The Fulton Economic Development Corp. is taking steps to reimagine its economic future. Key economic drivers in the county, which sits about an hour south of South Bend, are manufacturing and agriculture. In March, FEDCO launched a five-month-long effort to examine what residents aspired for the county of 20,000 people.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, FEDCO interim Director Tiffany Futrell said the resignation last fall of her predecessor, Executive Director Terry Lee, prompted the organization to examine its mission.
“We were at a point of opportunity to look at ourselves as an organization. Where do we go from here? How do we keep moving forward? And to also bring our city, county, all of our elected officials to the same table,” explained Futrell.
LISTEN: Futrell further explains to Inside INdiana Business reporter Wes Mills what FEDCO hopes to accomplish with this action plan.
FEDCO conducted two dozen listening sessions and meetings to gather input from residents and other community stakeholders. Futrell says participants shared their ideas of growth and where they wanted FEDCO to focus to keep residents there and attract more workers. But to do so, also required new opportunities and amenities.
“As COVID has shown us, you can almost work from anywhere. People no longer follow jobs, jobs follow people,” Futrell said. “Our biggest thing is looking at how can we keep growing How can we keep our current residents and future residents happy with quality of life.”
As FEDCO continues to lay out its game plan, it has established five priorities, including hiring a chief executive officer to guide the organization in carrying out the new vision.
It’ll also be creating a diversified funding plan for organizational sustainability. FEDCO also plans to create an economic environment to simplify the process for businesses to locate and grow there.
The organization plans to create a marketing plan to target its messaging.
Economic development officials also understand the need for quality, affordable housing.
“We’re looking at doing a housing study and strategy. What kind of housing do we need, and we’re looking at a county wide, not just focused in Rochester, we want to look at the county as a whole,” said Futrell.
Fulton is a member of the North Central Indiana Regional Planning Council, which was awarded $30 million from the state’s Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative. Futrell says the county wants to use some of the funding to improve sidewalks and roads leading to a shopping center area and a former winery.
Two weeks ago, the parent company of Schnabeltier Winery donated the building and property to the Rochester-based Outlet Youth Center. After eight years in operation in Fulton County, the company decided earlier this year to close the commercial operation.
“The gift of this property will allow us to greatly expand our services, provide outdoor activities and opens up many new programing possibilities for the kids that attend our programs and events,” said Patience Hisey, director of The Outlet Youth Center.
Futrell says the youth center is an example of a community amenity that new residents might look for.
“Having those amenities to attract people. What can we do to keep growing, keep either retaining residents… or attracting new ones,” wondered Futrell. “We are working diligently to get all those plans ready so we can get that submitted to the state for READI dollars.”
Futrell says with the priority list in place, the board of directors has drafted a strategic investment lan for ensuring operational goals all have accountabilities and measurable results. She says it will be finalized soon.