Pulling together helping area economic boat

Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters (right) listens as Perfection Wheel owner Roger McClellan discusses the assistance he received that helped him open his company in Huntington.
Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters (right) listens as Perfection Wheel owner Roger McClellan discusses the assistance he received that helped him open his company in Huntington. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

When local leaders get together to talk about the economy, there's a common theme - it's improving, and that's because we're all pulling together.

Mark Wickersham, executive director of Huntington County Economic Development, illustrated that theme during his address at the March 13 Huntington University Foundation breakfast, asking everyone who had been involved in any of a variety of economic development of activities to stand. Nearly everyone in the room ended up on their feet.

"This is part of why our community is succeeding in the economic development arena," Wickersham said. "Because it's a team sport."

Wickersham was joined by Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters, Huntington County Commissioner President Leon Hurlburt and several local business owners at the foundation breakfast, all bringing a message of optimism.

Wickersham pointed to the recent purchase of the former Stride Rite building at Riverfork Industrial Park by the DIY Group, a Muncie-based logistics company, as the most recent sign of success.

With that sale, he said, 93 percent of the 2.2 million square feet of industrial space that was vacant when he took on the economic development job six years ago has been redeveloped.

Much of the economic success can be attributed to cooperation across all levels of government, he says - because government leaders know that government revenue is dependent on a successful private sector.

The cooperative efforts, funneled through the economic development group, were instrumental in convincing Roger Kilty to locate his company, Huntington Aluminum, in the city two years ago.

"Mark and his team were unbelievable in pulling us to Huntington," Kilty said. He was also considering setting up shop in an Ohio town, but Huntington won out.
Perfection Wheel Company also received start-up assistance when it located in Huntington, owner Roger McClellan said.

The teamwork extends beyond business development, Hurlburt said.

He cited a collaboration between the city and county governments to combine emergency dispatch systems previously operated separately by each entity; cooperation between Huntington and Allen counties to study possible improvements to a four-mile stretch of CR 900N between Roanoke and the General Motors plant; and cooperation among the city, county, school corporation, university and private interests to develop a center that would teach both students and adults the skills needed by area employers.

Phil Laymon, of Advanced Engineering, said the challenge his company is now facing is finding companies to do business with. Many of the companies he worked with when the business started are no longer in business, he said.

"The struggle we have is new customers," Laymon said.
Mayors and county commissioners throughout the region have pledged to work together to promote a healthy economy, Hurlburt said.

"It's going to be unbelievable what we're going to be able to accomplish" through that effort, he said.

In addition to making a name for itself in the region, Huntington is also reaching out to the world, Fetters said as he displayed a front quarter panel of the new Corvette, which is being manufactured by
Continental Structural Plastics in Huntington.

It's not the only made-in-Huntington product to have a wider impact, Wickersham added, noting that the mold for Glade Plug-Ins comes from Miami Tool and Die.

"PHD invented the process that makes it possible for the world to have plastic drinking bottles," Wickersham continued. "Every helicopter on earth has a braking system that was made and developed here in Huntington at Memcor."

There's an international flavor to Huntington's industrial base, he said, with local facilities having their headquarters in Brazil (Gerdau), Canada (Onward Manufacturing), France (Schenider Electric), Germany (Bendix), Japan (Helena Chemical) and Switzerland (Unilever).

"It's something we should all be very proud of," Wickersham said.

Complete caption: Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters (right) listens as Perfection Wheel owner Roger McClellan discusses the assistance he received that helped him open his company in Huntington. Fetters and McClellan, along with several other local business owners and officials, discussed local economic growth during the March 13 breakfast meeting of the Huntington University Foundation.