Editor’s Note: The following is an article authored by Gene Stowe appearing in Tribune Business Weekly, a publication produced by the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, outlining Elkhart County’s successful drive to generate significant investment in the local business community.
Speaking by telephone from a pub in Germany, Nicholas Gwynne muses that not so long ago, his first reaction to a mention of Elkhart, Ind., might have been: “Where the hell is Elkhart?”
Now Gwynne, vice president of operations for Kiel N.A. LLC, urges others across Europe to consider northern Indiana for business relocation. The international seat-manufacturing firm is investing $3.79 million in an Elkhart operation.
“Northern Indiana has some fascinating opportunities,” says Gwynne, who heard of the area through some associates in Italy and Canada. “It’s got a vast pool of potential employees that are pretty well trained. It has a vast pool of second-tier suppliers, which is what we want to use.
“The cost of shipping, the cost of the infrastructure, the interstate — it’s fantastic. You can go east, west, north, south without a problem. You’ve got three international airports within a three-hour drive. What more do you want? You’ve got the Port of Indiana. It’s amazing.”
The amenities are attracting more and more investment to Elkhart County, identified just three years ago as the “white-hot center of the economic meltdown” and visited by Barack Obama as both candidate and president.
In the next two years, new and expansion projects brought $345 million in investment and nearly 6,500 jobs to the county, with more coming this year.
Last month, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) of Elkhart County at its annual Investors Lunch honored six companies that made significant contributions to the 2010 success:
• Abrasive Blasting and Coating Services, which invested $167,600. Chris Wert from administration and Joe Grandstaff, operations manager, represented the company, which provides corrosion control services for parts used in power generation.
• Livin’ Lite RV, which invested $757,000. President Scott Tuttle represented the company, which manufactures ultra-lightweight automotive campers and aluminum trailers and markets them in North America, Europe and Australia.
• MSC Industrial Supply, which invested $8.06 million. Rick Spriggs, senior director of Midwest customer fulfillment, represented the company which is one of the nation’s largest direct marketers of industrial supplies and equipment.
• Nexus RV, which invested $1 million. President Claude Donati and Vice President David Middleton represented the company, which builds and sells motor homes at the same site.
• Santelli Tempered Glass, which invested $3.8 million. President Joe Santelli represented the company, which makes tempered glass and serves the RV market among others.
• Vixen Composites, which invested $7 million. President Gregg Fore represented the company, which manufactures structural and exterior composite panels for the RV industry.
Those were part of $100 million in investment last year that created 1,765 jobs. In 2009, $245 million in investment created 4,700 jobs.
Earlier this year, six manufacturers and a large distributor have announced plans for $22 million in investment that will add at least 350 jobs, including Kiel N.A.
Gwynne says the company will eventually employ 150 people and keep another 150 busy in local vendors.
“We’re going to be using services,” he says. “I found them in Nappanee. I found them in Goshen. I found them in South Bend. I found them in Elkhart itself. The whole area has very supporting opportunities for us.”
Gwynne says small-town opportunities in the United States are usually undersold, but Dave Ogle, director of business retention and expansion for the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, enlightened him about the possibilities.
“One thinks of the United States as a big country, but the backbone of your country is what politics has forgotten,” Gwynne says. “I was impressed with the volume of small and middle-sized companies. I talk about it here in Europe.
“Northern Indiana has fantastic opportunities to the east, to the west, to the south and to the north. America has got an opportunity because you’ve still got an industry that can provide you with fantastic product, and it should be utilized.”