Bradley takes over at LCEDC
By Patrick Redmond | KPC Media - The News Sun
Just six weeks into his new job at the LaGrange County Economic Development Corporation, and William “Bill” Bradley feels like he’s home.
Bradley was recently named the corporation’s president and CEO. While he still learning the names of the people who make up LaGrange County, he already has a pretty good idea about just what makes LaGrange County tick.
"We make things here and we grow things here. That’s what we do,” he said. “We’re very much a manufacturing-based county and a very much an agricultural-based county.”
Bradley knows a thing or two about economic development. He’s spent more than 30 years in the field, and comes to the LaGrange County office from a similar position in Jay County, a rural county located about an hour south of Fort Wayne. He spent 11 years there, helping to steer that community’s economic efforts. In total, he’s worked to improve the economic fortunes of more than half a dozen Indiana communities, including Elkhart County.
“This has been my seventh economic development, some of these groups I’ve actually started from scratch,” he said. “So, this has been an easy transition. Yeah, there are always unique issues you’re going to face in every community, sometimes, very particular to that community, but this has not been a hard transition.”
One place you won’t find Bradley spending much time is at his desk.
“This is boring,” he said of his office. “I like to be out, visiting with people.”
Once a major driver in the efforts to find and bring new business and expanded employment to a community, Bradley said the role of the local EDC office has changed, especially in the last three years. Now EDC professionals have to think about the bigger picture.
“Traditionally, we were about creating jobs. We still do — don’t get me wrong — we like to see jobs, we like to see investment. But our focus has really grown a little bit away from that in the past three years since jobs don’t seem to be the issue they once were,” he explained. “When I was in Jay County, we did a lot of projects that were heavily laden in personal property, more equipment, because a lot of companies saw automation as the key to their future. They couldn’t find people and they still can’t find people.”
Bradley said one role he wants to see the LaGrange EDC office play is acting as a bridge-builder between organizations. His goal is to get people and organizations talking about and working to create new and innovated programs that will help improve the quality of life for everyone in the community.
“We have to collaborate with other groups in the community — like the Chamber of Commerce, and the Community Foundation — to come together to work out ideas and thoughts about how to make the community a better place,” he explained. “We tend to be a group that I like to say jostles ideas around, and out of those ideas come new initiatives and programs to help improve the community. What’s we’re all about is making the place that we live better.”
One way to help all of LaGrange County grow is to set realistic and achievable community goals, Bradley explained.
“Everyone has to have a goal for the community, an idea of where they want this place to be in 10 to 15 years. I really believe that community collaboration – getting the community together in a united plan helps.”
He also said each unique segment of the community needed to concentrate on plans that play to its strengths.
Shipshewana has tourism, he explained, and Topeka is the area’s manufacturing center. LaGrange, Bradley adds, has to concentrate on its downtown. But it has to be careful not to dwell too heavily on its past.
“One problem, one of the things they got tired of hearing me say in Jay County is downtown redevelopment isn’t nostalgia development," Bradley explained. “You aren’t going to bring it back the way it was. Many of our downtown were once major commercial centers, retail centers. They had a department store, a couple of shoe stores, two men's stores – that was every county seat in Indiana, but nowadays you’re not going to bring that back. Retail has changed. When you think of retail, now you’re thinking of Amazon and corporations like that. Our retail map has changed. So what does that mean for downtowns? I’m not sure. Will be it a service center? I don’t know. But nostalgia development, it’s not going to work.”
The LCEDC office is located at 304 N. Townline Road in LaGrange.