By Ed Semmler
South Bend Tribune
ELKHART — The Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission has approved a multi-million dollar package of infrastructure improvements that would allow for the potential development of what would be the region’s largest building.
A 100-acre parcel on the north side of the Indiana Toll Road between CR17 and CR 19 has been selected as one of the potential landing sites for a $200 million logistics facility with a high degree of automation, said Chris Stager, CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County.
Officials aren’t saying who would occupy the building or how many other places might be competing for the project.
But last week, the Redevelopment Commission voted to tentatively approve what could be up to $10 million in assistance through TIF financing to defray site development costs of $14 million to $15 million, said Stager, adding that the final OK will be in the hands of the county commissioners.
Site development includes the construction of an industrial-grade road that would connect County Road 17 to County Road 19, the extension of utilities along the roadway and the construction of a round-about at the current entrance to the Toll Road at County Road 17 that would also serve as an entrance and exit from the site, said Stager.
The 100-acre site – located across the Toll Road from the RV/MH Hall of Fame complex – is among the finalists for the project, said Stager, noting that a final decision could be made in the next month. Because of confidentiality agreements, he said he couldn’t reveal the name of the company or what type of logistics the business is involved in.
However, the logistics center would be approximately 850,000 to 900,000 square feet on the base floor — about the size of University Park Mall in Mishawaka — but would likely be a multi-story building, said Stager.
“It would have a high level of automation and potentially employ about 1,000 people,” he said.
If the project comes to fruition, construction would likely start this year with the logistics operations open by January 2023, said Stager, adding that the project would also fulfill one of Elkhart County’s long-term goals to diversify in the event of possible downturns in the RV and boat-building industries.
The logistics center and the new roadway also would open additional acres to the north of the site and additional acreage east of County Road 19 to future development, said Stager, adding that having shovel-ready sites is important the continuing growth of the county.
“I think the developer was attracted to the region because of our location between Indianapolis, Detroit and Chicago, our reputation for being able to complete large projects in pretty rapid fashion and business-friendly atmosphere,” said Stager.
That’s been seen throughout the county in the past year or so as RV and boat-building companies, as well as their suppliers, have been scrambling for new space to expand production to keep up with demand. Both of those industries are experiencing record-level production driven to some degree by the pandemic-driven desire among consumers to find activities that are considered safe.
But that rapid rebound has also led to labor shortages at many businesses in the region. In June, Elkhart County had an unemployment rate of 3.4% — lower than the state and national averages and lower than most adjoining counties.
“If you’re not paying $20 an hour and offering attractive benefits, you’re not attracting production workers,” said Mike Yoder, a member of the Economic Development Corp.’s board and Bristol town manager.
But so far, the prospect of better wages and benefits has been enough to attract workers from adjoining areas. Stager said the county has a net inflow of about 35,000 workers a day and many are driving about 45 minutes each way to get to a job.
“Everyone knows there’s a labor shortage, but we’re drawing in people from a wider and wider circle,” said Yoder. Beyond allowing for the rapid shipment of goods to major markets, perhaps the Toll Road location and the nearby county roads will broaden the reach for workers, he surmised.
“A company wouldn’t be looking here if labor was that much of a concern,” Yoder said.
Though relatively new, multistory warehouses with ramps leading to the upper levels are being built for Amazon and other retailers that continue to look for ways to reduce delivery times to consumers.
But most are being built in high-density markets such as Seattle, San Francisco and New York where land prices justify the higher costs of building vertical warehouses – not in north central Indiana where there still is an abundance of land.
This article is made available through Hoosier State Press Association.