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PCDC chief: Steps to reinvent county underway

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Efforts include development of amenities, workers

By KEVIN KOELLING
Managing Editor

TELL CITY – This year’s annual meeting of the board of directors for the Perry County Development Corp. featured more and much younger guest speakers than the attendees usually hear from.

“Celebrating Our Future” was the theme of the Feb. 20 dinner meeting at the Hoosier Heights Country Club, which featured a panel discussion with local interns. Interns were seated at tables throughout the room and before the buffet dinner was served, Carol Hagedorn invited them to stand and introduce themselves and the companies where they served internships. Hagedorn is a project manager for the development corporation. She also invited the guests, as they awaited their turns to fill plates and then dine,  to engage the interns in conversation about their experiences at the companies where they worked.

Before moving to the panel discussion, the official business of reorganizing the board of directors brought the approval of new three-year terms for Bill Borders, Dean Boerste, Alvin Evans, Jody French, Jon Hartz and Tom Hauser.

Chairman Clay Ewing provided “a brief outline of what’s happened within the PCDC over the last year and how the board of directors and staff have worked extremely hard to structure ourselves for success in the future.”

He reminded the audience the organization was without a president and chief executive officer a year earlier after the departure of Chris Kinnett “to explore other career opportunities,” Ewing said. He and Hagedorn worked “to make sure the community and the people we represent didn’t notice any lack of service,” he explained, taking a moment to thank her.

“A lot of individuals were working extremely hard to keep our committees … and our projects going and answering all of the proposals we had to get out to prospects and working with our local businesses,” he continued. At the same time, a search was underway to fill the president-chief executive officer position, “and we did an extremely thorough search” that tapped many resources.

Patience and “being crazy enough to ask a couple of really stupid questions” paid off, Ewing said. Two members of a search committee were talking after a meeting, “and I think both of us had this idea in mind but neither one of us wanted to say anything to each other … but the question was asked to Alvin, ‘why don’t you just retire … and do this?’ … It turned out that Alvin was very interested in being a full-time part of the Perry County Development Corp.”

As the News reported April 18, Evans was a founding board member and served as chairman of the board when the economic-development agency was formed in 1990 through 1998. He remained a board member and served as executive committee member and an active sub-committee member since that time.

He left a position at J. H. Rudolph & Co., where he’d worked since 1979, attaining positions as the company’s chief operating officer and chief estimator.

A partnership with the Perry County Port Authority, where Evans also has a long history of service, will “take advantage of the leadership skills and the local, state and national knowledge that Alvin has in economic development and business itself,” Ewing also said. “I thank him for taking advantage of this opportunity (and) want yon all to know how grateful I personally am, and I think our board of directors is, and how grateful the community should be for the leadership that we have in the Perry County Development Corp. in Alvin Evans.”

He then invited Evans to offer remarks.

The president said he looked at the organization’s strategic plan upon assuming his new role. Adopted in 2011, it was approved again by the board last December.

“The plan has increased emphasis on taking care of our own,” he said, explaining a component of that “is taking care of the industry that is here.” Seventy percent of job growth occurs within existing companies, so “it is important to take care of them, help them be more efficient and help them grow.”

Perry County’s products were mainly vacuum tubes and wooden furniture in the past, he noted. The county’s economic-development history also included a time coinciding with the birth of PCDC when a company called “Perfect Fit was shown a field with a pond off of State Road 37 and fell in love with it.” It had no infrastructure, and was not level enough for a building site, he said. That pillow company didn’t stay long, but would be replaced by Aisin Takaoka of Toyota City, Japan, known locally as ATTC Manufacturing.

Another company, Wisconsin-based Waupaca Foundry agreed to open a facility on land that soil borings had also shown to be unsuitable, Evans continued. The county promised port and rail services – neither of which existed then – would be provided.

ATTC moved into an existing facility, and like that company, site selectors want them to be shovel-ready, meaning “ready for the shovels to start foundations, not the bulldozers to level the site,” Evans said.

Companies also look for work forces trained in the job skills they’ll need, he went on, and a need to improve that component is a local, state and national problem. Perry County has hundreds of jobs that go unfilled, partially due to a misplaced emphasis on college.

He attended a construction conference in 2012, he said, “where a jobs expert was lambasting the misguided concept about jobs and college. He stated the goal was to get 60 percent of high-school graduates into college. He then ran through the percent of jobs requiring college in the 1950s, 60s, all the way up to 2010. That percentage never varied very much one way or the other from 30 percent.

Charts in the event program showed the remaining 70 percent called for education levels less than four-year degrees, and in 2020, 30 percent of the available jobs will require bachelor’s or higher degrees, 16 percent will be unskilled jobs and 56 percent will require associate degrees or certificates.

Readiness to go to work is also lacking, Evans continued, and include attendance, drug-abuse issues and inability to communicate and reason. Partnerships between Ivy Tech Community College, Tell City and Perry Central high schools and local employers have been formed to address those issues, and internships help show both students and employers what needs must be addressed.

Statistics show today’s job-seekers determine where they want to live, then find work there, Evans said, and companies are expanding into areas where people are moving. People tend to remain longer in areas where their commutes to work are 30 minutes or less, so this “community must offer amenities comparable to those that are 30 to 60 minutes away.”

Efforts to improve amenities here include working with employers to provide around-the-clock child care and to increase the availability of affordable housing, Evans said. Working with the county’s chamber of commerce and convention and visitors bureau, PCDC is addressing quality-of-life issues “necessary for successful community development,” he added.

Agreements with the Indiana Small Business Development Center and the Evansville chapter of what used to be called the Senior Corps of Retired Executives will provide support and mentoring for new businesses and an innovation center will provide “incubator services to these new startups,” Evans said.

“Taking care of our own” will roll those efforts into others to market the county here and elsewhere to attract employers and employees, along with visitors who will spend money here.

Failure to accomplish all of them “will be detrimental to the success of our community,” he continued. “Fortunately, Perry County has been very successful in reinventing itself from the dark days” that saw the declines of General Electric and Tell City Chair Co.

Steps needed to continue that reinvention are in the works and “need just a little more tweaking and a lot of hard work.”

Information about the interns and the program under which they work will be described in an upcoming report.