Some county leaders are worried that the county is not producing a large enough workforce to serve large employers such as Amazon.
Some county leaders are worried that the county is not producing a large enough workforce to serve large employers such as Amazon.
GREENFIELD — Divisions are continuing to show in county government over questions related to economic development and what kind of businesses the area should be trying to attract.

During a conversation with Mike Frischkorn of the Hancock Economic Development Council at their meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 11, county council members expressed continued reservations about large developments in the area, with some saying there are not enough workers in the area for the jobs more of these giant warehouse buildings would require.

Council member Kent Fisk said he thinks the county is approaching the point where it will have more open warehouse jobs than workers can be found for.

“We don’t have any workers,” Fisk said. “…When someone comes to you and says, ‘We need 300 more workers, do you say, ‘OK, you’re not going to get them from Hancock County?’ I know other entities are doing workforce development surveys; they’re wanting to bring in thousands and thousands and thousands of lower income, because everything we’re getting is warehousing. We’re not getting anybody coming in saying they’re going to have 300 employees and they’re all going to make six figures.”

Council member Bill Bolander said that’s not entirely true and that many of the people working at facilities like Amazon and Walmart are technicians making higher wages than someone simply assembling a cardboard box. Fisk argued that may be true, but companies like Amazon still need many employees who are forklift operators or commercial drivers. The latter, he pointed out, are paid less at Amazon than at his own local waste management company.

Frischkorn said that when HEDC provides information about the area to companies, he’ll often be looking not just at what’s available in Hancock County, but within a 30-minute or one-hour drive of the proposed facility.

“You’re looking at not just Hancock County,” he said. “You have people that come from New Castle, people come from Fishers, the Hamilton County area, or Johnson County.”

Council member Mary Noe expressed concerns about the number of speculative buildings the council is approving without really knowing what future tenant might occupy them.

“And then, if it doesn’t turn out well, all the citizens that elected me to represent them are unhappy with me, and they’ll say ‘Why did you do that?’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best,’” Noe said. “I kind of feel like that’s what I’m doing? Can you tell me how not to feel like that?”

Frischkorn said the HEDC supports speculative buildings with an understanding of what the market will support and has always been successful in helping find occupants for the projects that are built.

County Commissioner John Jessup, who attended the meeting, said he agrees that there are some problems created by the county’s current economic development activity, but that it is overall a positive thing.

“We’re not on a runaway train,” he said. “We planned for this.”

Jessup added that concerns about spec buildings are overblown because developers would not invest millions of dollars in a property that might not attract a tenant. He added that Amazon jobs may not be permanent careers, but they are valuable jobs for many people in the county.

“I hear so many things that are going wrong — there’s a lot of things going right,” he said.

Also at the meeting, the county council asked for more information from GDI Holdings before approving their request for a tax abatement on a new property where speculative buildings could be constructed. Some of the council members were concerned about potential light and noise pollution in the area, as well as about whether proceeds from the abatement could benefit public safety agencies.

Terry McCardwell, co-owner of GDI, attended the meeting and said he has met with Sheriff Brad Burkhart about ensuring the project’s proceeds benefit public safety. The property is located near the proposed west tax increment financing district in the Mt. Comfort area, where the sheriff and fire departments have said they’ve struggled with an increased number of calls.

“I started working in this community in August of 1988; not that I’m keeping track of that,” McCardwell said. “We want to be responsible developers.”

However, McCardwell added, he wouldn’t be able to attract any buyers to a development if there wasn’t a guaranteed tax abatement. He also said buildings on the land wouldn’t necessarily be built on a speculative basis.

“Now it’s easier for us to go and fulfill a request for a proposal for a build-to-suit,” he said. “The types of companies that are coming to Indianapolis, and now Hancock County, are phenomenal. We did a deal with Apple Computers, Mars Wrigley. Mercedes Benz is in the marketplace… and the reason we were able to win these projects and win them in Indiana, in the Indianapolis metro, is because we had sites and buildings that were available. If we don’t, we’re not even in the hunt.”

Council member Robin Lowder said she’d like the developers to potentially meet with homeowners in the area to assuage concerns about developers, which McCardwell said they’d be happy to do.

The council will consider the proposal further at its next meeting.
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