Economic Development Corporation announces plans for new business park near Markland

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In the past 30 years, state statistics show that Switzerland County has lost about 600 manufacturing jobs. Although the announcement by the Switzerland County Economic Development Commission of a new business park near the Markland Dam doesn’t guarantee a return of those jobs, it does provide some positive feelings for the future.

“This county has lost 600 manufacturing jobs since 1970,” Switzerland County Economic Development president Jon Bond said in announcing the new venture. “This park probably can’t replace those, but if we can get 400 jobs, it would help bring back a sense of community in terms of economic and industrial development.”

The 117-acre tract of land sits just east of the Markland Dam on the north side of State Road 156. The property is currently owned by Roy and Sharon Patterson, and the Economic Development Commission officially made a down payment on the property in July.

“Basically, the county council authorized the down payment,” Jon Bond said. “We took the down payment out of already existing economic development funds, but we wanted the county council to officially authorize the money being spent. We’re at a point now where we’re spending money, so obviously the council needs to be a part of those decisions.”

WORKING STEPS

The process of developing a business park – also called an industrial park – is a complicated one. For some time the Economic Development Commission has been working to identify potential sites; and once some sites were targeted, such things as engineering studies, feasibility studies, surveys, and other technical work had to be done.

The next step in the process is for the Economic Development Commission to hold a public meeting in order to hear from the community about its thoughts on the development of such a project.

That public meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 16th, at 6 p.m. in the Switzerland County Courthouse.

“The meeting will actually be run by the county’s Redevelopment Commission,” Jon Bond said. “That commission is the administrative arm through which this all happens, but the county council will have the final say.”

At the meeting, members of the public will have the opportunity to ask questions about the site and how it will be developed. Although there are some preliminary drawings and layouts being considered, no firm park design has been agreed to.

“The biggest question that people have is, ‘how will we pay for it?'” Jon Bond said. “Ultimately that will be up to the county. That question really has to be in their court. We feel that this property is going to pay huge dividends for the county in terms of attracting businesses and jobs here for the long term.”

Once the public hearing has been completed, the county has until the end of September to finalize the sale with the current landowners. Funding for the property could come from riverboat revenue funds or other sources available to the county. Those are questions that are still to be answered, only after the council give the final go ahead on completing the purchase.

WHY HERE? WHY NOW?

Jon Bond feels that now is the perfect time for Switzerland County to enter the race to attract business and industry to this area. With all of the economic growth going on around Southeastern Indiana, he feels that this county is positioned to bring businesses here that will provide stable employment over a number of years.

“Of the 117 acres, we feel that there are probably about 90 that are usable,” Jon Bond said. “That’s because we want to be very sensitive to our neighbors there. Businesses building in the park will need to allow some ‘buffer’ between them and the homeowners.”

Jon Bond said that the Economic Development Commission will be looking for business and industry that is interested in larger parcels of land – 10-30 acre lots; and also feels that the Switzerland County Business Park will have the luxury of being able to pick and choose the types of businesses that fit into the fabric of the community.

“You don’t want somebody who’s looking to cram as much as they can on a five acre lot,” Jon Bond said. “The design of this park is to move larger parcels of property.”

With the announcement that Honda will build a huge manufacturing facility near Greensburg, Jon Bond says that Switzerland County will get prime consideration from satellite industries that will be supplying parts to Honda.

“Those businesses won’t want to be too close to Honda, because Honda is expecting to employ 1,200 people, and they are talking about paying $25 per hour,” Jon Bond said. “Businesses supplying parts and services for Honda won’t want to get so close that they can’t find a work force, and Switzerland County is a perfect distance for those kinds of companies.”

Although the proposed Switzerland County site isn’t “Honda huge”, it will be the biggest site around this area. The industrial park in Jefferson County is all but filled and the county is considering another park; Ohio County’s park has 25 acres; and the park in Ripley County doesn’t have much room left.

Jon Bond sees the completion of the work on State Road 129 as a big lift for the park and potential businesses locating here; and has already been getting some calls from around the state and the nation about sites once word leaked out that it was being developed.

Jon Bond also feels that officials at the state level will be interested in trying to help attract jobs here; and feels that on a regional level, Switzerland County has a great story to tell.

“The state needs to look at our potential work force regionally,” Jon Bond said. “When you look at the number of potential employees we have on a regional level, we are very attractive for a potential business. Belterra currently draws its employees from an eight county area, and we feel that the same things will happen for employers in our business park.”

ADVANTAGE: SWITZERLAND COUNTY

After years of feeling forgotten at the state level, the development of a business park here comes with some definite advantages for Switzerland County.

