Members of the county’s leading economic development organization continue to entice new business while also striving to aid those already here.

Chris Pfaff, CEO of Knox County Indiana Economic Development (formerly KCDC), told members of his board of directors as they gathered Friday morning for their regular meeting at Vincennes University’s Robert E. Green Activities Center that in the last month alone he’s met with five existing businesses looking to expand.

And that, he said, is “larger than what we see on average.”

Two of them, he said, he’s been working with for a “number of months,” while three only “popped up” recently.

One common refrain, however, is that they desperately need employees.

“They all have more business to do than employees to do the work,” Pfaff said. “So that’s a challenge.”

But he reiterated that the economic development organization would continue to look at ways to help, specifically in building the county’s workforce.

Pfaff told the group gathered for the early morning meeting that 80% of job creation comes from existing business, so it’s worth their effort.

“If we’re going to continue to spend time evaluating our efforts and where they should go, existing businesses is where it needs to be,” he said.

“Business attraction should always be part of the equation, but the biggest impact we can have is working with our employers and doing things to help them reduce costs and solve challenges.”

But as the organization does continue to look to attract new business and industry to Knox County, Pfaff told the board that Knox Economic Development will participate in the Indiana Strategic Sites Inventory, an initiative led by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to identify more “undiscovered” spots throughout the state, ones ripe for new development.

Knox Economic Development, Pfaff pointed out, has more than 100 shovel-ready acres inside its own U.S. 41 Industrial Park as well as an additional site in Bicknell that it’s already promoting to Hoosier business and industry leaders, but participating in this site inventory, he said, could identify even more, possibly privately-owned land currently for sale yet not on the organization’s radar.

“So this exercise is meant to discover those and work with the owners to try to get those into our database,” Pfaff said. “Because the more sites we have available to fit future projects, the more likely we are to attract additional companies.”

In other business, Pfaff said he is currently scheduling meetings with residential developers to discuss the results of a recent housing study, one that was a combined effort between a handful of organizations and elected officials, that identified many gaps in the local market, everything from quality rentals to affordable, mid-range housing.

Already, there are a pair of housing developments being taken on by developers on the city’s east side, but everyone is hopeful for more in the coming years.

“So we want to meet with developers and get a better understanding of their interests and the challenges they’re experiencing,” Pfaff said. “I’ll get all of those scheduled in the net couple of months.”

And Pfaff told his board that Knox County, as part of a regional effort to secure some of the millions of dollars set aside as part of the state’s READI grant program, will be presenting to state IEDC officials on Nov. 29 in Indianapolis.

Community leaders last month hit send on an application totaling nearly $10 million in requests for about a dozen local projects.

If realized, it could mean $54 million in total improvements in Knox County alone.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, earlier this year, announced the READI (Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative), which intends to accelerate economic growth by making regions across the state magnets for workforce talent.

The idea is for communities to utilize READI grant dollars to make a variety of improvements in many areas, all in an effort to attract and retain workers. It’s one of the state’s largest grant programs, ever, and is likely to be bolstered by communities’ share of American Rescue Plan Act funds, which can be used as a match investment.

To be eligible for funding, however, cities and counties cannot apply independently, so Knox has partnered with counterparts in Pike, Spencer, Perry and Harrison counties.

The regional group worked with a consulting firm — Rundell Ernstberger Associates of Indianapolis — to create and submit a Regional Development Plan of projects and initiatives. Projects exist across multiple categories; among them are workforce development, housing, quality of place initiatives, and broadband deployment.

Should this region secure all or part of the $50 million eligible per region, it would be leveraged by both local and private dollars for a total of $1.2 billion in total investments.

The IEDC has asked each region to come give a presentation outlining their application of projects; the panel will attempt to see 17 presentations in just three days.

“And they continue to maintain that by the end of the year, they will make grant decisions on each of those regional plans,” Pfaff said.
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