LaGrange Chamber members gather to celebrate business achievements
Chamber holds annual meeting as business booms
By Roger Schneider | Goshen News
LaGrange County has a diverse retail and industrial base that complements booming tourism and agriculture segments, and all of that success was celebrated by the Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
The LaGrange County Chamber of Commerce members gathered at the Shipshewena Event Center for their annual meeting and trade show, where old friends shook hands and chatted, talking about all the good things occurring in the county.
One of those good things is the construction of a new Michiana Event Center.
The MEC is now located in a former factory building along Ind. 9 north of Howe. Construction will soon begin on a new MEC in Shipshewana on 25 acres at C.R. 200 North and Farver Street. The new MEC will be much larger with more useful space and tap into the community’s tourism industry, according to Dennis Fry, chief executive officer and Jeff Fought, general manager.
Fry and Fought were manning a booth at the annual meeting to update community members about their pending project.
“It will be started and completed this year,” Fry said.
“This is a facility that is designed for events,” Fought said. “It is designed for what we want it to do.”
Fry and Fought said they want to build a complex that can host three events simultaneously. They can only hold one event a week now.
The new MEC campus will have a 100,000-square-foot trade show building, a 3,600-seat arena, a commercial kitchen and a horse barn with 360 stalls and a storage area. There will also be 858 parking spaces for vehicles and more parking areas for horse and buggies and trailers, according to plans being displayed at the booth.
Horse and buggies are prevalent in and around this town of just over 500 residents due to the Amish and other Anabaptist religious cultures that use that form of transportation. Those cultures are a big draw for tourism. Shipshewana draws more than 2 million visitors each year to its current Trading Places flea auction and quaint gift shops in converted houses in its retail area. There are also several hotels, the event center, stage venues and many restaurants that feed, house and entertain tourists.
“We obviously looked at several different locations to move the MEC to,” Fought said, “and we felt Shipshewana was the best option and provided the best backdrop for entertainment, trade shows and any type of events we want to bring in.”
The MEC expansion will be good for the county’s overall economy, according to Joe Urbanski, president of Farmers State Bank, who was one of several bankers touring the vendors before the meeting.
“We know that Shipshewana is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the entire state of Indiana,” Urbanski said. “Of course bringing a great deal of people from outside our community to enjoy what we have to offer in terms of food, entrainment and hospitality provides jobs and it also results those people participating in events throughout our entire communities. There is no question the entire community has benefited from what Shipshewana has to offer from a tourism perspective.”
Other segments of the local economy are also thriving, according to the bank executive.
“The agriculture business continues to grow and be diversified. In recent years, egg farm facilities have grown significantly in our community and been a good source of business and a good source of jobs,” Urbanski said. “That agriculture portion of our economy continues to be very strong.”
The most noticeable part of the county economy is the construction of recreational vehicles. Factories are scattered in and around Topeka, Shipshewana and LaGrange.
“Manufacturing is an extremely important component of our economy and has done incredibly well in recent years,” Urbanski said. “The RV industry is continuing to grow and for a good number of years has produced year after year record results in terms of production, so our community continues to be blessed with a fair amount of economic success.”
Urbanski said business and economic development leaders want to hold on to the traditional businesses that have provide jobs and wealth to county residents, but they also would like to enhance other segments of the economy.
“As a community,” he said, “both with the Chamber and our economic development efforts, we continue to look to diversify our economy and try to make sure it is not dependent on one or two sectors.”