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BLUFFTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — One of the largest candy makers in the world is growing its salty-snack portfolio with the acquisition of two pretzel makers, including Bluffton-based Pretzels Inc. Pennsylvania-based The Hershey Co. (NYSE: HSY) says it will invest $1.2 billion to acquire Dot’s Pretzels LLC and Pretzels Inc, which is a contract manufacturer for Dot’s Pretzels and other snack brands.

Hershey is purchasing the Indiana company from an affiliate of Peak Rock Capital, a private investment firm in food and beverage industry. It has three manufacturing locations, including facilities in Bluffton and Marshall County. It also operates a plant in Kansas.

Dot’s operates four plants, which are included in the deal.

“As the fastest growing U.S. pretzel brand, Dot’s Pretzels would further accelerate our success in the permissible salty snack category, along with our successful SkinnyPop and Pirate’s Booty brands,” said Michele Buck, The Hershey Company president and chief executive officer.

Buck says the acquisition of Pretzels Inc. will give Hershey “deep pretzel category and product expertise” and the manufacturing capabilities to support Dot’s growth and future pretzel innovation.

Hershey expects to close the deal before the end of the year.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Officials in Wells County say they have awarded an $8 million contract to Massachusetts-based Ameresco Inc. (NYSE: AMRC) to renovate and modernize the county jail. The project includes a facility addition a new sally port and enlarging the intake area.

The project also includes replacing the existing HVAC system, as well as updating lighting and water conservation equipment.

“The jail is now 35 years old and some of the original HVAC equipment is in need of replacement. In addition, the jail operations needs have changed as we now house Level 6 inmates who may require mental health and substance abuse counseling as well as other educational programs,” said Wells County Sheriff Scott Holliday. “We need to adapt to these requirements, make changes to address the Covid-19 pandemic concerns and create a safe working environment for our corrections staff.”

The sheriff says the improvements will enhance occupant and correctional staff safety while also saving the facility $560,000 annually. The county says the renovations will also allow the facility to double its intake area to effectively contain inmates who may have infectious diseases or mental health issues.

The company won the project following a competitive bidding process. Project construction will begin in October 2021 and is expected to reach completion by October of 2022.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — An Ohio-based plastics manufacturer is planning to once again expand its operations in northeast Indiana. 20/20 Custom Molded Plastics LLC says it will invest nearly $13 million to renovate and equip a 325,000-square-foot facility in Bluffton and create up to 125 jobs by the end of 2022. The company, which structural foam products such as pallets, floating dock systems and in-ground enclosures, says the expansion will accommodate increased demand.

20/20 says the expansion will include the installation of three 1,500-ton structure foam presses and seven 375-ton and 500-ton high-pressure presses. The company did not provide a time frame for the project’s completion.

“These changes will undoubtedly bring new opportunities for our customers in terms of their own needs, product development and manufacturing flexibility,” 20/20 Executive Vice President Chad Adams said in a news release. “We highly anticipate watching our teams at both locations grow. Our employees are a huge part of 20/20’s success, and we are forever in debt to them.”

The company has already hired six new employees toward its goal. The company employs more than 440 workers, including more than 200 in Indiana, and is currently hiring in Bluffton for positions including press operators, supervisors and assistant supervisors.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has offered 20/20 up to $825,000 in conditional tax credits, which the company will not be able to claim until Hoosier workers are hired for the new jobs. The city of Bluffton also plans to consider additional incentives.

The expansion announcement comes four years after 20/20 detailed plans to invest $26 million into its Bluffton operations. The company acquired the Bluffton facility in 2017.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (WISH) — A Hoosier restaurant that was shut down over the state’s mask mandate is suing Gov. Eric Holcomb, the state government and the Wells County Health Department.

It’s believed to be the first lawsuit filed over the governor’s executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Matt Yergler, the owner of Yergy’s State Road BBQ, has a position that’s pretty clear. He does not believe the science behind wearing a mask and does not believe the governor has the authority to mandate wearing one without the state legislature’s backing.

