One Southern Indiana President/CEO Wendy Dant Chesser discusses the cooperative relationships that benefit Greater Louisville businesses on both sides of the Ohio River.
Sites ready for economic prospects to jump on and work with are in very high demand. How does your area stand with regard to having property that is build-ready?
We are fortunate to have a couple of extremely large megasites at the River Ridge Commerce Center industrial park, several thousand acres that is buildable. We know site identification is an ongoing task, and the Indiana General Assembly (in May 2023) put a site acquisition fund in place that will help. It will help identify and gain access to sites so utilities can be run and it can be a shovel-ready site.
What are One Southern Indiana’s current initiatives?
Primary is business retention and expansion of existing business. No. 2 would be the continuation of our business attraction services and marketing for business attraction. Maybe thirdly—and this is an important focus since the early days of the pandemic—is small-business services. We recognize that small businesses may be a great pizza maker but that doesn’t mean they’re a great business. We recognize that and partnered with the Indiana Small Business Development Center to identify, coach and provide microloans to our smaller businesses.
Greater Louisville Inc. has had a focus on regional economic development for years and now has a new website to push awareness and share information. Tell us about the impact this is likely to create.
When we sell Southern Indiana as the place to locate a business, we are best known for a city we are not in, in a state we’re not a part of. So, we have to recognize that we have advantages of being able to sell the assets Louisville provides. I don’t have to build my own zoo; we don’t have to create our own international sport activity—we piggyback on the Louisville Zoo, the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Derby festival. It makes sense to do that. It’s like we’re a family that is fortunate we have a bunch of different family members who are part of our region.
We work within the Southern Indiana communities to make sure our local neighbors are close regional partners. We get to think more broadly into the bi-state area. We have what we think are the true benefits of being a part of the state of Indiana, which has been economically attractive to businesses for a number of years, but have a foot in two good boats. We get to talk about the benefits of being in Indiana, and we’re 90 seconds away from all of the amenities a city the size of Louisville has to offer.
Greater Louisville Inc. and Louisville Forward are great partners. We have a cooperative relationship; we will share pertinent information and work on promoting our assets together. Secondly, we have an anti-competitive relationship. You’ll never find One Southern Indiana knocking on doors in Louisville saying, ‘Move your company to Indiana.’ We take it a step further: If a company is considering a move from one side of the river to the other, we let the company know we will only incentivize on the growth that comes from that—you can’t just move employees from one side to the other.
We share information with our regional partners so they’re not blindsided if a company is considering a move. Sometimes there are good reasons to move. Say a company is in a facility that is “landlocked” and can’t grow anymore. Well, it’s much better for the region if they relocate to a larger site in Indiana than if they move to Nashville. We’re trying to grow the region. Businesses will make a decision on which state makes sense to them, but we all get to benefit. A business location on one side of the river is positive for businesses on all sides of the river.
Thankfully we have lots of river crossings now for workforce, which is our most regional asset. We also then can benefit companies by suppliers throughout the region; customers, vendors, you name it. Business alliances can be formed and the state line doesn’t get in the way of those opportunities.
Economic developers say there is a very full pipeline of projects we don’t necessarily know about publicly yet. Are you sensing that?
In 2022, One Southern Indiana logged 114 projects (expressing interest). We got eight of them, which is great. But 114 projects for our organization was good. Our main goal is diversification now. If you look at payroll in our region, manufacturing is far and away our strongest. However, we are excited about continued diversification both within manufacturing and across different skill sets and sectors. Of the eight projects announced, four were product manufacturers, one for services, two being healthcare-related and then bourbon. Indiana’s incentive process is very favorable to manufacturing.
How is the Indiana side of the river doing at meeting housing needs?
The state of Indiana recognized in 2015 that it wanted to support regions that were building quality-of-place assets, the things that help a community attract people. We have a project that just received $37 million from the Indiana legislature called Origin Park, which is a 600-acre park right at the Falls of the Ohio, truly a regional benefit. The state recently used a lot of federal ARP (American Rescue Plan) funds granted to the state to then regrant those to regions to build quality-of-place assets. The intention of that is talent attraction. Quality of place could be different housing options in the mix and the regions around Indiana included housing as a portion of their plan. We did. Our five-county region received a $50 million allocation. Those funds are being used to not only support specific housing developments but also to include infrastructure that supports housing. If can’t you can’t flush your toilet you don’t have a very good place to live.
Not only has the state recognized that those type of things are done regionally, this past session they allocated another $500 million to continue the program. The expectation is that state dollars would be no more than 20% of total projects, so it’s leveraging not only local but more importantly private-sector dollars. Those are the things that are going to help us with our economic stability as much as anything, balancing the needs of individuals with the needs of business and making sure that the interdependency of talent and business is connected.