(Aug. 1, 2009) — There is an upside to the economic downturn. If your company is considering adding equipment, jobs or even consolidating operations, now is a great time to start a dialogue with local economic development officials. Communities are emerging as effective, creative business partners as they strive to attract and keep jobs and avoid erosion of their tax base.
Consider TriEnda LLC's recent experience in the city of Marion in Grant County, Ind. TriEnda is a privately held manufacturer of heavy-gauge, single- and twin-sheet thermoformed plastic for the material- handling and packaging industry. Increased customer demand drove the company, headquartered in Portage, Wis., to search for an additional 80,000- to 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in the Midwest. TriEnda's time line was tight — equipment was ordered and contracts were in place. There was no room for error and no time to construct a new building.
TriEnda had very specific physical requirements for its new facility. However, Herschel Scott, TriEnda's vice president of human resources, is quick to point out that TriEnda identified many communities and many facilities that would meet its needs. Timing was the critical issue. The project's biggest challenge was getting the facility secured, renovated and producing in about four months.
A vacant manufacturing complex in Marion was visited. Marion is a city of approximately 32,000 located in Grant County in northeastern Indiana, a region heavily invested in the auto industry. During the company's first visit to the area, it was apparent that the community understood the tight time line and had prepared extensively and effectively for the visit. In addition to economic development officials, the building owner, a contractor, and the local electric utility representative were present. Lease/purchase options were discussed in detail. Renovation alternatives and costs were reviewed. Electric capacity and cost were outlined. TriEnda walked away feeling like Marion/Grant County had potential for its project, but there still was more work to be done. TriEnda continued to explore options in several states.
Led by Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold, community officials began to proactively assemble an aggressive incentive package for TriEnda. Going beyond the standard programs, they used what they had learned about TriEnda's needs to craft a customized package.
Local sources of revenue were used to offset Indiana's less-favorable state personal property tax structure, effectively leveling the playing field with a competing state. Working with the building owner, the community found a way to front the renovation costs, reducing TriEnda's out-of-pocket investment. The low rates of Indiana Michigan Power were a natural inducement for the electricity-heavy operation. Through a partnership with the state of Indiana, the entire cost of the needed rail spur was covered. Altogether, more than $2.7 million in grants and credits was assembled for TriEnda.
TriEnda announced its decision to locate the new facility in Marion on Oct. 30, 2008 — a mere two months after their first visit to the community. Renovations started in mid-November and the company started production in mid-January. For TriEnda, the community has continued to meet and exceed expectations.
“What they said would happen, happened,” said Scott.
In Marion/Grant County, TriEnda found a community partner that listened carefully, moved quickly and invested wisely to meet its needs. The community's proactive-thinking approach to the project is a new twist on traditional economic development and provides a successful model for communities and companies everywhere.
Suzanne Davis is vice president of Indianapolis, Ind.-based Bingham Economic Development Advisors LLC.