---- — There’s an abundance of developable land at Grissom Aeroplex and along Peru’s north side off U.S. 24 — but there’s a shortage of buildings throughout Miami County that can accommodate companies seeking facilities.
Those circumstances amount to the biggest problem involving economic development in Miami County.
But the future is bright for growth.
Take it from James Earl Tidd, 60, the executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA) since June 2005.
Tidd oversees attracting new business, retaining existing business, managing property, preparing budgets and developing the Grissom airport.
And in doing so, he faces what he says is the biggest challenge for economic development: the need for continued education and skills enhancement of the workforce.
“More and more, we are seeing that education level and skilled workforce are creeping higher and higher on the priority list of business and industry,” Tidd says.
“Employers today are not only looking for certain skills, such as welding, CNC [computer numerical control] machine operator, but for soft skills like problem-solving, teamwork, flexibility and thinking out of the box. Unfortunately, some of these soft skills are not taught or experienced in our schools because of the focus on test results to justify school funding.”
Tidd is wired to public education. His wife, Stephanie, is the assistant principal at Maconaquah Elementary School. They have two daughters, Erin, 17, and Julia, 14. (Tidd also has a son, Jason, 38, who lives in Texas.)
“Miami County and our region of north central Indiana have an abundant and somewhat skilled workforce based on our history in manufacturing,” Tidd says. “However, we need to continue to encourage our workforce to increase skills, become diversified and continue to meet the needs of our current and future employers. This drive for lifelong learning needs to begin as early as middle school.”
Lifelong learning will become even more crucial as economic development organizations expand and provide services to more than just one county.
This trend, which Tidd favors, is already occurring, he notes. Some organizations are responsible for economic development in multiple counties in different states.
“Commerce does not restrict itself to boundary lines. Why should economic development?” he asks. “A new industry coming to Cass or Howard County, for example, benefits Miami County as well with job opportunities and opportunities for suppliers. However, I must admit that a little part of my competitive nature comes out if not everything locates in Miami County.”
Miami is part of a six-county regional economic development group called the North Central Indiana Economic Development Partnership (NCIEDP), Tidd said. It has existed for more than 25 years. Among other functions, it collaborates on marketing and performs regional studies and analysis.
Collaboration is an essential component of economic development. Take, for example, Dean Baldwin Painting, which began operating in March 2013 with one bay. It involved five funding sources (two federal, two state and one local), which is “unheard of in the ED world,” Tidd said.
Coordinating federal and state requirements involving grant agreements and other funding issues was a challenge. Another involved implementing and coordinating five separate construction contracts.
Tidd and others were mentally tough. “People going to work and large civilian aircraft landing and using the community-owned assets at Grissom kept us focused and determined,” he said.
In the wake of Baldwin, Tidd is jazzed on the “very near future.”
“I believe there are great things to happen,” he says. “I believe that a lot of the ground work that has been laid by the GRA [the former Grissom Redevelopment Authority] … will begin to pay off as we develop more and more of the airport and aviation jobs.”
Recent and future improvements made to U.S. 31 and U.S. 24 give Miami County a great advantage for the accessibility needed by manufacturers and warehousing and distribution companies, Tidd said.
He is upbeat about development on Peru’s northern fringe. He thinks growth will begin soon with retail and other commercial and light industrial activity.
Asked what Miami County’s five best selling points are, Tidd listed highway accessibility, available land, a regional workforce in excess of 300,000 (which still has to work on skills), low operating costs, and unique incentives. The latter includes no sales tax on all utilities for five years and a lower than normal rate for the Corporate Adjusted Gross Income Tax.
Those selling points are in tune with what Area Development Magazine just reported in an annual survey of corporate executives asked to rank their top 10 factors in considering an expansion or relocation. Their top five in order of importance are labor costs; highway access, 5 minutes to 55 mph; skilled labor availability; availability of advanced ICT services (Information and Communications Technology); and building inventory (costs of a new building vs. renovating an existing building).
“I would also add factors like community amenities and how the company pictures its growth and sustainability opportunities in the community,” Tidd said. “As you can see, economic development has moved over the years from, ‘Do you have a building or land to meet the requirements and how many incentives do you have?’ to the full evaluation of an entire community or region.
“Now the primary role of an economic development organization is to make the community or region as competitive as possible using the factors listed. However, the ED organization does not control or have influence on a lot of the factors, which creates challenges and opportunities alike.”
Some of those challenges and opportunities have led to successes in Miami County achieved by the former GRA and the former Peru-Miami Economic Development Corp. (P-MCEDC) before they merged into the MCEDA.
Tidd said the GRA’s two biggest successes were the negotiation of the no cost transfer of 800 acres from the Department of Defense to the community and the successful negotiation of the Joint-Use Agreement for civil aviation use of the runway.
“Both of these were monumental to the development of Grissom,” he said.
Other successes, he noted, were the expansion of Armor Eckrich and the “vision and cooperation to establish the new MCEDA, which streamlined operations, reduced cost and centralized ED activities countywide.” (Full disclosure: I signed that agreement as president of the P-MCEDC at the time.)
Tidd cited the Hangar 200 project, which led to Dean Baldwin Painting, as the MCEDA’s major accomplishment thus far.
MCEDA has also sold or leased land or buildings at the Aeroplex to some 40 new businesses, Tidd said, adding: “Approximately 70 percent of the land/buildings that was declared excess to the [Department of Defense] is in some type of reuse.”
Tidd is very familiar with those buildings, thanks to a 23-year Air Force career whose roots grew out of circumstances in West Virginia, where he was born and raised.
He was the only child of Homer R. and Helen M. Tidd. His dad was a steelworker for 46 years; his mother worked in a paper factory before becoming a stay-at-home mom.
His parents could not afford to send him to college in 1971, when the draft was in place, Tidd said. Based on his birth date, his draft number was 3. So he enlisted in the Air Force with a good friend.
“I stayed in for 23 years based out of love and service to our country,” Tidd said. “Grissom was my best assignment.”
Along the way, Tidd managed to get a college education. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s in management from Indiana Wesleyan.
“When the DOD announced that Grissom would realign in 1994, I wanted to stay and try to redevelop the former base,” Tidd said.
He had been a security police officer for almost his entire career, performing a variety of duties — gate guard, patrolman, desk sergeant, special investigations, European drug task force, corrections officer, law enforcement superintendent.
During that time, he “had the pleasure of serving on two presidential support details — one for President Jimmy Carter, the other for first lady Barbara Bush,” he notes proudly.
As the law enforcement superintendent, Tidd acquired a vast knowledge of Grissom property. That prompted the P-MCEDC to hire him as the property manager.
After the base closed, Tidd negotiated with the Air Force on the property that would remain with the community for redevelopment.
When the GRA was established, he was hired as the deputy director with redevelopment responsibility for the former base only.
When the PMCEDC and GRA merged in 2005, he was offered and accepted the position MCEDA executive director.
As such, he stays closely connected to the community at large. He is a Peru Kiwanian, a Peru Rotarian, a member of the Grissom Community Council and a member Ivy Tech Advisory Board (Peru site). His family attends St. Charles Catholic Church.
Tidd said he hopes to remain in economic development until he retires.
“It is a pleasure working for and with the Miami County Economic Development Authority Board,” he says. “I am truly grateful for the opportunity to serve the citizens of Miami County.”
Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com.