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Top business stories: Southwest Indiana update.

Ask officials in Southwest Indiana about economic-development success stories during the past year and you'll hear a pause before the answer. Which billion-dollar project, they ponder, should they talk about first?

To say it's been a boom year in the region would be a dramatic understatement. Indeed, it's been one major success after another for the counties in Southwest Indiana, and there's more to come. With such major plants locating in one region, there's no question that spin-off businesses will follow. At this point, the only issue to where to put all the new companies.

"What you have is a region that's getting ready to explode with opportunity," says Tom Utter, executive director of the Lincolnland Economic Development Corp. in Spencer County.


* Toyota Motor Manufacturing's billion-dollar pickup truck plant isn't even open yet and already there's talk of expansion. Automotive Week reported in April that Toyota is considering building Lexus vehicles at the same plant following a "phase two" expansion. Toyota spokeswoman Anne Courter terms the report only "speculation," but Gibson County officials remain understandably optimistic.

* AK Steel Corp. announced it would build its $1.1 billion high-tech steel-finishing plant in Spencer County, hiring 410 workers at start of production.

* Waupaca Foundry in Perry County only started construction in January and already has announced plans to double the size of the facility to 318,000 square feet for $80 million.

* Grain Processing Corp. of Muscatine, Iowa, likes a site in Daviess County for its $250 million, 500-worker grain-processing plant.

All of these plants plus dozens of others that in "off years" would look like major developments have turned the Evansville region into one of the country's hottest for economic development, according to the editors of the Kiplinger Washington newsletter.

One thing missing is a decent north-south interstate connection, and local officials are speeding along with their efforts to get Interstate 69 extended from Indianapolis to Texas, a project that would begin as a link from Evansville to Indianapolis.

Now one of the major problems in Southwest Indiana - arguably a good problem to have - is where to find enough workers.

"Workforce availability continues to be a major issue down here," says Matt Wirth, director of the Pike County Economic Growth Council.


As the hub of the bustling region, Evansville has seen record growth in business development, hotel construction and retail stores.

Much of the growth had been tied to the arrival of Casino Aztar, which recently completed its huge luxury hotel complex on the Evansville riverfront. But even considering those 1,300 downtown jobs, the region's growth really has no center.

With a diverse workforce (32 percent white-collar, 27 percent blue-collar, 16 percent technical and 16 percent clerical) the widespread growth in existing businesses has meant the most to the Evansville economy.

Now add to that the huge regional projects, especially the Toyota plant 10 miles up U.S. 41, and local officials are beaming.

A major problem now is finding enough workers for the many lower-paying jobs now available as the existing workforce has "moved up" to better paying employment.

Among the employers expanding recently are Whirlpool Corp., Bristol-Myers Squibb, T.J. Maxx and the city's three hospitals, all of which completed expansion or remodeling projects in the last 12 months.

Eastland Mall also completed a major addition and renovation, adding dozens of new stores, including Famous Barr. Elder-Beerman joined the city's other mall, Washington Square.

The county's north side is aiming to be the next growth center because of its proximity to Toyota and the new Azteca Milling Co. plant. Azteca, a Mexican company, makes flour used in corn chips, tortillas, grits and cereals. The $40 million plant will hire 150 workers immediately, generating an annual payroll of $2.6 million. It also will buy $15 million worth of locally grown corn.

The north side is growing so fast that the Holiday Inn Express motel at Interstate 64 and U.S. 41 plans to increase its capacity 50 percent after being open less than a year.


Warrick County continues to develop as both an upscale suburban residential community for Evansville and as an economic-development force in its own right. As home to Alcoa's sprawling Warrick Operations and its 2,600 workers, the impact of Warrick County is clear.

With its population up another 11.5 percent from 1990 to 1996, it's clear that more people are selecting Warrick County and especially scenic Newburgh as their home address.

James Holderread, the county's director of economic development, points to high-quality planned developments such as the new Quail Crossing that combine high-quality home sites with golf and picturesque lakes and streams. As the region's average income goes up, there's a brisk trade-up going on for residential property, and Warrick County is right in the middle of it.

And there's no shortage of economic development, either. The new 69-acre Warrick County Industrial Park already is filling with tenants, among them American Cold Storage, an 83,000-square-foot frozen-food warehouse employing 20, and Packit Container, a small company that specializes in short runs of specialty containers and boxes.

