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NEW ALBANY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A partnership between One Southern Indiana and the Indiana Small Business Development Center will provide a new source of funding for small businesses in southern Indiana. 1si says the ONE Fund and the Small Business Navigator program will offer business owners an “all-inclusive resource” for accessing startup capital and growth initiatives.

The ONE Fund has received a total of nearly $340,000 to provide loans ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 to small business owners in Clark, Floyd, Jefferson, Scott and Washington counties.

The loans come with an interest rate equal to the Prime Rate plus 2%, with repayment terms of two years for working capital loans, five years for machinery and equipment financing, and seven years for real estate/brick-and-mortar loans.

“Southern Indiana has a wealth of financial institutions and lenders who do an excellent job serving our business community. But some businesses, especially start-ups and very small companies, may not easily fit into standard lending guidelines,” 1si CEO Wendy Dant Chesser said in written remarks. “The ONE Fund exists to assist those businesses in getting the financing they need to succeed. As they build a solid foundation and repay those loans, they can be in a better position to be served by our region’s lenders.”

The ONE Fund is expected to begin offering loans June 30.

1si says the program will also offer business owners education and advisory resources to help build a sustainable business.

The funding for the program comes from Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Washington County Economic Growth Partnership, the Town of Clarksville, the City of Jeffersonville, the Floyd County Commissioners and COVID Emergency Loan Payback.

1si says it could receive additional funding from the READI program, if approved, to cover administrative and operating expenses.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — FireKing International LLC in New Albany says it has begun transferring temporary employees to permanent status amid an ongoing strike from members of the Teamsters Local 89. Nearly 90 union workers went on strike last month over what they claim are low wages and inadequate healthcare coverage.

The company presented its “Last, Best and Final” proposal, which was rejected by the union. The proposal included what FireKing said was its highest first-year wage increase along with increasing hourly wages in each year of the contract. The company said it would also reduce employee contributions to health insurance costs.

The union claimed its members have been paying “excessively high” premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, and proposed moving to a union-sponsored health plan known as TeamCare. However, the company said that plan would increase its costs by six figures in the first year alone.

FireKing says with the transition of temp employees to permanent status, it has implemented the first-year wage increases and healthcare cost sharing reductions from the proposal.

“We are disappointed that members continue to strike under the leadership of Teamsters Local 89 without fully understanding what we have offered, but our customers continue to demand our high-quality product. As a result, we have little choice but to move forward without their contribution,” FireKing CEO Rick Mejia said in written remarks.

Inside INdiana Business reached out to the union for comment on Thursday but has not yet received a response.

FireKing says it has replaced a “substantial portion” of the striking workforce through temporary and permanent replacement employees. The company says it hopes to fill all remaining positions in the coming weeks.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — FireKing International LLC in New Albany says new, temporary employees have begun work at the company’s facility as a strike from local union members continues. The company says it has also issued a cease-and-desist directive alleging the striking employees have attempted to prevent vehicles from entering or leaving the property “and other unlawful behavior.”

Members of the Teamsters Local 89 went on strike last week after rejecting a “best and final proposal” for a new contract. The union cites low wages and high healthcare costs among the reasons for the dispute.

FireKing says its proposal includes its highest first-year wage increase in its history and increases hourly wages in each year of the contract in addition to reducing the amount employees contribute to health insurance costs.

Citing “excessively high premiums and out-of-pocket costs,” the union proposed moving to a union-sponsored healthcare plan known as TeamCare, which it said would have a minimal cost to the company. However, FireKing said the plan would increase its costs by six figures in the first year alone.

FireKing said Tuesday it will meet with union representation to discuss implementation of certain economic terms of its proposal.

FireKing employs 141 workers in New Albany, including 86 Teamsters. The company said it would repurpose the non-union employees in addition to hiring temporary workers to ensure full production continues.

“Using the multiple levers at our disposal, we are quickly bringing FireKing back to full production without an agreement with the Union leadership,” CEO Rick Mejia said in written remarks Tuesday. “We remain disappointed that the Union has chosen to go down this path and reject our competitive and generous offer. However, we must now move on and do what is best for all of our employees, their families and our customers.”

The company issued the cease-and-desist directive, saying it is also prepared to take “appropriate legal action to ensure the safe entry and exit for employees, commercial vehicles and all others having business with the company.”

The union did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday from Inside INdiana Business.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Nearly 90 union workers at FireKing International LLC in New Albany went on strike Monday after rejecting a “best and final proposal” for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The Teamsters Local No. 89 claim the company’s offer “failed to keep wages up with inflation or the industry standard” and “failed to address serious inadequacies in the company’s healthcare plan.”

FireKing, which manufactures products such as safes and filing and storage cabinets, employs a total of 141 employees in New Albany, including 86 Teamsters. The company says its final offer presented to the union last Wednesday would “increase employee benefits and pay across the board.”

The proposal included what the company said was its highest first-year wage increase in its history and increasing hourly wages in each year of the contract. Additionally, the company said it would reduce the amount employees contribute to health insurance costs.

