MICHIGAN CITY — The economic downturn spurred by COVID-19 was unavoidable in Michigan City, but the community remains “economically viable and stable for long-term investment throughout and after the pandemic.”

That’s the optimistic outlook from Clarence Hulse, executive director of the Economic Development Corp. Michigan City.

EDCMC staff have had to change how they normally conduct business since the virus found its way here in March, replacing a portion of their face-to-face meetings with video conferences and telephone calls.

But they’ve continued to bring jobs and investment to the city.

“Amid the backdrop of $1.5 billion in investments from 2012-2020, the EDCMC is not resting on its laurels,” Hulse said during an interview with the Herald-Dispatch on Monday.

He projected somewhere between $200-300 million will be invested in the city’s downtown by the private business sector over the next three years, much of that by multi-family hotel developers.

Additionally, seven different manufacturers have visited Michigan City in recent months to determine whether it’s the right location to expand or establish their plants.

Hulse looks forward to announcing in early 2021 any deals that can be inked by the end of this year.

It isn’t the first time he’s had to work through a disaster.

“I’ve worked through riots; I’ve worked through hurricanes, tornadoes,” Hulse said. “But in those cases, there was a start and there was an end. This is the only disaster I’ve worked in my career where there’s no end.”

As such, much of 2020 has been triage work for EDCMC staff, which includes Hulse, economic development manager Jenilee Haynes Peterson, and business development manager Jalen Boney.

They’ve been working with local businesses, nonprofits and government officials to determine how best to share resources to find and create “paths of opportunity”; and get Michigan City residents back to work during a time when many small businesses had furloughs and layoffs.

But Hulse said he feels optimistic, as the local unemployment level has dropped from 13 percent in the spring to 8 percent in the fall.

“Even though there’s COVID, even though there’s all this doom and gloom, we’ve got some great things going on in Michigan City,” he said.

He highlighted several for the Michigan City Common Council on Tuesday night.

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, nine new expansion or relocation projects have been completed or remain in process, Hulse said.

In that time, 446 new jobs were projected; and the city saw about $33.35 million in capital investment.

Hulse provided the council with an outline detailing the EDCMC’s business retention and expansion efforts, as well as business attraction and development undertakings.

He talked of recent investments at locations like Barrelhouse, Bosak Honda, Brix, D’Aprile Properties and GAF; and of new projects at places like JB West, PACE, Uptown Social, Aquagenics and Shady Creek Winery.

“If you invest in Michigan City, you can make money, and that’s a great thing,” Hulse said.

He also talked about the nearly 300 acres of recently annexed land along U.S. 20 that is prime for development.

The city has received 19 requests in 2020 alone for buildings at or above 100,000 square feet, he said, which couldn’t be addressed because Michigan City couldn’t facilitate such large projects.

But the rezoning of that annexed land should change that.

“I want to make sure Michigan City is not left behind,” Hulse said.

He also outlined the EDCMC’s goals and objectives for 2021, which include further economic recovery in response to COVID-19; establishing more affordable, middle-class, single-family housing; further development of both hard and soft infrastructure; and community development efforts in addressing childcare, food deserts and individual neighborhood development.

Next year’s objectives fall in line with the strategic action plan the EDCMC set for 2019-2023, which addresses economic inclusion, workforce development and talent attraction, placemaking, aggressively telling the story and economic modernization.
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