In other areas of the county, Holderread notes American Enviro Services has opened its environmental services and oil-reclamation plant in the Warrick Research and Industrial Park near Newburgh, which also is home to a new facility for Evansville Concrete.

And ITT Tech recently completed its new vocational school at the Lloyd Expressway and I-164, near Evansville's east side.


There's no doubt the economic-development prize goes to AK Steel Corp., which announced that the nation's largest industrial project in 1996 would come to Rockport.

AK Steel's Rockport Works will churn out fiat-rolled steel and employ more than 400 workers full-time when production starts in 1998. Equally as important are the hundreds of construction and trade jobs created by the plant's construction.

Tom Utter, who heads the county's development efforts, says the spinoff companies already are starting to locate in Spencer County.

"Our struggle is we don't have enough places prepared to put them," he said. The new Lincolnland Commercial Industrial Park, a 278-acre parcel served by U.S. 231, is under construction to help provide some places for the new companies.

There's really no way for a county with 19,400 residents to prepare for a billion-dollar plant, but Spencer County is doing its best, trying for controlled growth.

"Less than one out of a thousand communities get this chance to go from underdeveloped to a position of being able to design its future and to work with surrounding communities to add value to this entire region," he says. "If we don't plan for it, it will still happen but it will be less than a maximized opportunity for everyone. If you just let it happen it could be a real mess. Can we educate and motivate the communities to make it happen right? That's the challenge now."


Construction had barely begun on the new Waupaca Foundry, said to be the most modern foundry in the world, and already the company was planning an expansion.

Such is the luck of economic-development officials in Perry County, who have weathered the loss of such major industries as Maxon Marine and Tell City Chair Co. yet wound up in great shape overall.

"I think what's happening in our region is proving we're a player in economic development," says Greg Wathen, director of the Perry County Development Corp.

"We understand what it takes to deliver services to companies that size. And it put Perry County on the map in that it's increased our activity. When companies inquire about this region we can mention Waupaca, Toyota, AK Steel - everyone has heard of one of these companies."

To help prepare for supporting companies and suppliers, the new 318-acre Perry County Industrial Park Riverview is being completed with a million-gallon water tower, water and gas lines and a rail spur. The site is unique in that four utilities have agreed to supply its power and share the proceeds - they are Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Co., Tell City Electric, Hoosier Energy and Southern Indiana REC.

More than 400 building permits were issued in Perry County in 1996, an "unbelievable" number for a small county, Wathen says. One of those was to Indiana Pine, a new sawmill that's bucking the hardwood tradition of the region and instead making dimensional lumber and other products from pine. The $1.2 million plant already has 24 workers.

The Perry County Development Corp. and the town of Tell City also has opened a port at the former Maxon Marine barge-building site. "We're one of the few places where rail touches water in Southern Indiana," Wathen says.


The economic lifeblood of Pike County remains deep in the coal seams of Southwest Indiana, and with all of the demand for power in the region, the future appears bright.

"Our existing businesses are sustaining themselves quite well," says Matt Wirth, director of the Pike County Economic Growth Council. "Actually we're sustaining and growing a little bit."

The two main coal industries in the county, Solar Sources and Kindill Mining, are doing well. "But obviously the coal industry is cyclical, so we're always concerned with the ups and downs of that," he says.

Another cyclical business is aluminum, and two local smelting companies, Four Star and Star Metals, also are doing well.

The county and the Growth Council are developing their first industrial park on 60 acres south of Petersburg. "We hope to attract some suppliers to Toyota and some of the other major industries that have located in the region," he says.


Daviess County hit a home run when it landed the $250 million Grain Processing Corp., plant for Washington.

In addition to the 150 people it will hire to start, the plant itself uses a huge amount of corn - 94 tons per hour - that will give regional farmers a great boost.

With the exception of its grain-processing plant, Daviess County's economic growth has focused on steady growth of its existing industries. David Cox, director of the Daviess County Growth Council, ticks them off like a proud parent with a winning report card.

