With unemployment down and economic development activity up, some are sensing a new attitude in east central Indiana that could bode well for the future. One of them is Richmond Mayor Dave Snow, who sees economic development wins and redevelopment in the city’s downtown creating momentum that hasn’t been seen in years. In January, Israeli auto parts manufacturer Omen USA announced plans for its first North American production facility in Richmond and 100 new jobs. In May, Connecticut-based Blue Buffalo Pet Products (Nasdaq: BUFF) committed to invest more than $100 million in a production and distribution facility with up to 165 jobs. "It shows everybody that we’re competitive on the national economic development map," said Snow. "It’s exciting for everybody."
Snow and Economic Development Corp. of Wayne County President Valerie Shaffer talked about economic development activity and a big challenge facing the region during an interview on Inside INdiana Business Television.
The numbers suggest an improving economic picture in Wayne County that has been building for the past couple of years.
The unemployment rate in Wayne County, which peaked at 14.5 percent in 2010, is now at pre-recession levels, around 5 percent. And business sentiment is improved, too. One year ago an IU East Business and Economic Research Center survey of 85 area firms showed more than half indicating their businesses were performing stronger than the previous year. More than one-third indicated they planned on increasing hiring in 2016.
Snow calls redevelopment of the city’s YMCA, which for years has been a "barricaded eye sore," a game changer. Music City Place is an $11 million project that will transform the historic building into 50 senior apartment homes.
The city is also aggressively moving forward on an ambitious blight elimination program that so far has cleared 114 dilapidated homes. "We’ve sent 11 million pounds of house to the landfill," said Snow, who says ten more structures are scheduled to come down in the next month.
Economic Development Corp. of Wayne County President Valerie Shaffer says the projects provide a huge boost to the region’s image.
"Right now, we’re looking to attract and recruit talent, so having these types of community development projects underway allow us to better do our jobs," said Shaffer.