It takes time, patience and money. But the rewards can be huge for the county as a whole.
One of the objectives that the LaGrange County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has is to seek out and work with companies that are looking to establish a facility. The EDC is tasked with trying to get those companies to choose LaGrange County.
EDC President Keith Gillenwater and EDC Project Manager Lora Tormanen work together to get leads on businesses looking for locations as well as actively seeking leads. One place leads come from is a statewide database that lists projects that companies are looking to undertake. Usually, the listing doesn’t provide the name of the company, Gillenwater noted, but gives the needs of the company, such as geography, building type, land requirements and other information.
If any of those list Northeast Indiana or statewide for Indiana, Gillenwater and Tormanen start following up on the leads. “If it geographically makes sense, then we take that opportunity to submit information to the project,” Gillenwater said.
Currently, the EDC has 45 projects they have submitted to that they are still tracking. The EDC has submitted “hundreds” over the past few years, with each project a possible influx of jobs to the county.
At the same time, the EDC works personally to find other leads that may not be listed elsewhere through contacts and research.
When a project comes up that they feel LaGrange County can fill the needs for, they begin normally with filling out a submittal form that will be used by the company to begin narrowing down the search. “We submit a building to them. We include an individual cover letter that will have more information about the county and the building,” Gillenwater said. “We talk about how we can help them with abatements, utilities and other issues.” The EDC will also note other businesses of similar types in the region to show the workforce that is available.
Then there some waiting, which means more time spent tracking down more leads and sending in more forms to projects.
Depending on how the lead was generated, the EDC will hear back from the state, if it came through the state database, or personally if it was a lead that originated with the EDC. If they find out that LaGrange County made the short list, usually no more than 15 sites that the company is considering, the work really picks up.
Sometimes, the pair at the EDC will only have a week or so to get additional information out to the company, a company that they likely don’t know the name of yet. Most companies will keep it quiet that they are looking for a new facility for a variety of reasons, Gillenwater noted.
The company will usually send out a Request for Information (RFI) that can run hundreds of pages, each page asking for very detailed information. “They want detailed info on the site, the area, contacts, permits, training, incentives, taxes, utilities, the labor force, etc.,” Gillenwater stated. The information will usually be requested within one to two weeks. “It’s a significant amount of work,” Gillenwater added. He pointed to one project that it took him and the assistant at that time a full week of 16-hour days to complete the RFI and get it to the company in time.
And at every step, they have to look as professional as they can as even the appearance of what is sent back can affect the decision being made.
After that, the company narrows the list down further to a handful of locations to do a site visit to. “They dictate when the site visit happens,” Gillenwater said. It’s up to the EDC to make it happen and to make it look great. “They usually send someone from their operations, an engineer, and a financial person on a site visit,” Gillenwater explained.
Sometimes the visit is as simple as they look at the site or building and leave. Other times, there are meetings with owners, local officials, and others to discuss specific concerns.
If things go well, there may be follow up requests for information. Or the reverse, find out that the site has been eliminated. “Or, you go into a period of negotiation,” Gillenwater said. When a company has their choice narrowed to just a couple of spots, they begin to work out the fine details to determine which site gives them the best deal. “Companies are risk adverse. They want to remove as much risk as they can,” Gillenwater said.
Finally, the company will make its decision.
From start to finish, the process can take as little as a month or a year or more.
And each time, whether LaGrange County wins the project or not, the EDC has worked to put the county’s name and qualities out there. “It comes down to relationship building,” Gillenwater noted. “With the ones that don’t locate here, you’ve still built a relationship. They know we’re here.”
No two projects are ever the same, which is one aspect that Gillenwater enjoys about the challenge. “I wear a lot of hats,” he said. On the other side, at times it’s a lot more than a two-person job.
Meanwhile, along with everything it takes to entice new businesses to come to the county, Gillenwater and Tormanen are working with existing LaGrange County businesses to help them expand, along with budding entrepreneurs, and marketing LaGrange County.
But they are always checking the database to see if a company is looking for exactly what LaGrange County can offer. Then the work starts all over again.