Hoosier Magnetics, an iron-ferrite powder producer, launched new product lines and has 15 workers; Tokheim, which recently merged with a French pump company to become the world's largest pump producer, has 150 workers now; Spectrum Manufacturing, which makes fire nozzles, plans to add a second shift within the year; Graber Post Building and Daviess County Metals have both added new buildings and reinvested in their plants.


In Posey County, the bustling Southwind Maritime Center has become even more busy with the addition of the $175 million Conagra soybean processing and packaging plant that is under construction. The plant is to be in operation by harvest time in 1998 and employ 226 workers to start.

Also at Southwind, Consolidated Grain and Barge is building a second soybean plant, a $35 million operation to crush beans, says Nancy Gibson Burns, director of the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce.

Another major employer, B&M Plastics, is adding another 120,000 square feet of warehousing and small manufacturing space.

GE Plastics, the county's largest employer with 1,600 workers at its sprawling plant, is making plans to ride the coming boom in DVD production. The new "Digital Versatile Discs" are widely expected to replace videotapes and CD-ROMs in the next few years. GE Plastics already is a leader in production of Lexan stock used for CD audio and CD-ROMs for computers.


In Dubois County they're celebrating a new plant in nearby Crawford County. But it's for a good reason - hometown company Jasper Engine and Transmission is building a new gas engine plant there this year.

Nancy Eckerle, executive director of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce, says Jasper Engine looked outside of Dubois County to take advantage of a new labor base. The company already employs 1,000 workers at its area operations, so going outside of the county was a good move from that standpoint.

Indiana Furniture Industries, formerly Indiana Desk Co., recently began work on a new addition to its laminating plant in Dubois County to go with its name change. It will be completed this year.

And tiny Ferdinand is developing and improving an industrial park on Interstate 64 to get it ready for an expected influx of suppliers for Toyota and AK Steel.


One of the major accomplishments for Vincennes has been finally getting permission to tear down a long-term community eyesore.

The Allied Signal/Prestolite factory has been vacant for 10 years but its demolition was mired in legal red tape and environmental cleanups. Now that these matters have been settled, the 24-acre site should be cleared and ready for development this summer, says Dave Kiefer, executive director of the Vincennes Area Chamber of Commerce.

There have been other spots of good news, not the least of which is the location of the Toyota plant in nearby Gibson County. Auto supplier Vincennes Manufacturing Co., which took over manufacturing steel framing for vehicle seats when Johnson Controls left town, is doing well and looking to become a supplier to the plant.

Good Samaritan Hospital has transformed itself into a regional medial center, adding a new pavilion and upping employment to about 1,500. Goodwill Industries has announced plans to build a 150,000-square-foot center there, and Lewis Bakeries has been hiring workers.

On the city's booming east side there's been a new Wal-Mart Supercenter, a multiscreen movie theater, a new car dealership and other retail development on the newly widened Hart Street.


As expected, most of the focus this year in Princeton has been getting things ready for the massive Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana plant now under roof off U.S. 41 south of town.

Helen Hauke, executive director of the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce, says Toyota's office workers, which will number about 200, will move into the plant in September. There will be another 1,100 plant workers joining them once the plant opens in mid-1998.

On site now are up to 1,000 construction workers crawling all over the huge site. Just the influx of trade labor has made quite an impact on tiny Gibson County and neighboring Evansville.

"We're just seeing a lot of activity out there," she says. "It's really exciting."

There's constant talk of spin-off business and industry coming to the area, which already has seen two new hotels and several restaurants. Housing activity is brisk in Princeton, Fort Branch, Haubstadt and the north side of Vanderburgh County as workers look for new homes.

"I think everyone in Southwest Indiana is going to really feel the impact of what is happening here," Hauke says.


With so much of picturesque Martin County taken up by the Hoosier National Forest and the Crane Naval Weapons Center, there aren't any huge projects in the works.

"When it comes to major industry we just don't get them," says Jolene McAtee, executive secretary of the Martin County Chamber of Commerce. But what is happening is a slow but steady increase in tourism and a growing list of one-owner businesses being established in the county.

The town of Loogootee has launched a renovation of its downtown, which already has seen some buildings demolished to make way for new development. The town is wooing one corporate client for a factory expansion, but a decision is months away.
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Author:Derk, James
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 1997
Previous Article:Interactive intelligence.
Next Article:Evansville.

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