Bradley tapped to lead LaGrange EDC
By Steve Garbacz | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
LaGrange County Economic Development Corp.’s new director is bringing decades of experience to the job, combining past experience of working with RV and automotive manufacturers and agricultural development.
William “Bill” Bradley Jr., will become the next president and CEO of the LaGrange EDC, the organization announced Wednesday afternoon.
Bradley has served as the executive director of the Jay County Economic Development Corp. in Portland for the past 11 years. He has 31 years of economic development experience, including previously having led the economic development group in Elkhart County.
The organization was searching for a new leader after the departure of former CEO Ryne Krock who was ousted on Jan. 8.
A criminal investigation alleged that Krock used an EDC credit card to purchase about $4,000 in casino chips across multiple instances since June 2016. He is facing a Level 6 felony charge and Class A misdemeanor charge of theft.
In the process of moving on to the next leader, development corporation board chairman Mark Eagleson said Bradley’s mix of experience with manufacturing and agricultural made him an idea fit for the job in LaGrange County. In Portland, Bradley worked with firms to create or retain 2,500 jobs and invest approximately $400 million into county.
Eagleson said the county received multiple quality applications and interviewed four candidates before selecting Bradley.
“He’s got a very impressive background in doing that type of work and I think we’re fortunate to get someone with his amount of experience,” Eagleson said. “(LaGrange and Elkhart counties) are both heavily RV manufacturing and our cultures are very similar in what we have. Those things would be a benefit to both us and him in being successful.”
Several factors made LaGrange County an attractive opportunity for Bradley. It’s location on the toll road, a rich history of strong employment trends and the leaders in place all sold the job to him, Bradley said.
LaGrange County and Jay County have several similarities: Both have economies driven by manufacturing and agriculture, both are mostly rural landscape and both have a notable Amish population.
“We make things and we grow things. That’s very similar to LaGrange County. We will make things and grow things,” Bradley said.
With unemployment at exceptionally low levels, there’s not much negative to say about the state of the economy now. But being familiar with the RV industry, Bradley is familiar that it’s a boom-or-bust market. Back during the Great Recession, Elkhart and LaGrange counties were among the highest in unemployment rates, while Jay County wasn’t too far behind.
In Portland, Bradley stressed the importance of trying to diversify the local economy to help weather future downturns.
“It’s a very labor intensive manufacturing process so it takes a lot of people. When it’s really, really good, it’s really, really good. When it’s bad like it was in 2008-2009, 14-15 percent unemployment, it’s really bad,” Bradley said.
He sees some positive trends of LaGrange County, too, in its population growth. While most northeast Indiana counties have stagnant or negative growth, LaGrange County consistently adds new people. That’s in part to the high Amish birth rate, but having more people available, regardless of their background, is a positive that many rural counties can’t claim.
“Indiana as a whole is struggling with the issue. We are not growing by people moving here, we’re basically keeping our heads above water with having more babies,” Bradley said. “It’s our birth rate that drives our population trend in Indiana That’s a real positive I see in LaGrange County.”
Since most areas can’t expect to get a huge influx of new people and new workers, Bradley said there’s a renewed focus in helping existing firms sustain and grow. The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership now plays a bigger role in attracting those big, new projects, so local economic developers can devote their resources to helping companies that are already there.
“We’re not hunting for smokestacks any more,” Bradley said. “Keeping what you’ve got any more is more important than anything.”
Bradley will start in LaGrange County on June 25.