Back in business

Article by Steve Garbacz of KPC Media

Mayor touts booming economy, development in State of City address

KENDALLVILLE — People are back to work, businesses are growing and the city is plowing it’s growing tax revenue back into the city.

It’s the best shape the city’s been in in more than a decade, Mayor Suzanne Handshoe said.

“We are in the midst of the best financial times since I took office in 2004. This has not been an easy road and has taken a team effort to get her,” Handshoe said.

The mayor delivered an upbeat State of the City address at the annual mayor’s breakfast event Thursday at the Kendallville Event Center. While touching on a few challenges and goals facing Kendallville going forward, the speech was a detailed greatest hits list of accomplishments the city has had over the last year.

With the Great Recession long behind, Handshoe’s focus was on the period of financial and economic developments that’s still ongoing.

After opening by noting Kendallville’s $20.7 million cash balance and excellent AA+ credit rating, Handshoe turned toward the many benchmarks and accomplishments the city is hitting.

Unemployment in Noble County has hit incredible lows at 2.6 percent — or as Handshoe put it, 97.4 percent employment. A high level of people are working, but there are still about 85,000 unfilled jobs statewide, including several hundred in Noble County. Finding people to fill those jobs and generating a skilled workforce is one of the biggest challenges facing Kendallville.

“This has exacerbated a continuing problem that is shared by the entire region, that being the inadequate number of properly trained and qualified personnel available to meet this demand,” Handshoe said, noting that programs like Noble Up and Skill-Link are working to address the skills gap. “Even with this, I think a greater emphasis could be placed on addressing this critically important issue that could have so many positive ramifications for the region.”

From there, the highlight reel started rolling as the mayor recapped several big projects in Kendallville.

The city finished construction on the $3.1 million Fairview Boulevard Reconstruction. Kendallville has received more than $1.1 million in Community Crossings grants for road work. The city is continuing to chase a grant for a $5.1 million reconstruction project on Drake Road.

Numerous small businesses have opened in Kendallville as the mayor delivered a long list including: Atlas IT, Auto Brokers II, Cotton & Arrow, Eastlake 24 Fitness, Hidden Ego Volleyball, Hope Denton Photography, Mainstream Marine Center, Melanie’s New Image Salon, Nostalgia Nova Vintage Clothing, Premier Exteriors, Teamhart’s Food Barn, That BBQ Place, WhatchamaCAKES, Whiskey and Wine Photos and Worrell’s Automotive.

The city approved residential building permits totaling $8.8 million last year. Casey’s General Store built a $3 million facility at S.R. 3 and U.S. 6 and Gallup’s Travel Center is building a new gas station and truck stop plaza on the opposite corner. Atz Place Apartments finished its $5.9 million senior housing complex with 38 units.

Existing businesses continued to expand too. Slaters Concrete built a new showroom, Three Rivers Federal Credit Union is constructing a new branch on U.S. 6, Ashley Industrial Molding is adding $312,000 in new equipment, Reliable Production Machining installed a solar field at its facility on Ohio Street, Kraft Heinz put a $5 million investment into a new boiler at its plant, Flint & Walling purchased the former Superior Essex building and invested $5.7 million and more this year, and LSC Communications put in another $9.2 million digital printing press.

“As important as new business and industry are to a community, further investment into an expansion of existing facilities are a great barometer of a local economy’s state of health,” Handshoe said. “If that is indeed the case, then Kendallville’s ‘annual physical’ was passed with flying colors.”

Kendallville continues to also invest in its downtown and other quality-of-life projects, including a forthcoming expansion to the Outdoor Recreation Complex. The city is expanding its trail network and working toward connecting to Rome City via the in-progress Fishing Line Trail. Ideally, those projects will help attract more people to the city and to help keep younger residents here instead of moving away as they enter adulthood.

Handshoe also set forth some goals for 2018. Those include: improving safety at the U.S. 6 and Riley Street intersection; applying for more Community Crossings grants; completing the second phase of the Outdoor Recreation Complex expansion; demolish blighted houses and the long-abandoned McCray Refrigerator factory; create a veterans memorial in the park; upgrade the sewer system by lining another 4,000 of pipes; implement the Spillman police management system; add to the network of sidewalks and multi-use paths; expand information available on the city’s website including some commonly sought-after building codes; build a new heated hangar at the Kendallville Airport; and establish and online permitting process for contractors.

“I alone cannot take credit for the prosperous times we are sharing and the good work being done to keep our city running smoothly,” she said. “I have a great team working for you.”

After a 2017 State of the City which had a theme of recovery following Handshoe’s arduous 2016 battle with bone marrow cancer, those days are now in the rear-view.

Kendallville and its mayor have been back to business, both pushing stronger ahead into 2018.

“I love serving this great community and feel blessed to be healthy enough to continue to help lead us in a positive direction,” she said.