By Marilyn Odendahl, Truth Staff

ELKHART -- After an extensive search around the Midwest, Kem Krest Corp. has decided to stay home.

The automotive supply distributor announced it will keep its corporate headquarters in Elkhart, doubling its work force and making $3.3 million in improvements to a facility on Toledo Road. In July 2008, the company's owners -- Amish Shah, president, and David Weaver, chief financial officer -- outlined plans to expand the business and possibly move the operation to another municipality in Indiana or in another state.

Incentives from the state and city, however, along with an unwillingness to take jobs from the community, persuaded the company to remain. Shah explained, "sometimes you make a financial decision and sometimes you make a moral decision."

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered Kem Krest up to $140,000 in performance-based tax credits and up to $50,000 in training grants based on the company's job creation plans. At Monday night's city council meeting, the members preliminarily approved a five-year tax phase-in which would save the company an estimated $21,600 in real property taxes and $7,770 in personal property taxes.

Kem Krest has signed a seven-year lease on a 150,000-square-foot building at 2040 Toledo Road. The tax phase-in will apply to building improvements and renovations the business will be undertaking, said Barkley Garrett, the city's economic development manager.

Tuesday morning, the company sign and an American flag were hoisted at the Toledo Road site, Shah said.

The business employs 57 full-time workers and expects to add another 53 full-time positions by 2012 with a starting wage of $19.10 per hour. The new jobs will generate about $65,550 in local income taxes annually, or $327,750 over the life of the abatement, according to a letter Mayor Dick Moore wrote to the city council.

"Absolutely it's a win-win," Garrett said. Kem Krest is "led by some young entrepreneurs who have a lot of energy and are excited about this community."

Garrett and Blair West, spokeswoman for the IEDC, confirmed that other states put together more lucrative incentive packages for Kem Krest.

"It was important to Elkhart and the state that they remain part of the Indiana business community," West said.

Shah acknowledged the company was looking for financial enticements as well as for cities that offered "strategic business opportunities" and are nice places to live. Their personal ties to Elkhart, coupled with the county's double-digit unemployment, convinced the owners to bypass the other possibilities.

"We, as an organization, didn't have the heart, per se, to leave the community," Shah said.

Founded in 1979 as a division of the former Accra Pac Group, Kem Krest provides supply chain management, distribution and fulfillment services primarily for auto makers such as General Motors, Ford and Hyundai. Through the recession, Shah said, the company has been diversifying into the heavy duty equipment and aerospace industries.

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