JEFFERSONVILLE — There’s a lot for Executive Director Jerry Acy to tout about River Ridge Commerce Center this year, but the business and industrial park’s 2017 annual report says most of it for him.
The commerce center in Jeffersonville and Charlestown is host to more than 50 companies, many industrial, that support approximately 13,700 jobs in the area, according to the report. More jobs are coming, too.
River Ridge is currently working on its 300-acre gateway project, made possible by the newly established Interstate 265 interchange. The gateway will be for corporate offices, schools and research and development businesses. This year, the commerce center’s economic impact is predicted to balloon up to $2 billion.
But current success is not enough for Acy and his fellow staff members and River Ridge Development Authority board members. That’s why the board commissioned and unanimously accepted a strategic plan last month, outlining how River Ridge will continue on its path to economic development nirvana.
The strategic plan, which the board agreed to create in 2016, discusses what types of businesses River Ridge should work to attract, how the commerce center will sustain itself financially and how it will get involved with the regional workforce development initiative.
The plan is advisory, but River Ridge is taking it seriously.
“The document is not going to simply occupy space and gather dust,” said Mark Robinson, the chair of the commerce center’s board. “We are going to make it a living, breathing document, and make our decisions in accordance with it or least guided by it.”
If you only saw River Ridge from Ind. 62 and only in Jeffersonville, you might believe that it’s fully developed. But just 20 percent of the land in the 6,000-acre park has been sold.
The untamed parts of River Ridge lie in Charlestown, where the rusted buildings of the former U.S. Army ammunition plant still stand. They’re in the gateway and the area adjacent to the gateway in a 1,547-acre bubble called the megasite. They’re even hiding behind the developed Ind. 62 buildings.
The strategic plan outlines what those spots could be. The megasite is currently being marketed as a location for a large manufacturer in need of up to 4 million square feet of space. But, according to the strategic plan, it could also be a place for research and development firms or even some residences if the gateway really “takes off,” Acy said.
Leading out from the gateway and the megasite are areas for possible flex industrial space, which can include offices, as well as heavier businesses. Those transition areas eventually turn into spots for advanced manufacturing. In Charlestown, the abandoned ammunition buildings could become spots for light to medium manufacturing, as well as green space for land that’s environmentally sensitive.
The only real rule about what goes where, is that it could change.
“It’s about supply and demand and marketing as far as what we’re actually able to develop,” Acy said.
The strategic plan also reveals the industries that River Ridge should be aiming to attract: aerospace, automotive, food and beverage, information technology, life sciences and logistics businesses.
In Acy’s opinion, the most important part of River Ridge’s strategic plan is how it proposes to keep the commerce center financially secure.
The plan estimates that River Ridge will be fully developed by 2040. To get there, though, the commerce center has $375 million worth of infrastructure improvements to oversee, including demolition of the old ammunition plant structures and the building of new roads.
Currently, River Ridge’s budget mostly comes from the land that the commerce center sells to businesses. In 2017, 59 percent of River Ridge’s money was generated that way. The rest came from property tax income (24 percent), rental income (4 percent) and miscellaneous sources (13 percent).
As River Ridge runs out of land, its revenue sources will change. Eventually, the commerce center’s infrastructure building costs will become maintenance costs, but there’s not a lot of room for error in the meantime, Acy said — and land proceed revenues could dip if the economy does.
There are other sources of revenue that River Ridge could take advantage of, though, including a water system that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources owns and the commerce center operates. River Ridge doesn’t make much money off of the water now, but the commerce center is looking to extend its deal with DNR and make improvements to the system.
River Ridge also collects tax revenues as a tax increment financing district, as well as rent from some tenants who have lived on the commerce center’s land since it was an ammunition plant.
River Ridge’s tight budget directly affects cities and other entities asking for property and funding from the commerce center. Currently, the governments of Utica and Jeffersonville are seeking assistance from River Ridge, but the board is consulting its strategic plan before giving them an answer.
It’s hard to attend a One Southern Indiana event or even talk to a business owner without hearing about their hiring woes: either the available workforce isn’t skilled enough for the jobs they need filled, or they don’t have the right work ethic.
Workforce development is a big deal in the area, and River Ridge is interested in getting involved with the effort. The strategic plan recommends that the commerce center hire a staff member to monitor workforce development initiatives and coordinate with entities involved in the fight for talent attraction, as well as the commerce center’s businesses.
Funding is an issue, though, and Acy believes that if the commerce center hires a staff member to take care of workforce development, they should have other duties, as well. The position probably won’t be added by the end of this year, either.
In general, though Acy said he feels “really good” about the strategic plan’s vision for the commerce center.