Inside INdiana Business

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a strong year for Boone County

Netherlands-based NewCold plans to build a new storage facility in Lebanon. (image courtesy: IEDC)

2020 had its challenges. Chief among them was the worldwide pandemic and the economic upheaval it caused. But Boone County officials say in terms of economic development, it was a strong year.

The Boone County EDC says eight companies made commitments over the past 12 months to locate or expand their operations in the county. The deals represent commitments for up to 583 new jobs and an investment of more than $230 million in new capital, according to Indiana Economic Development Corp. data.

“It’s not been without its challenges for all of us. For the businesses here, certainly, things are different. We have to do business differently than we did, but overall, we have quite a bit to be thankful for,” said Molly Whitehead, executive director of the Boone County Economic Development Corp.

Boone EDC says of the total announcements made in 2020, two companies committed to growing their operations in the city of Lebanon. Alone, they account for up to 352 new jobs and more than $159 million in capital investment.

One of those companies is Netherlands-based NewCold, a company specializing in temperature-controlled warehousing and distribution.

In November, it announced plans to open a 380,000-square-foot facility in Lebanon, becoming operational in 2022 and creating about 200 new jobs by the end of 2023.

“NewCold’s facility and jobs creation will greatly increase the quality of life for our residents,” Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry said in a news release. “We are hopeful that this newest addition to our city will continue to highlight the vast opportunity Lebanon and Boone County has to offer.”

NewCold says one of its customers will be Conagra Brands, one of the world’s largest food processors, which will serve as a long-term client at the Lebanon facility.

“From a food perspective, bringing in those food companies, either manufacturing or logistics and distribution, food is relatively recession-proof. People still have to eat. And so that has definitely helped our local economy by diversifying that as well,” said Whitehead.

In September, Texas-based Life Science Logistics said it would build a cold-chain storage distribution facility in Whitestown, responding to high demand for pharmaceutical and medical device storage.

“It has largely been logistics-related companies, which given the shift in the economy, I would say that’s to be expected,” said Whitehead. “I think just because of our location along I-65, there are a lot of logistics-related companies here. And I think that’s what people know us for, but there’s actually quite a bit of manufacturing that’s going on in the area.”

The IEDC says Boone County achieved what most communities could only hope for in terms of job creation and investment. But other areas of the state saw positive moves as well. IEDC says Elkhart County saw a recovery in the recreational vehicle industry after it was temporarily shuttered by the pandemic.

DeKalb County saw growth in an array of industries, ranging from automotive to RV to steel.

Marion and Hamilton Counties enjoyed announcing new jobs and growth in the life sciences sector.

“During a year of tremendous uncertainty and unprecedented challenges, communities across the state have continued to secure positive economic momentum thanks to Indiana’s pro-growth business climate, skilled workforce and close proximity to major markets to fuel their success,” said Indiana Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger. “Indiana continues to get back on track and position itself for long-term growth and a bright economic future.”

Whitehead says Boone EDC is always looking for those opportunities to grow business investment, especially in the manufacturing sector. But it also welcomes companies who develop speculative buildings in search of occupants.

She says about half of the leads the Boone EDC receives are from manufacturers who are looking for 100,000-square feet of space, or smaller.

“I have been beating that drum for the past five, six years that we really need the smaller size spaces because those are the missed opportunities. Those are the smaller companies that we want them to grow into the MonoSol’s of the world and the DS Smith’s of the world where they’re taking out 250,000 square feet, but they have to start someplace,” said Whitehead.

In January, DS Smith started operations at its 550,000 square foot facility in Lebanon which produces corrugated packaging. Negotiations for that project began in 2018.

The company is currently hiring additional staff for its Lebanon plant as it ramps up production and adds a third shift.

In February, Merrillville-based MonoSol LLC opened the doors on its new 150,000-square foot production facility in Lebanon. It manufactures biodegradable films used in products such as laundry detergent pods and dissolvable laundry bags. MonoSol broke ground on the facility in September 2018.

In November MonoSol announced it was adding 25 people with the launch of two more production lines.

As Whitehead points out, when companies make announcements to locate operations or expand facilities, those plans are part of long-term strategies which means the growth may not be realized for at least a year, perhaps longer.

“That means there are still good things to come. We make these announcements. And really, the projects don’t come to fruition for a minimum of 12 months, if not 24 months. And so just being able to see that benefit. It takes some time. It takes some patience. So, we can celebrate now, but it’s just it’s difficult to wait.”

Looking ahead to the new year, Whitehead says her team will focus on continuing to help small businesses who face the uncertainty still associated with the pandemic.

“What do we need to do to continue to help support them and prepare them as well for the unknown,” said Whitehead. “I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty in the world not only with COVID, but what does government look like in the future? We have a new administration coming in that can change things. So, there’s just a lot of questions.”

Molly Whitehead, executive director of the Boone County Economic Development Corp., said the county is well-positioned for growth in terms of geography and staffing.