HUNTINGBURG — It’s a good time to live, work, play and invest in Dubois County, according to Dubois Strong Chairman Chris Tretter.
Tretter opened economic development agency Dubois Strong’s annual meeting with that proclamation Wednesday at the Huntingburg Event Center. Over the next hour and a half, attendees heard about progress on the Midstate Corridor, Dubois Strong’s Facebook ad campaign and the organization’s accomplishments for 2016.
OFS Brands President and CEO Hank Menke lead the discussion on the Midstate Corridor, or Interstate 67, project. Once complete, the highway will link Southern Indiana with Northwest Kentucky and give Dubois County industries a straighter shot to Indianapolis. Completing the project, however, has proved to be a monetary and political problem, Menke said. Menke has been working with Indiana legislators and representatives from Kentucky for six years to complete the corridor.
“I can tell you today I feel very, very optimistic for where we’re at with it,” Menke said.
So far, $500,000 has been raised locally from private and public sources to fund the road and capture the attention of the Indiana Department of Transportation, which decides road construction priorities for Indiana. For years, Menke said, Dubois County and the surrounding area hasn’t been a priority.
“If you’d see what this county puts into the state coffers (through taxes) every year, and what we get back in return, it all goes to privacy fences in Indianapolis and everything else instead of here,” Menke said.
Two bills are in the Legislature now, Menke said, that will help spur the project forward. House Bill 1002 sets up an incremental increase to gasoline taxes to increase state funds for road construction. Right now, Menke said, the state doesn’t have enough funds to build new roadways. Senate Bill 128 allows regional development authorities to enter into a supplemental funding agreement with the Indiana Department of Transportation to contribute local funds for infrastructure projects, such as the Midstate Corridor. The senate bill is where the $500,000 mentioned earlier comes in and can catalyze the project.
The Midstate Corridor would expand the economy in the area, according to a Cambridge University study done on the project in 2012. The study found that the corridor would save Northern Kentucky and Southwest Indiana businesses and families roughly $3.2 billion in transportation costs over 20 years and add 10,000 jobs to the area, and that was before Interstate 69 connected Evansville and Bloomington. John DiDomizio of Morley & Associates has worked with local officials on studies to show a need for the Midstate Corridor. He said that as other transportation infrastructure in the area is completed, the numbers from the Cambridge study will only improve.
Judge-Executive Al Mattingly from Daviess County, Kentucky attended Wednesday’s event and spoke about Kentucky’s need for the Midstate Corridor.
“This is key to the life of Owensboro and Daviess County,” Mattingly said. “We talk about all the great things we’ve done and the great companies we have in our community, and we’ve done those things without an interstate.”
Wednesday’s program also focused on workforce development in the county.
“Our traditional low employment rate makes workforce attraction a challenge for us every day,” said Ed Cole, president of Dubois Strong.
Dubois Strong is tackling the employment issue through a Facebook advertising campaign through a partnership with the Purdue Center for Regional Development. The campaign focuses on nearby Illinois and Kentucky counties with high unemployment with the goal of attracting workers to Dubois County jobs and attracting families to move to Dubois County. Clicking on the ads brings users to Dubois Strong’s employment page and connects users to local companies’ human resources websites. The campaign began in February, and has been successful so far in driving users to Dubois Strong’s website, according to Google Analytics. The campaign will continue through December 2018 and spread to additional nearby counties.
Cole listed several other programs Dubois Strong ran in 2016 that were successful, including wage and benefits studies with local manufacturers, an agriculture economic summit, and tax increment financing and tax abatement information sessions for local businesses.
In 2017, Cole said, Dubois Strong will continue to focus its attention on the Midstate Corridor and workforce attraction and housing.
It’s a supply of skilled workers,” Cole said. “We’ve got to have them.”