Reprinted with permission from the Vincennes Sun-Commercial newspaper
August 17, 2023
Knox County Indiana Economic Development held its quarterly meeting Friday, continuing discussions of moving the county forward in everything from industrial growth to housing development — and many other potential improvements in between.
Up first, the board of directors, as they met at the Elihu Stout building, 702 Main St., heard from representatives with two relatively new KCIED committees, one aimed at workforce development efforts and the other, quality of life.
Richard Pea, chair of the organization’s Workforce Development Committee, reported to the board that on May 18 they held a meeting to which they invited human resource representatives from local businesses.
“And the feedback we received was really good,” Pea told the group, saying their focus was on recruiting workers, and retaining them, as well as continuing education opportunities to keep them engaged.
“It really gave us a lot of direction,” Pea said of the discussion. “And everyone involved was really supportive for (these meetings and discussions) to continue.”
Both Rich and Chris Pfaff, president of KCIED, invited other HR professionals from businesses not yet represented within the community to reach out, should they be interested in joining in the future.
Shepherd Dunn, chairman of the KCIED’s non-profit arm, Knox Life, also offered an update on what that group has been up to in recent months.
After it was first formed prior to the pandemic, the group hosted a couple of community-wide trash pickups and oversaw a survey to garner feedback from the community on ways quality of life and place can be improved.
But for the most part, the committee, Dunn said, has been trying to find its next steps.
“We’re doing the dance with the bear, so to speak, figuring out who we are and what we want to be doing,” he said.
The group was given a modest budget when formed, money Dunn said they haven’t spent.
So they’ve decided to set up a small grant program.
“We’ve got the framework and the language set, and we’re about to tie it all up, roll that out to the community,” he said.
And while he didn’t provide any immediate details, he said the idea is to provide “seed money to folks to help with their own quality of life ideas and projects.”
KCIED board chairman Tim Smith commended the two groups for working to broaden the organization’s overall reach, which, in the past, has been primarily on industrial and business development.
“There’s a lot going on in regards to workforce development; it’s a significant issue across not only the state but the country, too,” Smith said. “But in order to enhance workforce development, we need quality of place, and Knox Life is working on that as well.
“So in addition to many of our other ongoing (initiatives), those are two outstanding things we are doing for the community.”
Pfaff also said KCIED continues to look to community leaders and business owners to take a survey tied to a new comprehensive marketing strategy, one specifically to “elevate our brand and attractiveness to companies and site selectors,” according to an email sent out last month.
The outcome, Pfaff hopes, will “position Knox County for future strategic growth.”
Anyone can take the 15-question survey; Pfaff told board members on Friday that they were pleased with the results so far, seeing about 170 people take it.
And while it was, at least initially, targeted toward community leaders, Pfaff said he’d like to hear from a broad spectrum of people, specifically on the local perception of KCIED and what it’s doing.
“I think the more responses we get the better, whether that be an average citizen or the CEO of a local company, I want to see both,” he said.
The results will be shared during a committee meeting set for later this month. There are a couple of “open-ended” questions, Pfaff said, that could yield some interesting results.
“So we’ll look at those,” he said.
“I don’t suspect we will learn anything new, nothing we didn’t already know, but sometimes you can be surprised by these things.”
The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KnoxCoEconDev.
KCIED, too, continues its effort to connect with existing local businesses as part of its Business Retention and Expansion effort.
Announced in February, the BR&E initiative looks to strengthen those connections and, possibly, be of help with any ongoing struggles.
The hope is that these surveys, which include a personal visit from Pfaff, can facilitate more in-depth conversations among the entities, allowing Knox Economic Development and its partner agency, the Knox County Chamber of Commerce, to identify — and possibly help with — things like barriers to growth and expansion plans.
Pfaff said several visits have been done so far; others coming up include Packaging Corporation of America, Scepter, Lewis Bakery, Hurricane Ditcher and Ford Sawmills.