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MCEDA takes stock of 2017

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

Between helping fight controversial J-Turns and singlehandedly taking over an entire new operation, the Miami County Economic Development Authority had a busy year. 

And there’s more where that came from, including an effort to turn downtown Peru into a historic district, according to MCEDA Executive Director Jim Tidd

Looking back on last year, Tidd and MCEDA Board of Directors Chairman Jim Yates reflected on a few of the major projects, and accomplishments.

One major obstacle last year was deciding whether or not to take over operations at Grissom Air Reserve Base.

In November, 2016, the for-profit fixed base operator that ran the base notified MCEDA that they were terminating their lease, leaving a pretty big dilemma.

“It not easy to find those folks” that operate air force bases, Yates said.

Ultimately, MCEDA decided to run the base as the FBO themselves, with financial assistance from the county.

They bought the fuel farm, trucks and equipment, and began operations, such as selling gas or de-icing planes, in April of last year.

It was a “fast and furious” process to get equipment and hire people, and they were able to retain two employees.

“That was a pretty big challenge,” Tidd said.

Looking to next year at the base, Grissom will host a “KC-10” aircraft from the Netherlands for a paint job – which doesn’t usually require flying oversees.

While a small measure, enhancing the air force base is a big priority for Tidd, in addition to promoting the defense industry and developing aviation.

“That always one of our goals,” Yates said.

In the city of Peru, MCEDA worked with local officials to acquire the 1 South Broadway and CSX properties. The “Cole” building may turn into a new home for commercial business once completed, and the CSX property will house the proposed new YMCA.

MCEDA also lent a hand to Peru with the Blight Elimination Program.

Tidd said they’re starting to close on the approximately 18 residential properties that have already been fully torn down, and will next begin working on transferring the land to new ownership.

Dollars acquired from that transaction will then be transferred right back to the city, into the ReDiscover Downtown Peru funds.

It’s not just about raising money for the city, Tidd said, but also about making the city a more attractive place.

Around 70 or 80 properties were initially identified, and 37 properties will vanish from the cityscape by the end of the state-aided project, with the prospects of removing several additional blights if enough money was saved during specific transactions.

Tidd is also hoping that downtown Peru could be approved as a historic district soon, since people invested in the area could benefit from the federal tax credit granted with historic designations.

In the northern part of the county, construction began last year on Indiana Packers feed mill, a $23 million project on 40 acres of land near the 4-H Fairgrounds.

The mill will serve as a place where they create feed – potentially from local farmers’ corn and soybean crops – to be distributed to regional hog operations. That could be up and running this September.

Last year, Grissom Air Reserve Base began a four-county Joint Land Use Study to review the needs of the air force base in relation to the needs of the community, to determine if there were any potential conflicts.

There haven’t been any major issues or concerns over incompatibility. “The military can continue to grow, and the community can continue to grow,” Tidd said.

Part of that study, which continues into this year, reviewed the development of U.S. 31 and the issue of unsafe intersections.

Back in the fall, MCEDA was thrust into the controversial J-Turns project proposal discussions on U.S. 31, and proposed to the state that the long-term solution was interchanges, similar to what was done in Tipton County.

Since J-Turns were successfully denied, MCEDA will help determine which locations needing interchanges are the highest priorities within the county, moving forward.

Improvements to U.S. 31 will continue to grasp MCEDA’s attention, as the highway develops into a freeway connecting the Northern and Southern parts of the state.

“Transportation is a big issue,” Tidd said. “There’s going to be more growth on U.S. 31.”

Along U.S. 31, MCEDA also played a role in constructing a “shell” building at Grissom Aeroplex, in advance of a manufacturer potentially setting up operations within the county.

They will show the “shell,” which is a 57,600 sq. ft. structure – expandable to 240,000 sq. ft. – to a client this week, and had about 17 prospects when they first decided to construct the building.

MCEDA’S work this past year has been as diverse as it has been plentiful, and Tidd predicts this will continue to be the case in 2018.

“It’s all about trying to better our community,” Tidd said.

MCEDA will continue work on bringing new businesses to the county, while also making sure existing businesses have what they need. And they will work with industries to ensure that their needs are met, according to Tidd.  

The diverse professionals represented on the board, such as a former utility manager, school superintendent, insurance agent, business owner, bank president and attorney, all help to form a combined experience level that makes things easy as a staff member, Tidd said.

All of the members work in the private sector, and serve as volunteers for MCEDA, so “they truly best interest of community at heart,” he said.