Economic Development Tips for Communities
Why do some communities attract development and others not so much? After creating $470 million in investment and 500 jobs in Shelby County in the past two years, we think a key factor is local cooperation.
In Shelbyville, POET LLC recently brought its $160 million ethanol plant online, and Greenleaf Foods is constructing a $310 million manufacturing facility. These initiatives and other, smaller, developments promise employment and a strong tax base for decades.
There is little question proximity to Indianapolis and Interstate 74 were significant considerations for the companies. However, we believe cooperation among officials in Shelby County increased our chances of success.
Companies prize stability. Good will across jurisdictions and political parties indicates a business-friendly environment in the long term.
Shelby County started cooperating on a small scale by rebuilding the grandstand at the county fairgrounds after the iconic structure burned in 2012. Leaders from Shelby County and Shelbyville rallied to contribute funding and support for a new period-style grandstand that is now an asset for everyone.
The new leadership base then turned its attention to attracting a $1 billion international tire plant and a $35 million North American headquarters for Krone, a German farm equipment maker. The companies for different reasons pulled their projects back, but the endeavors honed our ability to cooperate. We were ready when POET and Greenleaf showed interest.
Central to that readiness was an attitude of selflessness. It has now been a long time since I’ve heard an elected official or other leader in the city or county ask what’s in it for them. We realize that if one jurisdiction wins, everyone wins.
POET and Greenleaf, for example, are within Shelbyville city limits but farmers benefit from higher corn prices at the POET plant and will raise crops for Greenleaf’s plant-based protein plant. Krone, with its reputation for quality, would have been a point of pride for farmers in the county. Some members of those farm families also will benefit from working at the plants.
Recognizing these mutual benefits goes a long way toward clearing obstacles for prospects. Shelbyville and Shelby County cooperated in 2018 to buy 131 acres on the edge of the city for potential development. It was the first time both parties worked together without a particular developer or buyer on the horizon. Yet Greenleaf chose the site within six months.
Today, all it takes to draw leaders in Shelby County together is a phone call or text. We have learned to act quickly, put the prospect’s interests first, and determine how to ensure Shelby County is at the top of the list. We think it’s why additional projects are moving into our economic development pipeline.
Companies will expand even during these difficult times. The attitudes that now prevail in Shelby County can be adopted by any community.
Tom DeBaun was reelected to a third term as mayor of Shelbyville in 2019. He previously served as a probation officer and city planner.