GREENSBURG – Since November 2012, Decatur County has added jobs at a faster clip than all of its neighbors, thanks primarily to the recovering automotive and housing sectors.
Between November 2012 and November 2013, the county added 944 jobs, for a growth rate of 8.3 percent, besting all of its neighbors, including Bartholomew County, which gained 2,369 jobs, for a job growth rate of 6.1 percent, according to data from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
Decatur County’s unemployment rate in November, at 6.5 percent, was down nearly 2 percentage points from a year earlier. The rate tied for 28th-lowest among the state’s 92 counties. Dubois County had the lowest rate, at 5.2 percent. Fayette and Vermillion had the highest, at 9.9 percent. The state average was 7.2 percent.
Marc Coplon, executive director of the Greensburg/Decatur County Economic Development Corp., said that the local economy is improving, judging by the participation of employers at job fairs, the help wanted signs posted around the city and by companies announcing expansions.
Coplon said that one of the more exciting developments from last year was the expansion announcement of Delta Faucet, both from a jobs perspective and because it boosted Decatur County’s regional reputation.
The housing market recovery prompted significant growth at Delta Faucet’s Greensburg operation, an unexpected turnaround for a plant that seemed to be nearly defunct. Coplon said that the company employed about 1,100 at its peak, but employment had fallen to about 140 a few years ago, as some of the jobs were moved to a new plant in Tennessee, and the housing crisis shrank demand.
But last year, Delta invested $11 million in new machinery and $1.5 million in upgrades to its building on the west side of Main Street. The company obtained a five-year tax abatement for the new investments, which means it will pay no property taxes in the first year (on the new investment), but taxes will rise in subsequent years until the company has to pay the full amount.
Coplon said Hitachi Powdered Metals USA, which invested nearly $6 million on new machinery and building expansions last year, also contributed to the local growth last year.
Hitachi Powdered Metals USA is seeing significant growth because of a recovering auto sector, more access to corporate capital and the support of local government and economic development officials, said Gregory Owens, vice president and chief operating officer.
At the beginning of last year, the local operation consisted of a 180,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, which employed 174. By the end of the year, employment had jumped to 207, and a second plant, measuring 160,000 square feet, had been added to increase capacity.
The local operations annually produce about 150 million powdered metal parts, such as sprockets, valve guides and pulleys, for auto makers including Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Ford and General Motors. Growth also was fueled in part by a new product, a variable valve timing housing, which improves engine efficiency by adjusting the timing of the fuel injection into the combustion chamber depending on the engine’s revolutions per minute.
The company’s 30-acre campus soon will include another 20,000-square-foot building, which, though much smaller in size than the other two buildings, marks a significant step in the local operation’s evolution.
The new facility will mean product diversification, as it will produce high-density plastic parts for a division of Hitachi Chemical Co.
The local plants previously were owned by Hitachi Powdered Metals, but that company has been acquired by the much larger Hitachi Chemical, Owens said. Hitachi Powdered Metal accounts for about 8 percent of the parent company’s sales.
Owens said that economic development efforts by local officials played a significant part in the parent company opting to expand Hitachi’s Greensburg operations. The company has plants in many areas, including Mexico, for example, but chose Greensburg for production of the plastic parts because of the employees’ good work and because local officials, including Coplon and Mayor Gary Herbert, established a good relationship with company leaders when they traveled to Japan.
“We’re continuing to grow,” Owens said.
Other local success stories, Coplon said, include more auto-related companies such as Honda, Gecom and Valeo, which announced last year that it was investing $15.5 million in the local campus and add more than 200 jobs — but also food processing company KB Specialty Foods, which is part of Kroger Co.
Owens commended Coplon, Herbert and members of the Greensburg City Council for their outreach to local businesses, which, he said, marks a change from previous strategies. Owens said that local officials used to focus primarily on attracting new companies to Greensburg, but in recent years also have paid close attention to how they can assist existing employers.
Coplon said that the success of the larger automotive suppliers also has prompted the creation of or growth at secondary and tertiary suppliers, including local tool & die shops.
To accommodate further growth in the county, Coplon said, local officials are working to create a 500-acre industrial park on the north side of the Honda interchange. He said he hopes to have the park certified by the end of this year. The current owners of the land will retain ownership, Coplon said, but through an agreement, economic development officials will serve as the sole point of contact for any land sales.
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