The lawsuit challenges the executive order requiring masks to be worn in Yergy’s and other restaurants. In addition to a storefront in Bluffton, a town in Wells County about 40 minutes south of Fort Wayne, Yergler also owns a food truck in Bluffton.

After several warnings from Wells County Health Department, it shut down Yergy’s on Aug. 28.

“We complied to every executive order, every standard that the health department put on us all the way to the mask mandate,” Yergler said.

Yergler said that’s where he draws the line.

“If you wanted a mask, you could wear it,” he said. “If you don’t want to wear a mask, you don’t have to wear a mask. That’s the position we took.”

He said compared to other health department regulations — such as handwashing and proper temperature control for chicken, which he agrees with — he doesn’t believe the science accepted by state and federal officials is clear.

He also said it’s a matter of religious conviction. He doesn’t believe masks help stop the spread of the virus and he doesn’t want to bear false witness to his customers.

His lawsuit also states it’s irrational and arbitrary for his employees to be required to wear a mask when his customers are not required to wear one at all times.

“This is about tyranny. This is about government overreach infringing upon the liberty of all Hoosiers,” Yergler said.

The lawsuit also challenges the governor’s orders on constitutional grounds. Yergler believes, without backing from the legislature, the executive orders have lasted too long for a pandemic that began almost a year ago.

If the legislature enacted a mandate, he’d put on a mask.

“If it became law, then we are obligated to follow the law of the land,” Yergler said.

The Republican governor issued a simple reply to Yergler’s assertion: “We do our homework before we create executive orders. I’m confident in my authority to set in place requirements that save Hoosier lives.”

Yergler is confident, too. “We believe what the governor has done is unconstitutional and we want to get it before a judge.”

The Wells County Health Department and the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association declined to comment about the lawsuit. It was filed this week and, so far, no hearing has been set.

Once the case is resolved or the mandate is lifted, Yergler said he hopes to reopen. Until then, he’s working a seasonal job to help make ends meet.

If you want to aid in his legal fight, he said you can send checks or money orders to his restaurant at 1415 S. Main St., Bluffton, IN 46714.

Indiana State Department of Health on Thursday reported 79 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 6,860. The department also said 6,458 more Hoosiers tested positive for the virus. A total of 447,190 Hoosiers have tested positive for COVID-19.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Bluffton-based Pretzels Inc. is making its first foray outside of Indiana. The snack manufacturer, which also has a large presence in Plymouth, is planning to build a 150,000-square-foot production facility in Lawrence, Kansas and create a “significant number” of jobs.

The company says the new facility will increase its capacity across a range of products and formats and also better serve markets to the west and south.

“We are very excited to expand our production footprint and to continue serving our customers with superior capabilities and geographic reach,” Greg Pearson, chief executive officer of Pretzels Inc., said in a news release “This new facility exemplifies Pretzels’ commitment to support the growth of our diverse and expanding customer base with industry-leading quality and efficiency across a variety of traditional and innovative products.”

The new facility is expected to be operational in late 2021.

The announcement comes nearly two years after Pretzels Inc. detailed a 120,000-square-foot expansion to its Plymouth facility. The company says that expansion was completed earlier this year.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The vice president of global operations for Michigan-based Inteva Products says the decision to locate its newest facility in northeast Indiana was the result of an exhaustive 10-month process. The company announced plans Wednesday morning to invest more than $42 million to establish manufacturing operations in Bluffton and create up to 419 jobs by the end of 2023. Steve Galle says the new location will have the ability to accommodate future growth and expansion.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Galle said there were three main factors that led to the selection of the Wells County site.

“The reason for the area in question is proximity to key customers for the product that we are considering; we’re going to be making interior products so it’s important that we are close in proximity to our key customers,” said Galle. “We had a very successful project planning activity with regional and local resources from entities like the economic development groups, city councils, (and) county commissioners. And last is the point of having immediate access to open floor space of the size and shape and capacity (facilitating) what we needed for our project.”

Inteva Products plans to use the 260,000-square-foot facility for the manufacture and assembly of interior systems products for the automotive industry. The company expects to begin hiring for a variety of positions this summer, with the plant becoming fully operational in the summer of 2021.

