“After 12 years, we’re getting the band back together,” Shyla Beam, executive director of the Vincennes Tourism Bureau said with a smile to members of Knox County Indiana Economic Development Friday morning.
The county’s leading economic development organization, during their regular meeting held at Vincennes University’s Learning Resource Center, announced that it, too, would be moving into the former Sun-Commercial building at 702 Main St., once again joining the VTB and the Knox County Chamber of Commerce, which moved into the space earlier this week.
Years ago, all three occupied space inside the former Van Eaton Building located on what is now a green space at the corner of Third and Busseron streets.
The building, a two-story mid-century modern building with a unique glass front, was purchased by neighboring German American Bank from the City of Vincennes in early 2010 and was razed.
The Chamber moved into a building owned by the city’s Urban Enterprise Association at 316 Main St., joining the Northwest Territory Art Guild, which, too, had once been housed inside the Van Eaton Building.
Knox Economic Development, then called the Knox County Development Corp., moved into the restored Hack Simon Building on VU’s campus, and the VTB moved into a small building near the Indiana Military Museum on South Sixth Street.
The VTB last year purchased the vast building at 702 Main St. and began making renovations, reaching out to their former roommates to see if they’d be interested in coming back together once again.
Chris Pfaff, CEO of Knox Economic Development, said he looked forward to the synergy that will likely come out of the three entities being back under one roof.
“And just the geography of being at Seventh and Main,” he said, “two blocks from the Pantheon.
“We already work well together but there are certain synergies that can only come from being in the same space. I believe this will be a very positive relationship.”
Chamber president Jamie Neal, too, said she is “excited” about the reprised relationship between the three organizations.
“I can already feel that synergy, and we’re just really glad to be there,” she told members of Knox Economic Development.
The organization approved on Friday morning a long-term lease, one for five years then with three-year renewal options after that.
The cost will be $1,500 per month; currently, they don’t pay rent at all, so the additional cost will come as an adjustment to the organization, leaders pointed out.
The economic development organization doesn’t, however, plan to move right away.
Both Pfaff and administrative assistant Becky Litherland will be moving into the building’s second floor, but they don’t plan to move until after the annual banquet, scheduled for mid-May.
In other business Friday, Knox Economic Development announced that it would not be updating its now 6-year-old strategic plan.
The organization formed a committee to take a look at the plan, and its members decided that it still had merit. So instead of soliciting a new one, they opted to give the old one an update.
Joel Smith, a member of that committee, highlighted a few of those changes for board members, including the continued pursuit of the construction of a shell building to entice additional development and also a focus on what the organization can do to facilitate a boost to the local housing market.
“The intent is to take what we have already developed, update it,” Pfaff told the group. “The 2016 plan is a good plan, and it doesn’t need a wholesale change. We don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire a consultant for a new one.”
That said, Pfaff reminded the board that keeping a careful eye on its objectives and goals is imperative to continued success.
“We’ve got to remind ourselves routinely that this is what we said we would do,” he said, gesturing to the plan, projected onto a large white overhead screen at the center of the room. “If we’re not reporting to ourselves the progress we’re making then we’re failing ourselves.”
Greg Parsley, a member of the strategic plan committee and superintendent of the Vincennes Community School Corp., said in considering changes to the plan, the committee was reminded of all the organization has accomplished in the last few years. And while a continued focus on attracting business and enticing developers to build homes is important, he, too, has another area of concern.
“One of the things that hit home for me is the childcare aspect,” he said. “That is another thing that is holding us back. I certainly see it as an employer; we are lacking in good, quality childcare.”
He pointed to VU as a “natural partner” in possibly developing an affordable program that could “benefit the entire community.”
Pfaff, too, told board members that he continues to work with six local companies in the midst of expansion; he hopes to be able to announce at least a couple of those soon, he said.
But combined, he added, the six expansion projects carry the potential to create nearly 350 new jobs.
“If we had a single attraction project adding that many jobs, we would all have a celebration,” Pfaff told the group. “But our existing companies is where the majority of job creation comes from, yet it isn’t necessarily celebrated.
“So we want to be sure we are recognizing the fact that the majority of our time is spent with existing businesses, helping them to solve those challenges.”
The biggest of those, Pfaff said, is these businesses’ ability to find workers. Only recently, he said, he met with a local business in need of as many 100 workers.
“So we all know, things are very tight right now,” he said of the county’s workforce.
And he believes much of it all comes back to a central problem — one they’ve had their eye on for a long time — housing.
“You think about those 350 potential new jobs. That’s 300 families,” he said. “What does that (potential additional) look like? Where will they live? So it all comes back to the need for quality housing.”
Pfaff, too, pointed to recent U.S. Census numbers; Knox County lost 5% of its population in the last decade, another 5% in the ten years before that.
“We’re down 4,000 people from where we were 20 years ago,” he said. “And I’m convinced housing is directly tied to that number.”
Several projects are, however, in the works as the Vincennes Redevelopment Commission continues to entice developers by helping to cover the cost of necessary infrastructure improvements.
So far, the RDC has committed more than $300,000 to a trio of local families operating as the REM Development Group, who are looking to renovate the 6-story Oliphant building at 214 Main St. — as well as the adjacent Gimbel Corner — into condominiums.
And last fall RDC members, too, committed $218,000 in infrastructure costs associated with about 14 homes Sure Clean Inc. is building now in an area off Hart Street.
Other developers have come forward, too, asking for help, including Matt Hendrixson and Chadd Beard, operating together as DC Developers, who asked for $250,000 in infrastructure costs associated with building about nine homes off Thompson Drive.
Too, Jerry Memering — a Knox County native, former home builder and one-time member of the RDC himself — went before RDC members in December with a proposal for nearly 20 homes to be built near the Franklin Heights subdivision.
The RDC hasn’t, however, yet approved any money for the two latter projects.
Pfaff also on Friday updated board members on a unique leadership experience he’s been afforded.
Earlier this year, he was named as a Tobias Fellow by The Randall L. Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence at Indiana University.
The Tobias Fellows program focuses on cultivating skills that lead participants to further develop personal leadership and ensure an impact on their institutions and organizations.
In addition to ten intensive retreat sessions, Fellows engage in one-on-one executive coaching sessions and work toward mastering five key leadership competencies: mindset, vision, perspective, collaboration, and communication.
The program brings together seasoned leaders from diverse sectors and industries who form a peer-learning cohort.
At the end of the program, fellows transition to the Tobias Leadership Network, which allows them to connect with fellows across the nation and have access to special events and learning opportunities.
Pfaff called its meetings so far “an opportunity for me to be reflective about my own style and how I engage with others” and he was excited for the learning experience.
Also in this Tobias Fellow cohort is VU Provost and Vice President of Instructional Services/Dean of Faculty Dr. Laura Treanor.