DeKalb County, Indiana is named after the revolutionary war hero Johann, Baron de Kalb. The DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) has instituted a host of incentives to draw businesses in and increase employment opportunities. Business in Focus spoke with its Executive Director Anton King.
Location always plays a big part in the success of any county. DeKalb is easily accessed by the I-69, as well as numerous highways and the CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines. The I-69 goes right up and down Indiana and is a four-lane highway that can manage a high volume of semi-trailer trucks and other vehicles. The CSX rail line runs south through Auburn and serves many industries in the area. Norfolk is to the north.
“With our state highway system, there is really no part of the county that is considered as remote. The I-69 cuts the county in half; the Indiana state highway 4 is to the north; U.S. Highway 6 is in the middle, and State Road 8 is near the bottom. Every part of the county is connected with a transportation route,” says Anton.
The county has the right mix of highways and rail. There is potential to grow because DeKalb’s certified sites are in a great infrastructure setting with ready access to transportation.
The land here is very flat and typical American farmland. According to Anton, the area has a great deal of high-quality residential housing in the southern portion of the county, while the northern half contains its agricultural base. Although it is primarily an agricultural county, DeKalb also boasts a variety of industry and is a tourist destination. Core industries include steel manufacturing, automotive parts and medical. The county has a wide selection of museums and exhibits that are driven by the automotive industry.
The county seat of Auburn is known as the home of the classics because of the automobiles that were once manufactured here. The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum is located in Auburn.
“Other museums of note include the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States (NATMUS), National Military History Center, Kruise Automotive and Carriage Museum and many more. Auctions America is located here in the county. On Labor Day weekend, it is packed with over 100,000 people looking at and buying some high dollar vehicles,” says Anton.
Not all automotive activity is in museums; there is still a lot of vehicle-related manufacturing in the county with producers making parts for the three large automobile manufacturers.
The cost of living is enviable at around 16 percent less than the national average, with a home ownership rate of 81 percent. The population stands at 42,666; the median age is also lower than the national average at 38, and the unemployment rate is at four percent—well below the national average.
DeKalb is just on the north side of Fort Wayne, which acts as a chief driver for the economy in this region. The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership (NEIRP) is an eleven-county region with Fort Wayne as the hub.
DeKalb County works with NEIRP to provide services to the county including a job portal where many of the companies and businesses in the region can submit jobs. Promoting the benefits of the region as a whole is the main goal of the NEIRP. It provides leads that can be forwarded to member counties, and it is undertaking some groundwork in business development with other regions.
“We want to draw people in,” says Anton. “The goal is to bring in one million (people) to the northeast Indiana region. If workforce is here, lucrative jobs will follow. The Regional Partnership is a crucial aspect of this endeavor and serves as a key partner.”
Another organization that the EDP works with is the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. The focus is on ensuring that everything Indiana has to offer is made available
Yet another partner is the Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana. “They work with lobbyists and policy makers to help create Indiana as an even better business-friendly environment. When companies come to us, asking as to what we can offer, there are a lot of incentives to draw from,” says Anton.
These incentives come from the state, county, city and town levels. Elected officials are working to bring in these businesses whether it is by connecting businesses with specific loan providers or special considerations. Companies are not taxed on items in inventory. The Foreign Trade Zone General Designation enables companies to import and export with relative ease, making it more affordable and profitable.
“It’s an attractive piece, especially when you are dealing with international suppliers or manufacturers. Less limitation equates to the movement of product worldwide,” says Anton.
The Rieke Packaging Systems in Auburn benefits from the FTZ. Its products are made in Auburn and sold around the globe, taking advantage of the Foreign Trade Zone General Designation.
Other incentives are the three certified and shovel-ready industrial sites. The utilities, infrastructure and soil testing have been done. “The utilities are there. It is either zoned industrial, business park or heavy industrial. They are zoned for business. Two of the sites are on a state road with a high infrastructure capacity. One of them has rail access. These certified sites are very desirable to companies, with the least amount of hassles in developing them,” says Anton. The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership deems the industrial sites ready, and certification comes through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
The DeKalb County Airport is a few miles south of Auburn. Its current runway length is 5,000 feet, but it will be expanding to 6,500 feet to handle bigger loads and more traffic. A few companies have hangars located at the regional airport.
“The airport has high levels of activity with jets and multi-propeller aircraft. In our northernmost four counties, we are the only regional airport, which is a big pull as far as travel goes, especially in the corporate realm of things. It’s a real asset for us.”
Rounding out the area’s stellar infrastructure are quality medical facilities. Private hospital DeKalb Health is the leading healthcare provider in the county. DeKalb Health has state-of-the-art facilities and partners with many the top physicians and specialty groups to offer the best care in the county. DeKalb Health is also involved in the community through sponsoring local schools and businesses.
DeKalb County has a good mix of industry and agriculture, but it is important to note that the cities and towns have a lot to offer as well.
“Auburn has boutiques, shops and restaurants to go along with some wineries close by. People come in and put money back into the county. There is very much a sense of pride in Auburn and DeKalb County as a whole. People here love where they work and live. It is a very positive environment with a lot of good momentum,” says Anton.