First, the cost of labor here is generally low. Although one of the primary goals of the business park is to raise that pay level, Jon Bond says that even once it is raised by new employers, it will still be very manageable on a state and national scale.

Another benefit is what realtors talk about all the time: “location, location, location.”

“The number one selling point for us is something that we’ve never had before – logistics,” Jon Bond said. “We’re situated right between Cincinnati and Louisville, and we’ve got a highway ramp running right to us. I tell people at the state that we are closer to an international airport than Carmel is, and look at all of the growth that they are experiencing there.”

Another obvious benefit will be the completion of the spur road by the state of Kentucky that will connect the Markland Dam to Interstate 71. This will further open up Switzerland County and the new business park to potential businesses, because they will be able to easily move their product out of this area and into the rest of the country.

“The road from the Markland Dam to 71 will be huge,” Jon Bond said. “They say that September is the drop dead date for it to be finished, but I’ve looked around up there and there’s not a lot left to do. Once that opens up, things will really begin to happen. We probably wouldn’t have moved forward so quickly had that road not been there.”

With calls already coming in, the Economic Development Commission figures to be in a position along with the county and other entities of being able to “interview” prospective businesses to make sure that they are a good fit for the county and the citizenry. The location will be attractive to many businesses, so the county may be able to afford to be a little “picky.”

“Our initial goal is for the property to support 400 jobs in the next 10 years,” Jon Bond said. “And we’re looking for the right type of industry. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘no’ to the wrong type of business.”

What the county won’t want to happen is for a business to take up a large parcel of the property, but have a very small employee base. The Economic Development Commission and the Redevelopment Commission are going to make sure that the county is getting a good return on jobs from any company locating here – but Jon Bond cautions that each business will be judged independently with an eye toward the future.

‘SHOVEL READY’

Because of his background of working with state officials, Jon Bond has a good handle on the types of locations and areas that potential businesses and that state are looking for.

For many companies looking to relocate to Indiana, their first call is to the State Economic Development office. If the Switzerland County site is well known in the state office, then this area becomes much more attractive and marketable.

Because of that, the state recently began an evaluation process of industrial and business parks around the state to see at what point they could be made ready to accommodate a new industry. The state evaluated every park in Indiana, but found only six sites that were deemed to be “shovel ready” – able to immediately be able to allow a business to begin construction.

“We think this will take a year to develop, but we think we can be deemed as ‘shovel ready’ by the state in six months,” Jon Bond said. “You can’t underestimate the fact that we’ve got a site. The real idea is to have enough land available so when the type of business you want comes along, you’re ready and you’re competitive.”

Jon Bond also feels that the state is pretty anxious for something to happen down in the southeastern corner of the state because of recent economic successes that have not included areas like Switzerland County.

One issue sure to raise its head is the availability of utilities to the new site – particularly water.

The Patriot Water Company has been working to improve and upgrade its overall system, and is in the process of securing a large grant to help with those upgrades. Until those are finished, the utility hasn’t been able to allow new customers onto the system, but most of those problems are in areas of the system other than where the new business park will be, according to Jon Bond.

“I think our timeline and their’s (Patriot Water Company’s) is about the same,” Jon Bond said. “Once they get the grant funds and that work done, we should be pretty close together. Right now, we’ve got the water. There’s nothing wrong with that leg of their service. Putting water in the site won’t affect Patriot’s other customers. We feel confident that utilities are not an issue; but if we don’t have them, we won’t close.”

A YEAR FROM NOW

If the business park receives final approval from the county and begins to develop, what will the site look like a year from now?

Jon Bond says that people will most likely see a single entrance into the facility so that it can be shown to potential businesses. Residents will also see a lot of work going on, from widening the water lines to putting in the beginnings of the sewer system. Because no final design for the property has been done, there is no reason to run sewer lines through areas that may or may not need them until a business in on board and ready to build.

Another consideration – albeit a long term one – is the possibility of the state extending State Road 101 off of the Markland Dam to the north to State Road 50 or beyond.

Should that happen, then the corridor running past the business park would be a busy one, because of the connection between Interstate 74 to the north and Interstate 71 to the south. That would mean that the Switzerland County park could become prime and valuable real estate for businesses; but the county wouldn’t want to have businesses sitting directly in the path of a new highway.

“If 101 ever comes along, it will have to go through here to get to the bridge,” Jon Bond said. “We’re giving that consideration in designing how things will lay in the park.”

What’s the main thing that people here will see with the new Switzerland County Business Park?

“I think the main thing is that people will see the county’s profile strengthened throughout this region,” Jon Bond said. “We’re going to be ready and we’re going to be competitive and we’re going to be attractive to potential businesses.”