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Southeastern Indiana update.

For some communities in Southeastern Indiana, an appropriate movie title for the past year might have been, "Recovery--Now you see me, now you don't." For others, it was more like, "Recession! What recession?"

But the underlying theme of the year in general was one of cooperation, networking and regionalization.

Both PSI Energy and Indiana Gas Co. have been working with individual counties to survey local corporations and develop long-term strategic options to enhance growth. Also, The Richmond-Wayne County Small Business Development Center reached out to Union, Fayette and Rush counties with a full-time staff person in Connersville.

A meeting in March there led to the creation of the Whitewater Regional Economic Council, an economic development grouping that includes Rush, Fayette, Franklin, Union and Wayne counties. The Indiana Department of Commerce gave the group $50,000 in seed-grant money as part of its effort to encourage more regional economic-development cooperation.

Another such group further south has not yet received a name. It's being coordinated through the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission office in Versailles and involves seven counties, says Bill Mountsier, executive director of the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce. Mountsier is on the steering committee.

On an individual county level, Bob Bostic, executive director of the Greensburg Area Chamber of Commerce, talks about cooperation between business and government being the key to Decatur County's success. The county is coming off five years in which six plants were built. It is consistently ranked in the bottom third in joblessness, with the lowest rate in the region.

"A lot of the new industry we've been able to entice in here since '87 has been because the city of Greensburg, county officials and the Greensburg Area Chamber of Commerce have had a good working relationship," Bostic says.

Many of those new companies are now expanding. For example, GECOM, which makes automotive door, hood, trunk and gas latches, started in 1987 with 80 employees. Now, it has more than 600. That includes an addition of about 75 jobs in the past year and completion of an 81,000-square-foot plant expansion.

Another, Valeo Engine Cooling, a French automotive parts firm that purchased Blackstone a few years ago, was at a staff of 180 last year. Now, it has more than 400 employees.

ML-KS, formerly Bohn Aluminum, was purchased in 1991 as a joint venture between German and Brazilian owners. It now employs 275 people. "They have been in the midst of a $40 million expansion over 1992 and 1993," Bostic says. "That money involves facility, machinery and work force. They are a maker of bearings for automotive uses."

Delta Faucet Co., the world's largest faucet maker and Greensburg's largest employer at about 1,000 workers, has begun production of two new lines in the last two years. A 30,000-square-foot plant expansion was completed in anticipation that production would double on that line in 1993.

Other manufacturing expansions include Woodmizer and Dri-Clime/Omni Group. But manufacturing hasn't claimed all the glory.

GTE gets the nod for the most significant commercial venture. It chose Greensburg as the site for its Emergency 911 headquarters for a 10-state area. The investment had created 28 jobs by mid-December.

Ron Sowder, 1993 board president of the Rush County Industrial Development Corp., says cooperation between business and government also has benefitted Rushville, culminating in the arrival and continuous expansion of two Japanese companies there over the past five years. That's helped it recover from the loss of the Schnadig Furniture Co. and its 500 jobs in 1987.

The biggest news in the past year there, however, was the closing of the 135-year-old Rushville National Bank by federal regulators Dec. 18, and the bank's subsequent sale to Peoples Trust Co. of Brookville. Bank chairman Donald E. Hedrick, who was accused of improper banking practices, was suspended from banking Nov. 15.

Rush County Chamber of Commerce executive director Dan Drexler notes that since Peoples already has a couple of branches in the county, the local reaction was not as severe to December's action by the FDIC. "Had it been an outside bank, it probably would have caused more of a scare. I think that played into their decision. So banking will go on as usual. This just means Peoples Trust will be a bigger player here."

One of the most significant events in the region in the past year was the announcement by Batesville Casket Co. that it would build a 175,000-square-foot, $10.4 million Customer Business Center on 16 acres near Indiana 46. The facility will serve 16,000 funeral-director customers and house new administrative offices for the company. Ground was broken on the project in July. It is expected to be complete late this fall.

Vicki Kellerman of the Batesville Economic Development office says not only has the casket company had a good year, but its sister company Hill-Rom has continued to grow and add to its product lines. Both are divisions of Hillenbrand Industries, the region's largest employer at about 3,700 people.

Elsewhere in the city, Batesville Tool & Die, the community's second largest employer, is back to full production levels and staffing as effects of the recession have subsided.

In Jefferson and Switzerland counties perhaps the biggest economic boon was across the Ohio River in Carroll County, Ky. Gary Scott, executive director of the Community Development Corp. there, says a number of the jobs being created by the opening of a new $200 million plant by North American Stainless are being filled by Hoosiers.

In Madison, Grote Industries is edging strongly back toward its record employment level of 800 employees in 1988. It was at about 720 at the end of 1992. It's the largest employer in town. Company president Bill Grote says business was up in general at the automotive reflective lamp products manufacturer, which serves the truck, recreational vehicle and trailer markets. A big customer is Ford Motor Co., which fared well coming out of the recession.

Madison Precision Products, a partnership between Teisan Industries of Japan and Shelby Die Casting, added 25 employees in December. That gave it a staff of 155. The plant completed addition of 30,000 square feet of manufacturing space in April 1991. Primary products are automotive rocker arms and cam holders, but MPP also makes components for fuel pumps and starters as well as frames for car radios. The company plans to add more die-casting machines and about 20 employees in 1993.

In Connersville, the past year continued to present the community with challenges because of unemployment rates that topped state jobless rankings. One of the toughest, however, was one accepted by the two unions at Stant Manufacturing to keep the plant from closing down and production from moving to Dixon, Ill., where a newly acquired plant was located.

Instead, the Dixon plant closed and the Connersville plant took on 42 percent more in production goals, with no additional workers. That work is expected to be successfully and completely absorbed by March. In the meantime, the company invested about $500,000 in new equipment at the plant in 1992.

Matt Boyd, executive director of the Fayette County Industrial Development Corp., also points out that Ford Electronics and Refrigeration, the region's second-largest employer at about 3,500 people, for the first time in about three years did not go on full holiday plant shutdown.

In Lawrenceburg, Pierson Hollowell closed in mid-1992, shutting down both its veneer plant and sawmill and terminating 130 employees. However, 40 of those jobs were saved when the sawmill was sold and reopened.

Local businesses doing well include Stedman Foundries, which is building a new office building, and a branch plant of Anchor Glass. "So there are those little bright touches throughout the area that we're encouraged by," says the chamber's Mountsier.

"In reality, I think people have gotten comfortable with the economy and decided it's OK to move. I don't know it's anything we've done other than to point out the convenience of the nearby Cincinnati market."
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Title Annotation:Regional Report: Southeast; business climate
Author:Mogollon, Carlos David
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:Where does your recycled office paper go?
Next Article:Rushville: "the road to success is always under construction." (Rushville, Indiana) (Regional Report: Southeast)

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