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LaGrange County sees a good year in economic development

For LaGrange County, 2013 was a “pretty good year.” That’s the assessment of Keith Gillenwater, opresident of the LaGrange County Economic Development Corporation (EDC). “It was our second best year in job commitments and our best in project wins and total investments.”

Last year saw two new businesses move into or announce they were moving into LaGrange County. Lake Area Design set up a production site in LaGrange and Exo-s is preparing the former Multiplex building north of Howe to begin production this year.

Most of the commitments and investments were from existing companies expanding last year, a good sign that things are improving.

Gillenwater noted that the job commitments averaged around $19.50 per hour, as the EDC works to bring in not just jobs, but good paying jobs.

But that success has left the EDC with a slight problem as it heads into 2014. “We have a lack of product,” Gillenwater said. “We have one building left, and it doesn’t really meet current standards.”

Gillenwater pointed out that, like it or not, one of the reasons behind a lack of space now in the county is due to the defeat of a shell building at Fawn River Crossing. The plan would have seen a building at that site that could be easily converted to meet the needs of a new occupant. “People are buying buildings, not land,” Gillenwater stated. He pointed to a number of other communities in Northern Indiana – Wabash, Wells, Allen and Whitley counties – who are in the process of constructing one or more shell buildings. And, he added, anyone considering LaGrange County will be considering those areas, too.

“We have to figure out a way to get some additional product and improve on what we had,” he said. Part of that will be to take the shovel-ready land sites and “get them to the next step,” he added.

The EDC continues to get leads and work to put together information for those looking for locations.

Still, the majority, around 80 percent, of their efforts are aimed at working with existing businesses and helping them to expand. “In 2014, we’re hoping to match what we’ve done. We’ve set the bar pretty high, but we continue to try to improve,” Gillenwater said. One thing that county has going for it is that fiscal stability. “We’re in good shape there,” he said. “We have the ability to help ourselves.”

That fiscal ability, along with a relentless pursuit of leads, targeting industry that would be a good fit for the county, all point to what Gillenwater and the EDC hopes will be more good news for the county in the year to come.