. Down the river is Colgate-Palmolive Co., a manufacturing and distribution center. Across town is Kitchen Kompact Inc., maker of kitchen cabinets, and Hillerich & Bradsby, maker of the Louisville Slugger hardwood baseball bats.

This spring, Idemitsu Kosan, Japan's largest oil company, announced plans to build an oil-blending facility at the Clark Maritime Center in Jeffersonville. The $15 million project marks the company's first investment in the United States. The 40-acre facility will begin operation in 1993 with 32 new jobs, with the potential for 120 jobs by 1995.

"They will be a real drawing power," Jeffersonville Mayor Dale Orem says, explaining that now more foreign companies may look to Southern Indiana as they consider expanding or relocating.

When courting businesses to build in Jeffersonville, Brian de St. Croix, director of the Southern Indiana Economic Development Council, says the council first shows the company how it can profit by moving into the area.

One unique quality Jeffersonville has to offer businesses centers is its proximity to Louisville. Companies can order goods and services from Louisville manufacturers without having to move into the large urban area. Company employees, furthermore, can choose from an array of leisure activities in Jeffersonville as well as Louisville.

"Jeffersonville has the ability to offer the best of both worlds," Fitzloff says, the world of a small town and that of a large city. "People can take advantage of both worlds as they so desire." Instead of trying to form a separate identity from the northern Kentucky city, Jeffersonville cooperates with New Albany and Clarksville as well as Louisville to form Greater Louisville. "We're a region," Orem says. "We better realize we're a region. The bridge (across the Ohio River) goes in two directions."

Four times a year the mayors from the three cities along with the Clarksville town council president meet to discuss various issues and concerns. Orem believes this has enabled the political leadership of the region to work together "very harmoniously."

Another advantage Jeffersonville offers businesses also doubles as the area's biggest headache. Traveling south on I-65 across the John F. Kennedy Bridge over the Ohio leads to the junction of Interstates 64 and 71, making Jeffersonville ideal for companies that rely on surface transportation. This stretch of road, however, contains some of the oldest links in the interstate system and, consequently, some of the most poorly designed, making it prone to accidents and traffic jams.

"This metropolis is absolutely paralyzed if the Kennedy (Bridge) is down for two hours," says Mike Sodrel, chairman of the Southern Indiana Transportation Committee.

Two possible cures for the roadway ills, according to Sodrel, include building an alternate route alongside I-65, and constructing a new bridge. Currently, Interstate 265 is being extended from I-65 to Indiana 62, where it will be very near the entrance to the Clark Maritime Center. When the extension is finished, I-265 will lie about five miles directly across the river from the Gene Snyder Freeway in Kentucky, making the area an ideal place for a new bridge.

Occasional traffic tangles aside, Fitzloff explains that an industry employing 50 to 200 workers fits better into Jeffersonville than an industry employing 1,000 workers because the smaller industry won't change the atmosphere of the small town.

Once a business settles in Jeffersonville, the courtship doesn't cease. "(We treat) those existing companies at least as well as those new businesses coming in," Fitzloff says. "As those companies stay and expand in the area, well, that's certainly our best selling point."

Shopkeepers also receive attention from the chamber of commerce. Fitzloff says, as with the larger companies, the chamber takes an active role by continually asking the store owners what they need to operate successful small businesses. Fitzloff believes communication is more important to the small business than to the large industry.

An array of small businesses line Jeffersonville's streets. Grocery stores and pharmacies stand beside such distinctive retailers as the century-old Schmipff's Confectionery, known for its cinnamon red hots, and the Jubilee Gallery that features unique handcrafted gifts.

In 1989 Jeffersonville Mainstreet Inc. reorganized and now works with store owners in the historic district to help them restore their facades to their original appearances.

"There's a cohesive organized effort to revitalize the downtown," says Mike Dollase, south regional director of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. "It's seeing a lot of support from various aspects of the community."

The city has a rich history. The area was settled in the late 1700s with the construction of Fort Finney on the riverfront, near where the Kennedy Bridge stands now. Jeffersonville was formally organized as the seat of Clark County in 1802, and was named after President Thomas Jefferson, who drew a plan for the settlement at the request of Territorial Gov. William Henry Harrison.

The county seat moved upriver to Charlestown in 1812, but returned to Jeffersonville in 1878 because Jeffersonville had grown much more quickly than Charlestown. It was the steamboat industry that fueled the city's growth. Several local investors built the 700-ton United States in 1819, and in 1848 James Howard founded the Howard Shipyard, which turned out ships including the Mark Twain, the Robert E. Lee II and the Glendy Burke.

The region also is rich in natural history, and Clarksville Riverfront Foundation is spearheading revitalization in that area. The Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area, about 900 acres in and around the river, consists of fossil beds of fish and wildlife.

"I call it the Grand Canyon of the Midwest," says James P. Keith, executive director of the Southern Indiana Convention and Tourism Bureau.

The "Falls" is actually a series of rapids in the river. With the completion of an interpretive center, visitors will learn how the fossils and falls were formed.

Apart from recapturing its past, Jeffersonville plans to capitalize on its location on the Ohio River. "I look at it as sort of having a Lake Monroe in your front yard," Orem says.

Ground already has been broken on a major riverfront development project, which will restructure the west end of the city's riverbank. When it is completed, the $138 million RiverPointe, the largest construction project in Southern Indiana's history, will be worth 25 percent of the community's total assessed valuation. The development will include apartments, condominiums and office structures as well as two restaurants built around the existing Ramada Hotel. Indianapolis-based DeMars Haka Development Co. is the project's developer.

"Since the day I was elected I've been working on this project and that's no exaggeration," says Orem, who first won office in 1983.

The local Hughes Development Co. intends to construct a marina up the shoreline from the riverfront development. The marina will give weekend boaters place to dock while sightseeing in Jeffersonville.

In the shadow of the skyscrapers, history, large industry, small business and the Ohio River combine to give Jeffersonville a sunny future. As Orem says, with a smile spreading across his face, "We just think we got a great quality of life here."
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Spotlight: Regional Report South
Author:Odendahl, Marilyn
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:Not "Fail" safe.
Next Article:What are the odds?

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