The union claims its members “have been paying excessively high premiums and out-of-pocket costs” with deductibles ranging from $3,000 to $13,700 depending on the plan.

The Teamsters proposed moving to a union-sponsored health care plan known as TeamCare, saying it would come with a “minimal cost for the company.”

“In fact, Local 89 went out of its way to adapt the plan to make it more palatable to the Company by allowing them to incorporate their management and non-union employees into it so that they wouldn’t have to deal with separate plans,” the union said in a statement on its website. “Yet the Company still rejected this plan.”

FireKing fired back saying the TeamCare plan would increase its costs by six figures in the first year alone and would limit its ability to secure the lowest prices available on the open market.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Union has chosen to go down this path,” FireKing CEO Rick Mejia said in written remarks. “We negotiated in good faith with the union for several weeks, resulting in a very fair and competitive final proposal for the Union Membership.”

While the union workers are on strike, FireKing says many nonunion workers could be “repurposed” to keep up production.

“While we continue to hope Union leadership will reconsider our proposal, FireKing is now adjusting operations to maintain the productivity of our business and our service to customers. We are taking immediate steps to return our facilities to normal business operations and will begin advertising for permanent replacement employees,” Mejia said. “We would much prefer to operate FireKing with our regular employees, but we have no choice but to hire permanent replacements to maintain production.”

The union says it will continue to seek dates for negotiations with the company as the strike continues.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The executive vice president and director of economic development for One Southern Indiana has announced his retirement. Matt Hall says he will step down from his role on April 15, after working for 1si and its predecessor for 32 years.

The organization, which operates as the economic development organization and chamber of commerce for Clark and Floyd counties, says the search for Hall’s replacement is underway.

1si says Hall has been involved in more than 200 successful projects that includes attracting new companies and helping existing businesses to expand. Those projects resulted in more than 17,000 new jobs.

“Matt’s impact on the business landscape in Southern Indiana has been enormous, and the ripple effect of his efforts and energy will continue to benefit Southern Indiana residents for decades to come,” said Wendy Dant Chesser, 1si president and chief executive officer. “He has been a pivotal figure in the location of many of the area’s major employers, fueled by his commitment to selling our community as the best option for growth and his dedication to attracting quality jobs to our area that pay living wages.”

1si will host a recognition event for Hall in June. The organization plans to have his replacement in place by May 15.

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A survey commissioned by the destination marketing organization for Clark and Floyd counties shows residents are supportive of tourism efforts in southern Indiana and have a desire for more opportunities, particularly following the pandemic. SoIN Tourism Executive Director Jim Epperson says the organization wanted to get an idea of resident sentiment, particularly in response to other destinations that were seeing pushback against marketing to visitors. “This field of research started to emerge to help us benchmark where we are with our residents and how they feel about tourism and its positive or negative impact on quality of life,” said Epperson.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Epperson said he was shocked by the overwhelmingly positive response.

“While I wasn’t expecting problems in our results, I wasn’t expecting us to so far outpace the rest of the country, the way residents feel about tourism around the rest of the Midwest or the rest of the country,” said Epperson. “And we didn’t believe it. When we first got those positive results, we had to question [them].”

The Tourism Resident Sentiment Survey was conducted last fall by Ohio-based Longwoods International.

Among the key findings, about 75% of respondents said tourism is good for both the state and their local area, and they believe the positive benefits of tourism outweigh the negative ones. SoIN says that figure is “significantly higher” than the Midwest and U.S. results from a national survey conducted last July.

Additionally, around the same number of respondents felt tourism should be encouraged and there should be more local major events to attract more tourists.

When taking a second look at the results and the methodology, officials found the pandemic played a major role in residents’ sentiment toward tourism.

“What we found was [the results were] consistent in destinations that, during COVID, where the destination organization turned their attention to supporting local businesses…you saw that outsized positive attitude toward tourism,” he said. “It really opened up residents’ eyes about the value of tourism to the community when their favorite restaurant was hurting because they couldn’t accept in the door residents or visitors. It really elevated the value in people’s minds of the hospitality and tourism industries.”

Another key finding was that while the majority of respondents felt southern Indiana needs planned and controlled tourism development, only a third believed residents were consulted when major tourism development takes place.

“No, we’re going to be taking the results of this study to a lot of different areas, especially in the public sector, to say, ‘Here are some policy implications that we think you should be aware of and that you should consider…because your residents now have opinions about this,’” said Epperson.

Epperson says he wants to make sure SoIN Tourism is working with public bodies to ensure that there aren’t future complaints about tourism development.

You can connect to the full survey results by clicking here.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — New Albany-based Cimtech has announced plans to grow its southern Indiana operations. The precision manufacturer says it will invest $2.3 million over the next 10 years to add nearly 14,000 square feet of space and add a small number of jobs.

Cimtech provides a variety of services, including precision CNC machining and turning, fabrication, engineering and wire forming for automotive, medical, aerospace and industrial businesses, among others.

