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We're number two!

We're Number Two!

Surrounded by serious regional economic distress, Muncie is basking in the glow of real economic growth, moderate unemployment and big employer investment.

Muncie ranks number two in the nation in job growth, according to 1990 year-end figures compiled by Arizona State University's Economic Outlook Center. Such an outstanding statistic is an amazing achievement for an area ranked 189th nationally in job growth just a year and a half earlier. Obviously, some great stuff has been happening in this jewel of Eastern Indiana.

Just how did Muncie and Delaware County go from 15 percent unemployment and the loss of 5,000 jobs in the early 1980s to the present enviable situtation? Russ Sloan, president of the Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, says it happened through the determination and grit of local leaders who realized that the area was going to have to help itself.

Late in 1984, the people in the city and county formed the area's first-ever organization to raise funds solely for job development. Called Horizon '91 and administered by the chamber, its basic goal was creating 6,000 new jobs for the area by the end of 1991. During the past five years, about 250 local businesses and foundations have kicked in about $3 million, no strings attached, for job development.

At the end of 1990, total employment was at 55,200. That's the highest employment number ever in the history of Delaware County. The figures include 5,000 jobs regained from losses in the early 1980s plus the creation of more than 5,000 more through Horizon '91. With an average value per job of $16,500, the 5,000-plus new jobs represent nearly $90 million of personal income added to the economy of the Muncie-Delaware County area.

Sloan also says Muncie is one of the few cities in the country that has not continued to lose its manufacturing base. In fact, the area actually has gained slightly from the early 1980s. Dire economic projections at that time indicated the area would have only 8,500 factory jobs by this time, but the figure at the end of 1990 was 11,500.

Muncie also has grown in service jobs. But as Sloan puts it, "You don't create an economic development program and instantly jobs happen. It's a cumulative thing. Each year, it gets better and better. Our successes here are from a five-year effort, the work of many, many people."

Historically, economic troubles in Eastern Indiana have been among the first ndicators of nationwide recession, due for the most part of a heavy dependence on automotive-related industry. But even as recently as year-end 1990, the Midwest and Indiana were still in better shape than most of the rest of the nation, according to data and analysis from economist John J. Carter of the Bureau of Business Research at Ball State University in Muncie.

That the Muncie area so far has bucked the historical economic slump is due in part to the fact that so many medium-sized companies already have "trimmed the fat" and have become more efficient. Growth has been in small-and medium-sized companies--no single big company has moved in with lots of new jobs in one place.

"Eighty percent of job growth usually comes from existing businesses. Our second priority is new business," says Sloan.

The Muncie area's three biggest turnaround stories of the last few years were greatly encouraged and influenced by the economic development leaders in Horizon '91. The success stories involve Borg-Warner Automotive Inc., which employs 2,200; ABB Power T&D Co., employing about 900; and New Venture Gear, with about 1,200. In each instance, the top decision-makers could have chosen another corporate location for reinvestment, but all three chose to stay and regroup in the Muncie area.

There are other large employers in Muncie that contribute to the community's economic stability and financial growth. One of these is Ball Corp., a manufacturer of packaging, industrial and consumer products as well as aerosplace systems. Ball employs approximately 650 in Muncie and 12,000 nationwide at facilities in 22 states.

Ball State University, another major local employer with nearly 2,300 employees, is on a strong grwoth curve. Student enrollment has increased steadily over the past few year to nearly 19,000. And with that kind of enrollment comes the need for hundreds more staff, faculty and support personnel.

Yet another large employer with years of stability and steady growth behind it is Ball Memorial Hospital. With about 2,200 employees, the hospital is rapidly expanding its community services with the construction of a new $20 million facility to house outpatient services and a variety of medical offices. It is to be completed this year.

A fledgling new economic grwoth area is tourism. The business of promoting Muncie and Delaware County is growing quickly and is beginning to have a strong impact.

Some 282,000 overnight visitors pumped an estimated $91.6 million into the local economy in 1989 through spending on lodging, food and incidentals.

Why the heck do all these folks come to Muncie? Mostly, they come for amateur sports events. Many are Ball State sports fans, but Muncie is also home to several softball and bowling tournaments. It also hosts the Muncie Endurathon, one of the national qualifiers for the Ironman Triathlon.

Since 1983, the Muncie/Delaware County Convention & Visitors Bureau has been leading the way. Present director is Victoria Veach. The bureau is a by-product of the Delaware County Convention & Tourism Commission, which was created by an act of the Indiana General Assembly in 1983 and is funded by a 5 percent bed tax.

By 1989, the new Horizon Convention Center, the new Minnetrista Cultural Center and the Muncie Area Attractions Committee had all pooled their promotional resources with those of the bureau for strong cooperative advertising and visitor service programs. Future promotional efforts will be seeking to expand the concept of the "I-69 Cultural Corridor," which stretches between Indianapolis and Auburn. This will involve the 19-county East Central Indiana Tourism Council.

So what does the future hold for Muncie and Delaware County? The chamber's Sloan says there's no way to forecast problems the recession might bring, but he says Horizon '91 is going ahead with a new development plan defining the goals for future economic grwoth. The details are not yet finalized, but Sloan calls it a fresh approach that may be the most comprehensive plan of its kind in any Indiana county. It is to be a plan for all of Delaware County, involving each community in the county.

One definite boost to Delaware County will be the upcoming relocation from Reston, Va., of the 173,000-member Academy of Model Aeronautics. According to Sloan, model aeronautics is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the country, so the AMA project may well become one of the county's greatest economic assets in the next few years. In the short term, the benefits will come from the construction and tourism dollars it will generate. Sloan hopes it also will lure ohter types of model-hobby associations. Down the road, it could even attract small components manufacturers to Delaware County to take advantage of the large customer base.

This spring will see the ground-breaking at the AMA's first permanent competition site, a 30,000-square-foot museum and a national headquarters building on a 930-acre parcel of land just southeast of Muncie. The organization is investing $1.5 million for the site and another $10 million in buildings and improvements over the next three to five years. The project is anticipated to generate more than $12 million a year in tourism and create about 50 new jobs.

Economic growth and the fever to spend and to improve seem to be infectious in Muncie right now. In addition to the aforementioned "big guys," a number of small businesses also are growing and expanding their markets, partly as a result of the general economic climate of the area, and partly because there are many local development programs and incentives available to them. Public improvements and services also have been spurred on, such as the new and improved Muncie Indiana Transit System bus station, a new $4.8 million city hall under construction, the new four-lane link to Interstate 69 via Indiana 332, planned expansions to the Horizon Convention Center and Muncie Children's Museum--the list goes on.

Recession or not, the way things look in early 1991, the Muncie "horizon" is the one to watch. Notes Mark A. Sturgis, vice president of ADM Commercial Properties in Muncie, "When you read the newspaper, you see a doom-and-gloom description of the economy, but when you walk outside your door, you see the beginning of what appears to be a major growth ear in Muncie."
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Title Annotation:report on job growth and employment in Muncie, Indiana
Author:Huggler, Katherine
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Previous Article:Selling Eastern Indiana; development agencies look to region's future.
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