Interest remains high in Henry County as far as future business expansion possibilities are concerned. If only the ceilings of available buildings were higher.
Members of the New Castle-Henry County Economic Board of Directors heard both good news and how future business needs are changing during their July meeting Thursday.
EDC President Corey Murphy discussed both the building momentum here – and the need for bigger available buildings.
Murphy said the sale of the EDC’s shell building to Boar’s Head was proceeding well.
“There is a signed purchase agreement between Runnebohm Construction and Boar’s Head,” Murphy said. “It’s looking favorable but we still have some hurdles to go through. Approvals are still needed from County Commissioners, the County Council and Planning Commission.”
Meanwhile, the Spiceland Hotel project continues to move forward, albeit slower than hoped. Murphy said the process related to financing and permitting is still under way.
“I can tell you from John Montgomery’s perspective, it’s not moving fast enough,” Murphy said of the local steakhouse owner who plans to have a Radisson Comfort Inn & Suites built next to his current business.
Murphy also said two housing projects are actively engaged in the county, one previously announced at Northfield Park by Jeff Smiley and another yet to be revealed. He said Penny York, the EDC’s special projects coordinator, recently organized day-long meetings on a potential housing project that would be of the “market-rate” rent variety.
Meanwhile, six recent requests for information from potential businesses looking to come here revealed a big problem, according to Murphy. Big, as in the size of ceilings.
“We had to take a pass on all of them,” Murphy said. “Some of it was building and ceiling height. We have some available buildings in the county that are good buildings. The challenge with some of those buildings is ceiling height. They were built in an era where manufacturing was operating at a lower ceiling height.”
Murphy said the two biggest flaws in local available buildings seemed to be:
**Size of building, for example 500,000 square feet. “We don’t really have that in our inventory,” he said.
**Ground that is zoned heavy industrial and nowhere near environmental contamination. Murphy said efforts continue and are progressing on cleaning up the former Firestone site on the east side of town, but that it’s not ready for reuse yet.
“We basically had to self-eliminate,” Murphy said. “There’s really no sense in wasting anybody’s time if we don’t have what they’re looking for. We’re wasting our time, wasting their time and it makes us look bad.”
The ceiling height issue is among the latest trends in economic development, according to Murphy. Ceiling height of the 50,000 square-foot shell building Boar’s Head is considering, for example, is 30 feet.
“We’re seeing requested ceiling heights at easily over 20-plus,” Murphy said. “With an emphasis on plus. Probably anything over 30 feet is a requirement.”
In other business at Thursday’s meeting:
**Murphy thanked guest speaker John Greene, chief executive office for the New Lisbon Telephone Co. and chairman of the Wilbur Wright Birthplace and Museum. “The Federal Aviation Administration requires the airport to have a landline telephone on the exterior of our terminal building,” Murphy said. “That’s provided by the New Lisbon Telephone Company. Speaking for the airport board, we appreciate that.” More on Greene’s remarks at Thursday’s meeting will be featured in a future article.
**Murphy introduced recent Tri High School graduate Jalen Lowder, who is serving as an intern for the EDC office. Lowder was the one who designed the new parks and recreation logo now in use by the city of New Castle. Lowder has been busy gathering information for all the downtowns in Henry County, taking photos of potential business recruitment sites. Lowder will continue his role into the middle of August, paid mostly by a grant.
**Murphy said he passed his business credit analysis class and is now moving on to real estate class in November, one he says will have the most direct impact on the local office’s day-to-day operations.
**Murphy said the EDC would again be asking for the same monetary contributions from both the City of New Castle and Henry County for 2020 as budget season nears. He also said it was important to maintain Penny York’s special projects role in the coming year as well.