County Looking for Ways to Attract & Grow Business
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Thursday, November 9, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
My daughter and I were talking homework last week. She’s tackling high school chemistry, which brought back memories of the periodic table and chemical formulas. I liked the subject — you can say it was in my genes. I have a family full of pharmacists who all mastered it much better than me.
I chose a different path, and though you won’t see me mixing chemicals or working in a lab, I do spend a lot of time trying to figure out the right formula for economic development success. In the lab, we at least know that when we put two parts hydrogen with one part oxygen, we have water. Add too much or too little of either of those elements, and you end up with something different. In economic development, it’s a little less precise and could be different for every region.
Economic development professionals realize you need to attract new businesses to an area, grow the businesses already here, and create an environment conducive to people starting businesses. But they also know that you need things like good infrastructure, quality schools, a skilled workforce, and other quality of place amenities. Finding the right formula of those elements for a region is key.
A recent Tribune article included unfair shots at the county for its economic development efforts in the New Carlisle industrial area. The article quoted critics of the county effort to attract “big fish” into that area. The writers referenced “outside experts” with a limited view of the overall county economic development efforts to further criticize the effort.
I do think if all efforts were focused on “smokestack chasing,” then the criticism could be warranted. But like in the laboratory, the county realizes that those “big fish” are only one element of an overall strategy that requires many different elements to attract new people, companies and new capital investment.
In the New Carlisle industrial area, the county is advancing plans to ready key parcels for development. When I/N Tek and I/N Kote developed in that area more than 25 years ago, leaders at the time envisioned that development could be a catalyst for other opportunities. That area has been slow to develop, because many of those things the county is now tackling were never undertaken.
The uncertainty that exists in that area related to the control of the land, zoning and other site characteristics slowed development and were major factors in decisions like those of Toyota to seek an opportunity elsewhere. The more uncertainty that exists related to the development of a site, the less likely that site is to secure a new development.
In the past two years, 78 percent of all companies looking at the overall area sought an existing building or a shovel-ready site. This area has neither, which moves it out of consideration quickly for new development opportunities.
This part of the county is well-suited for those large manufacturing operations. Other areas of the county are better suited for warehousing and logistics, office, tech, start-ups, healthcare or housing. And efforts exist to attract those types of development as well. Leaders in the county and the municipalities contained therein realize they can’t have all their eggs in one basket.
Each community in our region is an important element to our formula for success. Each complements the overall effort, with each providing its own strengths related to attracting different kinds of development. Individually, none succeed. Collectively, if we figure out the right formula, we at least have a fighting chance as we compete with other parts of the country and world.
Also published in the South Bend Tribune