Warsaw’s road to growth
By Lisa Green | The Journal Gazette
Warsaw is home to major medical device manufacturers, including Zimmer Biomet, DePuy Synthes and OrthoPediatrics Corp.
But this Kosciusko County community northwest of Fort Wayne isn't finished with growth. At least that's what officials hope.
Based on a “Small Cities, Big Futures” research project, the Kosciusko Economic Development Corp. last week released nearly 20 recommendations from the Community Research Institute at Purdue Fort Wayne. The recommendations came after the institute and a county steering committee examined nine Midwest “peer cities” with corporate headquarters or significant production facilities for well-known American companies.
Warsaw is typically referred to as the Orthopedic Capital of the World, but numerous agribusinesses also operate Kosciusko County, including Maple Leaf Farms, Cargill Inc. and Louis Dreyfus Agricultural Industries.
The Research Institute's recommendations are designed to “leverage Warsaw's orthopedic medical device and agribusiness industries to improve local prosperity and quality of life,” the report said.
Recommendations include visiting the corporate headquarters of companies with Warsaw locations to develop relationships and “show the value of continued local investment”; exploring a land trust for future development; updating the comprehensive countywide land use plan; and developing new housing options, such as higher-end apartments and market-rate single-family homes.
“Warsaw and Kosciusko County are in a position of economic strength thanks to the outsized presence of world-class orthopedic medical device manufacturers for a community of this size,” Rachel Blakeman, Community Research Institute director, said in a statement.
“While the community may as a result be vulnerable to circumstances outside the control of local leaders, the report recommendations will improve quality of life and make the community more attractive for businesses and residents alike.”
The peer cities and the companies listed for those markets were: Batesville, Indiana, with Batesville Casket Co., Hillenbrand Inc., and Hill-Rom Holdings; Benton Harbor, Michigan, with Whirlpool Corp.; Bloomington, Illinois, with State Farm Insurance; and Columbus, Indiana, with Cummins Inc.
Others were Findlay, Ohio, with Marathon Petroleum Corp. and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.; Lancaster, Ohio, with Anchor Hocking Co.; Midland, Michigan, with DowDuPont Inc. and Dow Chemical Co.; and Peoria, Illinois, with Caterpillar Inc.
Alan Tio, CEO of the Kosciusko Economic Development Corp., said he and Blakeman identified the cities based on factors such as population, percentage of manufacturing employment and proximity.
In March, Site Selection magazine named Findlay the top micropolitan community for 2018. Micropolitans are communities with populations of 10,000 to 50,000. It was the fifth consecutive year Findlay landed in the top spot. Ohio had 17 micropolitans – more than any other state – to make Site Selection's Top 100, according to an article on the magazine's web site. Wooster, Ashland and Defiance joined Findlay in the top 10.
Company expansions and investment play a key role in the rankings. Findlay, which added more than 3,000 jobs and had $1 billion in capital investment in the previous four years, also prides itself on community collaboration to address issues.
Suzie Light, CEO of the Kosciusko County Community Foundation, visited Findlay with other steering committee members.
“We saw firsthand how local leaders in Findlay, Ohio, were all trained on how to use the 'Findlay Formula' for stakeholder engagement to solve local problems,” Light said in a statement. “We are confident that our leaders can build similar capabilities to respond to challenges and get in front of opportunities in our community.”
In a telephone interview, Light said she was most surprised at how intentional, using a methodology, the peer communities were in addressing problems.
Successful communities are developing a common vision, based not just on economic, educational or specific niches, Light said, but also a “united, community vision.” She also was impressed with Findlay's branding and marketing.
Tio said seven or eight committee members visited Findlay and Benton Harbor, Michigan. About 25 people, representing various sectors, were part of the committee.
The project was funded by the economic development corporation, the community foundation, Lake City Bank and Parkview Health, according to a news release.
The next steps include developing a “Small Cities, Big Futures” network to learn from and communicate success among the peer cities.
Tio believes Kosciusko County already has many promising attributes, including quality of life.
“I think what we can do a better job doing,” he said, “is maybe telling our story so that people know what companies are here and what career opportunities exist.”
Light said the recommendations will have to be prioritized. Patience will also be necessary. “It's understanding that we aren't going to accomplish everything in the first year,” she said.
The steering committee will likely expand, Light said.
“There's going to be lots of activities to do,” she said, “and lots of room at the table for people who want to be part of the process.”
Warsaw's to-do list
Following are recommendations for how Warsaw leaders can pursue economic growth, developed by a Kosciusko County steering committee and Community Research Institute at Purdue Fort Wayne:
- Strengthen collaboration across sectors. Use an interdisciplinary approach to solve problems and make Warsaw better.
- Encourage and support corporate, private-sector investment in community and economic development. Improving Warsaw improves quality of place, which improves the corporate culture of the employers' hometown in the competition for talent.
- Create a network of peer cities to share ideas and best practices. Work together with some of these Midwestern cities to communicate successes.
- Strengthen Warsaw's agricultural sector. Production agriculture and agribusiness industries offer new economic development opportunities.
- Evaluate economic development capacity. Assess local commitments for economic development initiatives.
- Explore formal agreements among Kosciusko Economic Development Corp., chambers of commerce, visitors' bureau. Use a collaborative approach to make resources go further.
- Visit the corporate headquarters of companies with Warsaw locations. Develop relationships with the home offices to show the value of continued local investment.
- Use Warsaw's proximity to Chicago, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and South Bend to grow interest in local quality-of-place features that are attractive to visitors and future residents.
- Develop an entrepreneurship ecosystem to support business builders, emphasizing orthopedic medical devices and agribusiness.
- Create a recognizable identity or brand for Warsaw as a great place to live, work, and play.
- Develop a boutique hotel with conference and event space. This property would be unique to the area with appeal to both corporate and leisure travelers.
- Explore a land trust for future development. Ownership of real estate for commercial, industrial, mixed-use or residential projects determines the city's future.
- Continue support of educational, training programs and opportunities that connect to workforce needs. The demand for skilled workers won't end any time soon, so the pipeline of newly trained workers is critical for the success of Warsaw's employers.
- Create talent attraction programs that connect job candidates and their families to Warsaw employment and lifestyle prospects. Implement a program for Warsaw's prospective employees and their families, using tactics from human resources departments.
- Connect second-home property owners to Warsaw. Convert part-time or seasonal guests into year-round, full-time champions by engaging them with local life.
- Produce a land use plan for all of Kosciusko County and engage the public to create a unified vision.
- Create an Economic Improvement District to provide dedicated funding for programming and projects.
- Develop new housing options, including higher-end apartments and market-rate single-family homes. Study and understand market conditions to identify future developments.