After more than a decade leading the effort to bring economic development to Switzerland County, Jon Bond is stepping down at the President of the Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation.
Bond’s last day on the job will be at the end of May. He hasn’t yet determined what direction he’s going next.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Bond said. “It’s just time. That will be 13 years. Not the longest serving economic development person in Indiana — there’s people who have been around longer — but not a lot of them.”
Bond was working as the deputy commissioner of Indiana Workforce Development in Indianapolis when he came home to Switzerland County.
“We created the economic development corporation that year,” Bond said. “I was the first President of the corporation. I was actually the county council’s attorney at the time, also; I left that to do this.”
It was also a tense time both in Switzerland County and in the Statehouse, as attempts were made to pare back riverboat gaming revenues to the communities.
“It wasn’t the first time that they came after our money, but it was the first one where they tried to take all of it,” Bond laughed. “That was in 2005. I had just come in here after that.”
The creation of the Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation followed the arrival of Belterra Casino Resort by about five years, but the two go hand in hand.
“The opening line of the riverboat statute is ‘The purpose of this act is to benefit the people of Indiana by creating tourism and economic development,” Bond said. “That was the charge to all of these communities, to use this money and create jobs. Switzerland County had some catching up to do, initially, with roads and infrastructure and water and sewer; but right behind that was the actual trying to bring business in.”
The Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation consists of a board as well as Bond, and along with that is an ongoing plan and process that will continue after Bond leaves in late May.
“That’s what the next two months are for me, is figuring out who’s going to take over what tasks, in terms of, I’m working with the county in trying to figure out how they want to continue all of that stuff,” he said. “And it’s not just the Economic Development Corporation. The industrial park is actually run by the Redevelopment Commission, which is a county agency. That’s a whole separate organization.”
Although Bond is not an official part of the Redevelopment Commission, he has handled the organization’s operations since it has existed.
“I don’t know how they will want to operate now,” he said. “If they are going to want to do their own thing, or if they’re going to want to continue with the next person. They draw their own circle. They have a specific geographic area that they oversee — which happens to be the business park, in this case. Every community has a redevelopment area somewhere in their zone.”
The job of attracting business and industry to the park falls to the Economic Development Corporation, as things stand now. Its focus is bringing potential companies to consider the Markland Business Park, and then the Redevelopment Commission takes over, because its responsibility is setting the price of the lots and dealing with things like utilities.
“Typically, in terms of an incentive package, trying to lure them in, everybody’s got to work together on that,” Bond said. “They’re going to need utilities. They’re going to want help with taxes. The state’s going to be involved at that point. The electricity. Everybody’s going to be involved in that. There’s a whole lot of coordination that goes into those sorts of things. Those are big projects. There’s a whole lot of ‘fire drill stuff’ that goes into those projects. There’s no two the same. A lot of the work of this job is one at a time. As those needs come up, you put them together. You’re competing against other communities. Maybe they choose you, or maybe they don’t. You hope you’re in the running. You hope you get the opportunity to be in the running for one of those.”
The Markland Business Park was acquired by the county in 2007, but that was the conclusion of a long process.
“I was a sophomore in high school when that project started,” Bond said. “They did the study for that industrial park in 1992 originally. That originally started out of SWITZCOR. They had already done the one in Vevay, and they immediately went to vetting that land. That was already on the shelf when I got here. It predates Belterra. And the price tag on that project was very similar back then. It was a strange phenomenon. The real estate was cheaper but the utility cost was so much higher, because all of the utilities had to come from either Vevay or somewhere so much farther away. I remember at that time the price tag wasn’t all that different, so many of the feasibility numbers were very similar.”
The process of getting the property as “shovel ready” didn’t take long, because all of the processes that were involved in getting Belterra built ran through or near the Business Park, so Switzerland County was one of the very first communities in the state to hold that official “Shovel Ready” designation.
Currently there are three companies at the Business Park, which includes Duke Energy, who is in the space while the repairs are made to the generation station across State Road 156 on the east side of the Markland Dam.
There’s been a lot going on over the past 13 years, some of which probably went unnoticed by the general public.
“I remember the biggest concern in 2005 is that we didn’t have any water hook ups in the county,” Bond said. “That was the mass panic back in the day. Of course that problem resolved itself. I imagine most people don’t even remember that now, but back then that was such a concern.”
Bond also points to the expansion of Internet availability in the county as a positive, noting that there are now just “a handful” of residents in the county now who don’t have access to good Internet availability. “That just keeps getting better, of course we can always do better on Internet coverage in the county,” he said.
But there was also 2012.
“2012 was probably the year that almost broke me,” Bond laughs. “The federal grant we got for the industrial park was a big deal that nobody really knew was going on. It was over $1 million and it made a big difference down there in terms of viability of that park. It was also a whole lot of upkeep, a whole lot of record keeping. It was happening at the same time that the TEC Center was under construction, which was a massive project. That was also the same time that our grocery store was going under, and I don’t think anybody realizes what was going on when our grocery store was going under. Our community was circling the drain. Our businesses were suffering. Of course the town would have survived, but had that grocery store stayed closed another six months, I don’t know what we would have been dealing with. We may have lost small businesses. I know that some of them were very concerned.”
Bond also points to the development of a lot of education programs going on at the same time, for a time utilizing Mike Busch and Ec015 to make great strides in educational opportunities here, from adult education to the development of course work in the schools.
Other achievements that Bond points to during his tenure include the winning of the International Economic Development Corporation’s Gold Award 2013.
“I walk by this award every day at the TEC Center and don’t even notice it is there anymore,” he said. “In 2013, The International Economic Development Corporation awarded us as the best small town workforce development program in North America. We never got to celebrate the win quite like we wanted to because we had so many things we were trying to get going at the TEC Center. But it wouldn’t be right to talk about the facility itself without talking about the hard work of the people who have given it a purpose, especially Pam Action and Mike Busch, who oversaw the whole project back then and now Sarah Brichto, who continues today.”
He is also proud of the cooperative programs that have been developed, such as the Southeast Indiana Growth Alliance.
“While counties in other parts of the state were out competing against each other, the economic development team in Southeast Indiana knew that we would accomplish more by working together,” Bond said. “We formed a regional group that can market together and talk about issues important to our area with one voice. For example, during the 2015 Legislative Session when the casino industry was releasing ‘economic studies’ to justify the taking of our local gaming dollars. SEIGA was the first organization to challenge their claims with their own report and to show that raiding local riverboat revenue was bad for jobs across Indiana.”
Now as Jon Bond leaves the post that he has held for 13 years and begins a new chapter in his life, he still believes that there is a bright future here in Switzerland County, and the people here need to have confidence that it can happen.
“You’ve got to believe in your community, even when other people don’t,” he said. “Nobody’s going to do that for you, you’ve got to do it for yourself; and I think this county can do that.”