ELIZABETH — Since One Southern Indiana formed 10 years ago, the economic development organization has overseen $413.5 million in new annual payroll, over $1 million in taxable capital and 150 project announcements.
The organization’s growth — and that of the region — is not over.
Wendy Dant Chesser, 1si’s president and CEO, has seen what Southern Indiana will look like in the future, and that future is prosperous. She shared her revelations, or goals, rather, at 1si’s 2016-2017 annual meeting Tuesday at Horseshoe Southern Indiana. They include:
• A substantial increase in Indiana University Southeast and Purdue students, turning the region into a “millennial hotspot” with a “booming nightlife” and plenty of different restaurants
• Expanded retail for Clarksville, extending all the way to the river and including the conversion of the former Colgate-Palmolive plant into a mixed-use space filled with restaurants, offices and experiential retail
• More advanced manufacturing, “premier” office space and subdivisions in Jeffersonville and Charlestown near Ind. 62
• A completed Ohio River Greenway with a west-end pedestrian bridge
• A community that has “cracked the talent code,” meaning that local workers and students are skilled enough to attract high-quality jobs
• A Southern Indiana regional development authority
• An hourly wage in Clark and Floyd counties surpassing the nation’s average
• A supportive small business community
• A “state-of-the-art” convention center
A lot of stuff.
Dant Chesser wants Southern Indiana to become "one of the most desirable places to live in the Midwest." She knows her aspirations are ambitious, but she’s also realistic about what they will require.
“It’s going to take hard work," she said. “It’s going to take a strategy and it’s going to take partners — as we all know.”
It’s also going to take steps. 1si is focusing on three big priorities right now:
• The creation of a regional development authority
In 2015, 1si tried in vain to establish a development authority in the area, which gives the region access to millions of dollars in project funding from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
Governments in Clark and Floyd counties never approved the authority at the time, which requires the buy-in of a 200,000 population area. This year, both counties finally gave the authority their OK, thanks to some changes in Indiana law. Development authorities can’t use eminent domain anymore.
1si now meets the population threshold for the authority, thanks to Scott County previously approving it, but the economic development organization wants to include Harrison, Washington and Jefferson counties in the project, as well.
“Stay tuned on that,” Dant Chesser said. “We don’t have a timeline like the IDEC gave us in 2015, but what we do have is the momentum, some initiative and the desire to move this forward.”
• Continued implementation of WorkHub, 1si’s talent development initiative
WorkHub, which 1si started in earnest this year, is an initiative to supply Southern Indiana with the workers needed to staff businesses in the area, particularly in the manufacturing sector. 1si acts as a convening organization for other groups interested in talent development services, such as business owners, public schools and WorkOne. Currently, 1si is working on expanding its WorkHub initiative.
Last year, 1si helped implement Greater Clark County Schools’ new learning model, Ford Next Generation Learning, which emphasizes career-based learning. By the 2018-2019 school year, the program will be fully implemented within the school system. 1si is applying for a second Skill UP Indiana grant for $20 million with the goal of helping to implement the learning model into more local school systems. West Clark, New Albany-Floyd County and Clarksville schools all are targets of 1si.
The organization also hopes to help with the creation of a consistent regional work ethic certificate across all area high schools. Greater Clark County Schools and Prosser Career Education Center have offered the PRIDE certificate since 2014, but now that the program is going statewide and West Clark Community Schools and Clarksville Community Schools have implemented it, 1si wants the certificate to mean the same thing across the region.
1si’s college and career/job fair is scheduled for Sept. 20 and 21 of this year. The first day of the fair will introduce students and their parents to the benefits of pursuing training and education in the fields needed by local employers. Day two will resemble a more traditional job fair.
• Continued offering of services for members
1si wants to increase its membership to 2,000 from 1,060 over the next decade. To do so, the organization will continue to provide enhanced member services, such as its affordable insurance program for local businesses. 1si is working on adding health insurance to the program, which currently offers ancillary insurances, such as life and disability insurance.
Finally, 1si also hopes to enhance its use of technology and to keep the organization sustainable
Other people involved with 1si are just as excited as Dant Chesser for the future of the region and the economic development organization’s role in it.
A lot is happening in Southern Indiana right now, said Jim Epperson, the executive director of the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention Tourism Bureau and a new 1si board member. He’s seen tons of restaurants and retail developments pop up around the River Ridge Commerce Center — and he expects more.
“I think we’re one of the most exciting places in the entire state right now,” he said. “And when it comes to development potential, even with the Louisville metro, I think we’ve got it over the Louisville side. Not that it’s a competition, but I think we’re going to benefit outside of our weight class.”
A strong chamber of commerce organization (particularly when its working with the tourism bureau) is an important part of a successful community, he said.