When IntraPac International Corp., a manufacturer of toothpaste tubes and other personal care packaging, went looking for a new manufacturing site, it searched all over the Midwest, including Detroit and Cleveland, but found what it wanted in Southeast Indiana.

"(Local officials) made a lot of investment in infrastructure to make it a desirable and attractive place," says Eric Brinson, director of human resources for the privately held Atlanta-based company.

With more than $500,000 in tax incentives and training support, IntraPac opened a new 80,000 square-foot plant in April in Lawrenceburg that employs 60 people and expects to expand to 125 over the next year and a half.

"The people in Dearborn County were incredibly supportive," says Brinson.

Looking to Expand

Southeast Indiana, despite its proximity to Cincinnati, its access to Interstates 275 and 74 and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, is frequently overlooked in favor of higher-profile areas such as Northern Kentucky and northeast Cincinnati when businesses want to expand or relocate.

But development officials in the five counties of Dearborn, Ripley, Franklin, Ohio and Switzerland and the cities of Lawrenceburg and Batesville are pushing hard to change that.

"We're not trying to steal companies from Cincinnati," says Gary Norman, economic development director in Ripley County. "We just want businesses to know when they're looking to expand or relocate "¦ we're another option."

One perception the region is trying to change is that it's too far from the big city.

"We're one of the last undeveloped areas close to Cincinnati," says Grant Hughes, redevelopment director for Lawrenceburg.

"I can be at a Reds game in 25 minutes and at the (Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International) airport in 15 minutes."

Affordable Space

When Fortis Security Products, a small manufacturer of bank vaults and drive-thru security systems in Hebron, Ky., began looking for more space a couple years ago, "we never gave Southeast Indiana a thought," says Kieran "Budgie" Nickoson, who started the company with partners Kirk Williams and David Hostetter about nine years ago.

But when Fortis couldn't find an affordable building in Northern Kentucky for expansion, a member of its board of directors put the company in touch with Mike Rozow, executive director of the Dearborn County Economic Development Initiative and president of the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce.

Rozow organized a visit by Dearborn County officials to Fortis' plant in Hebron and pushed for an Indiana tax incentive package that allowed Fortis to build a new $6 million plant in Greendale.

Since moving to Greendale, Fortis has increased employment from 18 to 24. "The people here were great to work with," Nickoson says. "This was the perfect place to move to."

Business Friendly

Southeast Indiana has some important arrows in its quiver as it hunts for more development.

Indiana gets high marks for its business-friendly environment. The state ranked first in the Midwest and fifth nationally among pro-business states in a recent survey by the Pollina Corporation and the American Economic Development Institute, which looked at things such as tax rates, education, energy costs, economic incentives and workers compensation insurance costs.

Indiana's pro-business image was further enhanced earlier this year when right-to-work laws took effect. The law, which bars unions from requiring non-union members to pay fees for representation, makes Indiana the only Midwest manufacturing belt state with such a law.

Casino gambling also has been an important windfall for local economic development. More than $2 billion in gambling tax revenues and fees have flowed to the state, the city of Lawrenceburg and surrounding communities since Hollywood Casino opened more than 15 years ago.

That money has been invested in everything from new sidewalks to education grants for students. But with Ohio building casinos in Cincinnati and other big cities, there is growing realization among local officials that the gaming windfall might not last forever.

Regional Development Grants

Lawrenceburg has shared some of those revenues with its neighbors with the creation of the Lawrenceburg Regional Economic Development Grant Fund to help spur job growth.

The fund began six years ago when, at the urging of Gov. Mitch Daniels, the city contributed $10 million in gambling tax revenues as part of the state incentives to lure Honda Manufacturing's $550 million auto assembly plant to nearby Greensburg.

The fund, administered by the city, has made about $61 million in economic development grants for businesses in a 10-county region.

The fund doesn't replace the state's array of economic incentives. It's designed to be more "icing on the cake," providing, for example, money for moving costs for a business on the fence about relocating to Southeast Indiana, officials say.

Despite those investments, unemployment remains high in Southeast Indiana. The Dearborn County jobless rate was 8.2 percent in July, just under the state average of 8.3 percent.

Education is Key

An important player in the region's economic development effort is Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution with more than 30 locations including campuses in Lawrenceburg, Batesville and Madison.

Jim Helms, chancellor of Ivy Tech's Southeast Indiana campuses, says the school is frequently at the table to offer its custom training resources when local officials are talking with business prospects.

Helms says businesses are increasingly demanding more specialized skills from employees, which makes job training resources like Ivy Tech an important element in economic development.

For example, to ease IntraPac's move to Lawrenceburg, Ivy Tech opened space in its manufacturing technology training area for a large, specialized welding machine that IntraPac moved from its plant in Costa Rica.

Last winter, Ivy Tech provided training for about three dozen of IntraPac's new hires on the machine so the company could launch production as soon as its new $3 million plant in Lawrenceburg was completed.

To encourage more students to pursue postsecondary education, Lawrenceburg has contributed gaming revenue to a program that offers grants of $1,800 a year for up to four years of college.

The program, administered by the Dearborn Community Foundation, is open to students from the Lawrenceburg, South Dearborn and Sunman Dearborn schools with a C average who fulfill a community service commitment.

Paul Kunkel, associate director of Dearborn County Economic Development Initiative, said the region is looking to diversify its economic base by focusing on: manufacturing, healthcare, biotechnology, transportation and alternative energy. One example: Solarzentrum, a German-based maker of combined heat and power solar panels, has announced it would invest more than $7 million in a new plant in Osgood that could create 140 jobs.

"That's a lot of jobs for us in Ripley County," says Norman, the economic development director.

Terri Randall, who was named Dearborn County administrator in March, has witnessed the transformation firsthand. She grew up in Lawrenceburg and remembers when U.S Route 50 was the only highway into the area and shopping was limited to the local A&P grocery.

Today, she says, the area is attracting national restaurant chains and hotels, and Lawrenceburg is preparing to break ground on a convention center to complement the Hollywood Casino.

Although the community is enjoying the windfall from the casino, she says, there's an awareness that more needs to be done to diversify and grow the local economy.

"We still have a good percentage of local residents who work in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky," she says.

"That's slowly starting to change, but we still have a way to go.

Contacts

City of Batesville Economic Development, Mayor Rick Fledderman. (812) 933-6100 or email: mayor47006@etczone.com.

Dearborn County Economic Development Initiative. Michael Rozow, Jr., executive director. (800) 322-8198 or email: mrozow@DearbornCountyEDI.com.

Franklin County Economic Development Commission. (765) 647-5340) or www.fceconomicdevelopment.com.

Ohio County Economic Development Corporation. Lane Siekman, executive director. (888) 935-9449 or email: ohiocountyedc@gmail.com.

Ripley County Economic Development, Gary Norman, executive director. (812) 689-4344 or email: ripleyed@seidata.com.

Rush County Economic & Community Development Corp., Jim Finan, executive director. (765) 938-3232 or email: jimfinan@rushecdc.org.

Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation. (885) 627-5526 or www.switzerlandusa.com.