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Effort hopes to maximize TH's successes, outreach

Before a company or entrepreneur will invest in the Terre Haute community, the city must first be an attractive place in which to live.

That's the guiding reality behind the Terre Haute Tomorrow economic development "action team," one of five teams under the THT label charged with improving the city over the next 10 years.

As with all the teams, the Economic Development crew is charged with setting concrete goals — and then meeting them. THT's leaders have said they do not want their 40-page action blueprint, unveiled last month, to be just another plan that sits idle on a shelf.

 

They want to see results.

"Without tangible results, you lose momentum, people lose interest" said Steve Witt, president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., which was born from the first Terre Haute Tomorrow initiative 15 years ago. Witt is co-chair of the economic development action team along with local entrepreneur Greg Gibson.

Terre Haute Tomorrow released its 10-year comprehensive community plan just more than a week ago. It was crafted from the hard work of five action teams, each one tackling one aspect of the community: quality of life, economic development, workforce readiness, leadership development and infrastructure.

The economic development action team is much smaller than the quality of life team, which the Tribune-Star featured last Sunday. But the smaller team has a mission that is just as broad. As Witt told community leaders at the plan's unveiling: "Everything in this [plan] has something to do with economic development in one way or another."

The economic development team comprises 18 people, including four city or county elected officials. Other members include business people, educators and economic development professionals. Most of the members have experience on the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp. board of directors, Witt said.

Initiatives have taken the form of four concrete goals:

  • Determine specific industries, such as biomedical engineering, that may have a "comparative advantage" in moving to Terre Haute, and develop a marketing campaign directed toward those industries.
  • Identify opportunities for new community facilities, such as a multi-sports complex.
  • Create a positive image of the city through news stories and press releases.
  • Talk to non-native residents, including foreign-born professionals, to learn why they chose to live in Terre Haute.

The team hopes to achieve many of these goals in the next year or two. Some goals, such as producing positive news releases about Terre Haute, have already happened, Witt said.

Recent successes

In many ways, the economic development team is building on a recent track record of success. In 2014, Vigo County started seeing significant new business investment, such as the Casey General Store distribution center, a new Meijer grocery store, and Stark Industries, a high-tech components maker based at the Terre Haute International Airport.

Local government and airport officials welcomed Stark Industries with "open arms," said Jeff Stark, president of the company, which is housed in a spacious facility formerly used by Ivy Tech Community College. The business, which has nearly doubled its workforce to 70 employees since moving from Clay County last year, has thrived in its new location, he said.

"We've been blessed," Stark said. As it grows, the company is gradually fixing up the large, two-story facility. Its computerized machining equipment is state-of-the-art and helps the company serve government and private industry customers.

Stark's transition from a smaller building north of Brazil to Terre Haute was "very smooth," said Jonathan McLain, general manager of JWS Machines, which is part of the Stark Industries family.

"We've got plenty of space to grow in now," Stark said of the company he started with his wife, Lori, in their garage in 1993.

Widening the message

Looking to future investment, the THT economic development group is working through John Conant, chairman of the Indiana State University economics department, to identify specific industries most suitable for Terre Haute. That also includes identifying potential global sources of investment for the community, such as China, Witt said.

"Are there geographic areas of the world we should be targeting?" Witt asked. That is for his team to determine. The results of the ISU study are expected by the end of the semester, he said.

In dealing with the city's image, the action team has already earned some success. It has released three news releases composed by MillerWhite Marketing, highlighting positive stories about the city. The first effort, dealing with improvements to the city's wastewater treatment plant, was picked up by several media outlets, including Yahoo! Finance, Market Watch, CBS Moneywatch, WCBS-TV in New York and Fox-59 WXIN-TV in Indianapolis, Witt stated.

If you believe in your community, you'll have a much better chance of convincing others this is a good place in which to live, said team co-chair Greg Gibson. He described the challenge as helping to create new reasons for people to want to be in Terre Haute.

"The more you have to impress people with, the better chance you've got," he said. "I think if we all get together and move in the same direction, we can do great things."

 
From the Terre Haute Tribune-Star
Posted: Saturday, February 7, 2015
By: Reporter Arthur Foulkes
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812-231-4232
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