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7/30/2006 3:07:00 PM
Columbus one of six "shovel-ready" sites in state

The Republic

By Kirk Johannesen, The Republic senior reporter

If you can dig it quickly, they will come.

That's the essence of Indiana's new Shovel Ready program, which aims to give Hoosiers a competitive edge in providing new business growth by helping communities and companies identify sites that could be developed quickly.

Greensburg's Rail and Business Park and Columbus' Information Technology Park are among six sites that received Shovel Ready certification for the pilot program.

Vicki Kellerman, executive director of the Greensburg/Decatur County Economic Development Corp., said being certified "shovel ready" probably played a large role in Honda Motor Co. choosing Decatur County as the site for its next auto plant.

While the application process requires a lot of effort and can cost a significant amount of money, Kellerman said the benefits are greater. She said Decatur County already is thinking beyond Honda.

"We'll definitely pursue another certification on another location," Kellerman said.

Columbus Economic Development Board President Brooke Tuttle said he knew of a Shovel Ready program in Michigan and he jumped at the chance to get Columbus certified when Indiana unveiled its version.

Tuttle said the Columbus Economic Development Board wanted to show that the city is progressive and has a great location for high-tech companies.

It took nearly two months for Columbus to prepare its application, Tuttle said.

Greensburg spent a similar amount of time and more than $40,000 to prepare its application and meet the May 15 deadline, Kellerman said.

"A little hard work on the front end can give a competitive advantage on the back end," Tuttle said.

How it works

The Shovel Ready program is administered by the Indiana Finance Authority, which certifies sites in Indiana as ready for development.

The sites are fast-tracked for required permits, which helps companies choose a site. Site information is available before development, which reduces potential risks for companies.

"In business, time is money. More and more companies are looking for sites where they can have a shovel in the ground as quickly as possible," Indiana Finance Authority Director Ryan Kitchell said.

"Governor (Mitch) Daniels wanted a program that would help give Indiana an advantage when it comes to competing with other states for new investments and new jobs."

Kitchell said the program will cut the time required to process permits by 30 percent.

As part of the application process, a site must have:

  • Executive level community support (such as the mayor, county commissioner or town council president).
  • A demonstrated commitment to expedite local permitting.
  • Clearly identified ownership of the property.
  • Infrastructure.
  • A completed environmental assessment.

    A state review team composed of state employees and agencies that have roles in permitting requirements scores the applications.

    The application covers eight areas, such as community support, infrastructure and zoning, and a maximum of 200 points is possible.

    Kitchell said no minimum score was required for certification in the pilot program. He said the review team looked for the best applicants, and of the 13 considered, six received scores that were clearly above the rest.

    Kitchell said the six that received certification had scores of 135 and higher. He said Columbus and Greensburg were in the 140-150 range.

    Certified sites can receive up to $10,000 in a matching grant as reimbursement for expenses.

    Kitchell said the application process would be reviewed to identify improvements for the next time applications are accepted.

    Ideally, the Shovel Ready program would achieve diversity in industry and geographically, Kitchell said, but added that the Indiana Economic Development Corp. would try to match a community's strengths with an appropriate company.

    Worth effort, cost

    Tuttle said Columbus is trying to market its relatively new Information Technology Park as a perfect place for companies.

    He said the site includes 70 acres, but only 10 are being used by four businesses in two buildings: LHP Software, TLS, Tata Consultancy Services and ArvinMeritor Inc.'s North American Information Technology Center.

    Tuttle said having certification will help the state market Columbus to companies. Essentially, if a company inquires, the state can show its best sites for development.

    "What this does, the state puts us on the radar screen and companies can see them firsthand," Tuttle said.

    That exposure is worth the $3,000 spent to prepare the application. Columbus' cost was lower, Tuttle said, because the infrastructure was in place and only a Phase 1 environmental study and 20-year title search were needed for the application.

    Kellerman said she heard that some other communities spent up to $70,000 preparing their applications.

    She said the cost, which varies from site to site, could be discouraging.

    However, it has not prevented Decatur County from thinking about a strategic plan for attracting another business that can help the county's economy grow.

    "I think if you get a certification it gives you a leg up on the competition," Kellerman said.

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