Learn from your mistakes.
That’s what the director of the Elkhart Economic Development Corp. said her organization has done in the wake of two iffy redevelopment projects that were undertaken during the height of the recession.
Dorinda Heiden-Guss was one of the featured speakers at the annual Elkhart Economic Development Summit. As part of her presentation on the many successes the organization has had in luring manufacturing jobs to the county, she reflected on the failures of the Think electric car company and the Electric Motors Corp., both of which received economic incentives to locate in Elkhart County. Think’s parent company, Think Global of Norway, intended to build electric cars in Elkhart. The company went bankrupt last year and the Elkhart facility has only a couple of employees, far short of the 415 expected paying $16 per hour when it received federal stimulus funds, state grants and tax credits.
Once promoted by Wil Cashen and Ralph King, Electric Motors Corp. has slipped into anonymity after closing its Wakarusa office and moving its address to Plymouth.
“I had a big boo-boo with the Think company,” Heiden-Guss told the crowd of government officials, CEOs and business leaders. “You only learn from your mistakes.”
She recounted how in February 2009 she received the Think lead from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and then worked with the county’s communities and the company to pick a location. The deal closed on Dec. 31, 2009 when the Think CEO decided to locate in Elkhart, she said.
“We were pretty hungry at that point,” Heiden-Guss said. “I think unemployment was 18.9 percent at that time. Nothing else was happening. All the news media came in. Everyone said what are you going to do? How are you going to recover?”
The Think project was an intensive negotiation effort involving many people, Heiden-Guss said, but it ended disappointingly.
“We got them in here,” she said. “But they have not produced as many jobs as promised. But, this is just one project and we are working on many projects.”
Later in the program, businessman Jack Citadeen asked if the EDC has learned to be more diligent in vetting businesses after the experiences involving Think and Electric Motors Corp.
“When Elkhart was at its very lowest we had people who came and asked for money. They were not particularly good people,” Citadeen said. “I think some prudence in advance would have helped us. Think, probably could have been avoided. If you had done a little research on Think you would have found they had a very checkered past.”
He cited bankruptcies in particular.
Citadeen said at the time, there was a push by the Obama administration to turn to solar, wind and electric vehicle investments. Obama even visited Wakarusa to give Navistar $46 million for its electric delivery van.
“The point of the story is, we can do some homework to separate the wheat from the chaff,” Citadeen said.
He suggested the EDC use a group of local business owners to meet with and vet companies wanting to locate here.
Heiden-Guss said the EDC has learned a lot from the experiences with Think and Electric Motors Corp. and the push by governments to serve political agendas.
“I have been actually in D.C. dealing with the Department of Energy bureaucrats who were anxious to write us checks,” she said.
She also said Gov. Mitch Daniels was also promoting the Think project because of the high unemployment in the county.
“You had a lot of people pushing this, so I think not all normal precautions were taken,” Heiden-Guss said.
Since then, the EDC is utilizing more financial experts in vetting companies, she said.
“We have instituted a much more efficient plan,” Heiden-Guss said. “We have incorporated CPAs in the process. We have broadened our reach to bring in the necessary expertise.”
Since the recession, the EDC has had startling good success in attracting businesses to the county, according to the director. Heiden-Guss said the agency expects to help industries add 1,900 new jobs in the county this year. Those jobs stem from more than $100 million in new investments announced this year. She also said the average wage of jobs added in the past year is $18.08 per hour.
That growth is a continuation from 2011. From March 2011 to March 2012 the county led the nation in job growth, according to Heiden-Guss.
“I think we are at 71 projects we are working,” Heiden-Guss said.
She also touted the agency’s success in retaining 600 jobs at Utilimaster. That company was looking to relocate its delivery truck assembly operation and considered a move to Michigan. Instead, the EDC helped convince the company to locate to a vacant, modern factory building in Bristol. In addition, that facility is expected to add 300 contractual jobs in the coming year, according to Heiden-Guss.
Director recounts how Think, Electric Motors Co. projects led to improvements
Learn from your mistakes.
- Ben's Pretzels adds three franchises GOSHEN — Ben’s Soft Pretzels will open three new franchised pretzel bakeries in the next 45 days. According to the company, leases have been signed and construction has begun on the stores. The Madison, Wis. location will be in the West Towne Mall. T
- Cyber cops: Target hackers may take years to find WASHINGTON — Secret Service investigators say they are close to gaining a full understanding of the methods hackers used to breach Target's computer systems last December. But the agency says it could take years to identify the criminals who stole so
- Thor buying K-Z Inc. ELKHART — Thor Industries Inc. is purchasing recrecational vehicle manufacturer K-Z Inc. of Shipshewana for $53.4 million. In an announcement Thursday, Thor said the deal will be completed May 1. “We are pleased to welcome K-Z to the Thor family. Wi
- Spring planting starts slow ST. LOUIS — Most years about this time, northern Illinois farmer Monty Whipple, like so many Midwest growers, would be riding high in his monstrous planter, kicking up dust while sowing corn in hundreds of acres. But this spring has kept him sideline
- High fees hammer 401(k)s WASHINGTON -- It's the silent enemy in our retirement accounts: High fees. And now a new study finds that the typical 401(k) fees -- adding up to a modest-sounding 1 percent a year -- would erase $70,000 from an average worker's account over a four-d
- 5 keys for businesses to succeed on Facebook With Facebook becoming such a normal and assumed part of daily life for the average American, most businesses recognize the value of using Facebook to increase their business visibility and brand reputation. Retailers and local businesses are no exce
- Luxury, exotic car dealership set to open GOSHEN — Exotic car lovers in and around the Goshen area will soon have something to smile about with the arrival of the Toy Barn of Goshen, a certified pre-owned luxury and exotic car dealership set to open in downtown Goshen next month.
- Drew Industries sells extrusion division ELKHART — Drew Industries, through its subsidiary Lippert Components, has entered into a six-year contract to obtain extruded aluminum from Atrium Windows and Doors, which includes selling Lippert’s extrusion assets to Atrium. Atrium is based in Dal
- Frozen food makers plan PR push as sales slip NEW YORK — Frozen foods are about to get some badly needed image therapy. With sales slipping in the category, frozen food makers are in the final stages of preparing a major public relations campaign to defend the nutritional reputation of their pro
- Twitter tweaks website to attract new users NEW YORK — As Twitter looks to broaden its appeal beyond its 241 million users, the company is introducing a redesign of profile pages that includes bigger photos, more user controls and a distinct resemblance to Facebook. "Moment by moment, your Twi
- More Business Headlines