Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation Sparking Retail Interest

There’s an increase in interest in Warsaw from retail businesses recently, Kosciusko Economic Development Corp. Executive Director George Robertson told the City of Warsaw Common Council Monday night.

Robertson was one of 10 people representing local not-for-profit organizations making pitches to the council for funding in the city’s 2017 budget. KEDCo is requesting $55,000 for next year, the same as 2016, and an additional $5,000 for the city’s Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership dues, which are paid through KEDCo.

Robertson told the council KEDCo was formed in 2010 as a collaboration between the city, county and business community. That year, in this county, Robertson said the recession hurt but the slow recovery hurt more. By 2010, the county had hit the lowest number of people working in the county in two decades at less than 33,000 people. From that, it was decided economic development needed to be aggressively addressed on a full-time basis.

“Our No. 1 priority as an organization is to help our existing businesses, help them grow, keep them here, help them to expand and expansions have been a significant part of where we’ve come,” Robertson said.

He continued, “We’ve averaged 500 new job announcements, each of those next five years. Those are new manufacturing jobs in the county.”

Last year, Robertson said, “We hit our all-time high total of 850 new manufacturing jobs and $65 million in new capital investment.”

By the end of 2015, according to the December employment numbers, Robertson said the county hit its all-time high in terms of people working in the county, just shy of 40,000. The new numbers are now 40,500, he said.

“So we keep going up and up,” he stated. “I think everybody has seen the results of that influx of good-paying manufacturing jobs. Our retail community is growing, our housing market is active. We’ve just seen that whole benefit all across the economy of the city and county.”

2015 was an all-time good year with a lot of expansions, he said, while this year is very different.

“Most of our companies that wanted to expand, expanded, and they’re a little nervous about the local and national economies at the moment. But what we’ve been incredibly busy at is prospects. We have submitted to five different prospects, and this is where the Northeast Regional Partnership is important, because we get prospects now from them as well as the state. So between the two we have had five prospects that we have submitted to the city’s shell building and Tech Park in response to,” Robertson explained.

Two of those have come to visit, and one has been to Warsaw five times. “So we think we’re at least in the running,” he said.

The number of prospective businesses KEDCo has seen has been very high, Robertson said, and it keeps KEDCo very busy. The mayor and city planner have been involved in those prospects.

“Now I’m going to share with you something that may surprise you a little bit,” Robertson said. “I have had more retail site consultants call me in the last two months than I’ve had in the last five years about locating retail outlets in Warsaw, Indiana.”

He said that’s reflective of that growth in the economy because of new people, new jobs, new people in the community because of those new jobs and people commuting to Warsaw.

He said Warsaw has had two visits from those site consultants and KEDCo makes referrals often to the city and Chamber of Commerce. The consultants use KEDCo to collect data about the city, and one of their most-often asked question is why does Warsaw do so well.

A question he gets first from them, he said, is, “How come a city the size of Warsaw has such incredible per-square-foot sales number at retail outlets?” Robertson said he shares with them the thousands of people that come to Warsaw to work every day from neighboring counties. “That’s what they say right away: That explains it,” he said.

A consumer spends 40 percent of their  retail dollars near where they work, and 60 percent where they live. The people who work in Warsaw bring their families back to the restaurant where they lunch at, he said.

“So we’ve seen our retail economy grow very nicely,” he said.

He said he expects the coming year to be “very good.”

Other not-for-profit budget requests for 2017 presented Monday night to the city council included:

  • Animal Welfare League, $19,500, an increase of $500 over 2016.
  • Center for Lakes and Streams, $15,000, an increase of $5,000 over 2016.
  • City-County Athletic Complex, $31,000, the same as 2016. No one from the CCAC was present to discuss their budget so a representative will be asked to attend the council’s next meeting to answer questions.
  • Housing Opportunities of Warsaw, $25,000. The same amount was allotted in 2015, but was not used for the grant HOW applied for, and HOW Director Pam Kennedy was asking that the money be put back into the budget for 2017.
  • Warsaw Housing Authority, $30,000, the same amount as 2016.
  • Kosciusko Area Bus Service, $19,055 plus a $10,000 match for a new bus. The budget request is a 3 percent increase over 2016, but the matching fund is the same as last year, according to Mayor Joe Thallemer.
  • Kosciusko Community Senior Services, $20,000, an increase of $5,000 over 2016.
  • Kosciusko County Historical Society, $1,000, a first-time request to help pay for repairs to the elevator in the Old Jail Museum.
  • Warsaw Community Development Corp., $17,500, same as 2016.
  • WCDC Facade/Alleyway grant program, $25,000 for facade grants and $10,000 for the alleyway grants, the same as 2016.