“Cimtech expanding in southern Indiana at its current corporate headquarters speaks volumes about the company’s dedication to its team members, products and our region,” said Wendy Dant Chesser, chief executive officer of One Southern Indiana. “Cimtech’s dynamic manufacturing production and distribution serve not only our area but also regions throughout the United States.”

Cimtech CEO Jesika Young says the expansion will allow the company to “grow aggressively and attract top talent as we continue to build our brand.”

The company did not provide an estimated timeline for completion of the expansion. The five jobs being added over the next several years are expected to pay wages above the average for Floyd County.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — One Southern Indiana and the Indiana Small Business Development Center are partnering on a new initiative designed to help grow small businesses in the southeastern part of the state. The Small Business Navigator Program will provide a wide range of services, including a training component in the form of a “business boot camp” to educate entrepreneurs on topics such as developing a business plan and understanding financials. The program will be led by Mike Fulkerson, who will serve as the small business navigator and business advisor.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Fulkerson said the program will support businesses at all stages.

“Some of the programs are going to be focused on small businesses who might be pre-revenue, who might have a good idea but really need assistance with taking their idea or their product to market,” said Fulkerson. “But in that program, we’re also going to have more classes for businesses that are established, but maybe they need a primer or they need ideas with how to better manage their business, not only in good times, but in bad times such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ISBDC will provide a variety of business counseling and advising services that it normally offers on its own as part of the program. Regional Director Jon Myers says it’s important to help businesses stay ahead of the curve.

“No community benefits from a business that fails. It’s lost jobs. It’s lost tax revenue. It’s vacant buildings. So, it’s vital to the community that businesses are able to get started and to grow and to think about the things that they maybe aren’t good at thinking about,” said Myers.

Myers calls the program a “natural outgrowth” of the existing partnership between 1si and the ISBDC.

In addition to leading the program, Fulkerson will also be responsible for developing and maintaining The ONE Fund, a revolving loan fund, which is an extension of 1si’s previous lending experience, particularly with a $1.1 million emergency loan program built during the pandemic for Clark and Floyd counties.

“One thing we realized during the pandemic is that businesses, small businesses in particular, were very unprepared; I mean, we’ve never seen anything like COVID-19,” said Fulkerson. “Going forward, definitely a long-term goal is to ensure that businesses, especially small businesses, are more prepared to manage their businesses during catastrophic times like COVID-19, but also when times are good.”

Fulkerson says the goal of the Small Business Program is to create an all-encompassing program that can offer training, educational seminars and funding when it’s needed.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A Louisville-based Software-as-a-Service company has announced plans to relocate its corporate headquarters to New Albany. Vsimple, which has developed an end-to-end systems platform for manufacturing and logistics companies, says it will invest nearly $2 million in the new location and create 70 jobs by 2025.

Vsimple’s platform provides record management, internal coordination, customer communication and data insight services for clients. The company says the new positions will focus on research and development, sales and marketing, and customer success.

“Vsimple is challenging the status quo in so many ways; choosing the space we did in New Albany, Indiana really fits the way we operate,” Buddy Bockweg, co-founder and chief executive officer of Vsimple, said in a news release. “We want to be a tentpole in this community for many years to come and are excited about the numerous advantages within it, including a large pool of talent.”

One Southern Indiana, the economic development organization and chamber of commerce for Clark and Floyd counties, says the new jobs will come with salaries that are “well above” the average wage for Floyd County.

“The fact that Vsimple chose southern Indiana for their corporate headquarters and future growth speaks volumes about our region, our workforce and our leadership,” said 1si CEO Wendy Dant Chesser. “Vsimple’s focus on software solutions to streamline internal processes makes them an ideal fit for the dynamic manufacturing and distribution base in this area and beyond.”

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is offering Vsimple more than $1 million in conditional tax credits, which the company will not be eligible to claim until Hoosier workers are hired for the new jobs. The New Albany Redevelopment Commission will consider an additional $12,000 in training grants this week.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The city of New Albany is looking to revitalize a centralized residential neighborhood using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Mayor Jeff Gahan’s office says the city is planning to invest a total of nearly $30 million to overhaul the Beechwood neighborhood to include both public and market-rate housing.

The focal point of the neighborhood is the Beechwood property, which was built during World War II as a barrack-style public housing compound. The city says since 2010, the property has fallen into disrepair due to a $138 million maintenance cost shortfall.

Gahan’s office says plans call for a $28 million overhaul to the property, including a redesign and reconstruction of isolated roadways and the removal of barracks-style structures. In its place, more than 80 new residential units are planned for the property, which will include more than 50 single family and duplex style homes, 30 senior-preferred apartments, and 12 lots that would be later sold for market-rate home developments.

The city says it is looking to use $2.4 million in ARPA funding to support the project.

“We have been working on improving housing for the last decade through the elimination of blight and demolition of unsafe structures, improving private and public housing options, and the implementation of rental registration and inspection,” Gahan said in a news release. “We are so excited that the American Rescue Plan has given us the opportunity to accelerate improvements being made.”

The city did not provide an estimated timeline for the project to be completed.