Fast internet and low taxes help Wells County grow

November 7th, 2018

By Gwen Clayton | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

This has been a good year for Wells County in terms of business growth.

“We’ve had about $58 million worth of increased industrial development and we’ve had a commitment of 128 jobs just in 2018,” said Chad Kline, executive director for the Wells County Economic Development Corp. “We’ve had two attraction projects bringing new industrial companies into the community and we’ve had seven companies here locally that have expanded, either purchasing equipment or purchasing buildings or expanding those buildings. We’re on task to match or beat last year in the investment that was made in 2017.”

Kline credits the current economic environment.

“The economy right now is crazy and every one of our clients here have said that they’re busy,” he said. “Some of them have indicated they’ve even had to turn away work because they’re so busy and they can’t meet deadlines.”

Kline believes the robust economy is due to a combination of several factors, including tax cuts and a change in the presidential administration.

“The state of Indiana has continued to make it a more proactive place to grow and locate your business in,” he said. “And of course, some of the federal changes have made it even easier to reinvest more money here in the United States as well. The economy right now is essentially going very well. People are spending money.”

While Wells County in general is doing well, the downtowns in particular have seen significant growth.

“We’ve seen a lot of new business come to our downtown, here in Bluffton, specifically,” Kline said. “Some new businesses have opened up in Ossian. We’re seeing small-business growth as well. We’re seeing a lot of events, attractions, quality-of-life activities taking place to bring light to what’s going on in our communities.”

Local communities are putting effort into increasing the number of parks and making improvements in their parks throughout the county. Leaders are also working on projects related to internships and tourism, he said.

Speed of business

Bluffton became Indiana’s first Gigabit City in September 2015, thanks to a public-private partnership with AdamsWells Internet Telecom TV, giving city residents internet speeds of 1,000 Mbps, which is 100 times faster than the average residential speed of 10 Mbps.

The rest of Wells County, though, has spotty connectivity, which is an issue area leaders are addressing.

“It’s kind of sporadic in areas of capacities and capabilities, so we’re looking at those and looking at ways we can partner and try to increase those capabilities,” Kline said. “Broadband has become like your water and your sewer and your electric — everybody expects it’s going to be there because it’s that utility that’s become just as important. It’s a necessity.”

The WCEDC is working with the town of Markle on a feasibility study to provide fiber activity in town.

New attractions

The two biggest attraction projects to come to Wells County this year are IQ Fibers and EnviroKure.

“IQ Fibers renovated a space here, spent a considerable amount of money to improve it,” Kline said.

IQ Fibers makes cellulose insulation at its plant in the city of Bluffton.

EnviroKure is an agricultural biosciences fertilizer facility that’s planning to invest more than $10 million in a new 80,000 square-foot manufacturing plant in Bluffton. Construction plans are already being discussed with a reported goal of completion slated for late 2019.

“We are pleased to be building our flagship facility in Bluffton,” Mark Lupke, president and CEO of EnviroKure, said in a Sept. 26 statement from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. “Indiana’s business climate has made this possible. The Indiana Economic Development Corp., along with the Northeast Indiana (Regional) Partnership and Wells County Economic Development, have worked hard to help us identify the ideal location and navigate the state and local construction permitting process.”

This new plant, per the announcement, will bring in about 17 new jobs by 2020, with hiring expected to begin in early summer for management positions and in the fall for manufacturing positions. The IEDC is also expected to contribute close to $165,000 in “conditional” incentives to the company for its part in job creation in the area.

The town of Ossian is also seeing growth. Berne Apparel added 60,000 square feet of warehousing space to its building that was completed in 2018. TI Automotive invested heavily in equipment in its Ossian facility, and Haven Manufacturing, which sits outside of Ossian, has been investing in automation equipment and some other equipment at its facility due to increased business coming from the orthopedic industry, Kline said.

Business environment

“Wells County has a fairly low tax rate compared to a lot of other counties around,” Kline said. “So, it’s attractive to be in this county from very little property taxes, both real and personal. Having that lower rate makes it a little bit cheaper to do business here. Obviously with tax-levy freezes and those types of things, there’s really not much they can do to increase those or change those and they’ve maintained the income tax for a number of years. I don’t see anything changing there as well.”

The county is also investing in its highway infrastructure to improve access and logistics and make it easier to get around in the county, both for industry and for workers.

Challenges

Like many communities in northeast Indiana, Wells County struggles to provide housing commensurate with local wages.

“We are trying to increase housing for the entry level manufacturing-type wage,” Kline said. “We’re trying to focus on what that wage is and make sure there’s available housing for those people.”

Sewer capacity is one of the challenges. Another issue for the town of Markle is internet availability.

“We’re focusing on housing but we want to make sure we do it right and not just throw up a bunch of houses without having proper and supportive infrastructure to do it,” Kline said. “We’re very active in working with the Regional Partnership throughout the region and working with other LEDOs (local economic development organizations) across the region to try to figure out how we can be the leader and see how we can attract new housing development in each of our communities.”