By K.O. Jackson, Kokomo Tribune business writer

To make the Kokomo area more attractive to prospective and existing businesses, the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance is getting energy - and money - from Duke Energy.

Thursday, the state's largest electric supplier awarded a nearly $19,000 grant to GKEDA. The money will be used to develop the Haynes High Tech Park for prospective businesses.

Jeb A. Conrad, GKEDA's president and CEO, said the 100-acre park is located on Kokomo's northwest side and is adjacent to the proposed U.S. 31 corridor.

The grant, he said, will be used for engineering, surveys and environmental assessments necessary to help make the site "shovel ready" for businesses locating there.

"Kokomo has never been in this position before. We are opening a door that has never been opened. It's the first opportunity for us to identify sites that can be shovel ready. That's an advantage in this competitive environment. It allows a client to be able to move quickly," said Conrad, adding GKEDA, the state and Duke will work together to market the land.

So far, he added, no business has decided to locate on the site.

"With uncertainty in the auto industry, we need to diversify our economic base. We need to look at replacing our historic employment base without abandoning what we are good at: advanced manufacturing. This site would be perfect for that," said Conrad. "Without Duke's involvement, this would have been a challenge for us to do and have it shovel ready.

"We've been working on this for nine months. It has been a long rigorous process, but we felt like this was something we needed to do. Since this is the first time we've done this, next time we can streamline the process and know what works and what doesn't work as we get another site shovel ready."

The grant is from Duke Energy's Community Growth Partnership Grant Program and is aimed at generating new jobs and capital investment in Indiana, said Kirk E. Hobbs, vice president community relations and economic development.

Over the past two years, Duke has awarded eight of these grants worth more than $100,000 to Indiana economic development organizations.

"Some communities don't have an advantage such as this," said Hobbs, adding his organization's commitment to economic development led to Duke receiving Site Selection Magazine's Top Ten Utility Economic Development Award for 11 consecutive years.

"We are interested in the economic vitality of the community. It was an easy decision for us to do this because it was the right thing to do. Selfishly, we want to be a part of this. It's good for the community and good for us."

In addition, since the Haynes site is adjacent to the 31 by-pass - it is proposed to be the first exit off the by-pass headed into Kokomo - Laura Sheets, Duke's Kokomo area manager, said "access to the freeway is a key asset to the property.

"In the competition for industry, it's important to have sites that are ready for business. This is a great site for businesses that need a quick turnaround time in order to locate here. It's one more thing we have to move forward."

Although the plan is to attract prospective businesses, Bill Perranoff doesn't want to alienate existing area businesses who may be looking to expand.

"This gives existing businesses a strong viable option," said Duke's economic development regional manager. "It would be a great place for a business that would like to expand and grow as well as a place to put a new facility.

"You never know the businesses that pass you by. We may not get the first project, but this puts us in a good position for the next project. People will know this site is available and in this competitive market, with all things being equal, the path of least resistance is the one most businesses select. And we have a shovel-ready location."

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