Galle says, despite Indiana’s unemployment rate hitting a 20-year low in January, the company will be able to fulfill its workforce needs for the facility.

“Low unemployment rates are not unfamiliar territory for where we have established our manufacturing footprint. It’s a challenge almost in every startup that we do and ongoing operations that we have so we’re not unfamiliar with it but it’s not a scary thing for us. We feel confident in our abilities to attract and develop key talent; that has not been a problem for us. At the same time, (we’re) keeping good stewardship with partners in the region where we operate.”

The Bluffton facility, Galle adds, will have the flexibility to add more production capacity as demand for the company’s products grows. He says Inteva is always looking at the possibility for additional facilities as well.

“As an ongoing strategy and tactical planning inside of our company, we are always looking at floor space needs that we have both within (Indiana, Michigan and Ohio) as well as beyond that. We are a global company and it’s an active process.”

BLUFFTON, Ind. (WANE) — A woman was airlifted from the banks of the Wabash River Tuesday afternoon after her vehicle veered off a Wells County roadway and sped into the water.

Just before 4 p.m. Tuesday, emergency responders were called to an address at 6595 S.R. 116, along the Wabash River on the southern tip of the Ouabache State Park.

Officials at the scene said a woman was driving along the roadway when her car left the road for an unknown reason and drove head-on into the river. A witness told authorities the vehicle then flipped in the water and became completely submerged.

A witness saw the incident and called 911, officials said.

Crews arrived and were able to pull the vehicle – the woman still inside – from the river. Officials said the vehicle was in the water for nearly an hour.

The woman was revived by medics on land. She was airlifted from the scene. Her condition was not known.

It’s not clear why the woman’s vehicle left the roadway. Conditions were snowy at the time.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (WANE) A six-month investigation into drug activity in Wells County concluded Friday with the arrests of 12 people.

Bluffton Police said the DETECT Drug Task Force, comprised of law enforcement agencies from Adams and Wells Counties, served arrest warrants to 12 people on Friday, including five who were already jailed. Six more were taken into custody.

Officers seized marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and prescription pills during the sting.

The sting was named “Operation Rolling Rock,” a reference to Sisyphus’s journey in Greek mythology when he rolled an immense boulder up a hill.

Arrested Friday are (all from Bluffton) are:

Warrants were served to the following people who were already in jail:

Police are searching for 23-year-old Catey Williams. She is encouraged to turn herself in at the Wells County Jail.

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BLUFFTON, Ind. (AP) – A company that makes plastic shipping containers plans to close its northeastern Indiana factory, costing about 120 workers their jobs.

Bluffton Mayor Ted Ellis says Buckhorn officials told him Monday the plant would close in the city about 20 miles south of Fort Wayne.

He tells WANE-TV Buckhorn plans to consolidate its manufacturing operations at its Springfield, Missouri, plant.

Milford, Ohio-based Buckhorn hasn’t filed paperwork notifying state officials of its plans, but Ellis believes the closure is more than two months away.

The news comes several weeks after truck bed liner maker PendaForm announced it would eliminate about 75 jobs at its Bluffton plant.

Ellis says the loss of about 200 jobs is “not a mortal blow by any stretch of the imagination” to the city of about 10,000 residents.

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BLUFFTON, Ind. (AP) – A judge has approved funds for a competency exam of the mother of a 3-year-old northeastern Indiana boy who died while she and two other people allegedly smoked methamphetamine.

WOWO reports a Wells County judge on Wednesday approved spending $3,500 to conduct the competency exam of 21-year-old Breanna Arnold. She’s charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death, abuse of a corpse and other counts.

The burned body of Owen Collins of Bluffton was found in a rural area Jan. 18 after Arnold reported him missing. The Wells County coroner ruled the boy died from blunt force trauma.

Last week, Arnold’s 31-year-old boyfriend, Zachary Barnes, pleaded guilty to murder in the case under an agreement with prosecutors in which he’ll be sentenced to 50 years in prison.