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Editorial: Columbus' economic development worth effort

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GROUNDBREAKING ceremonies last week for a 21,400-square-foot addition to the Toyota Material Handling U.S.A. campus at Woodside Industrial Park cemented the close relationship of the company and its host community.

It also further validated the economic development philosophy that has been followed by local government and business leaders for at least three decades.

With this latest expansion, Toyota Material Handling U.S.A. essentially has identified Columbus as its permanent home base. The addition will serve as the company’s corporate headquarters upon completion of the move from Irvine, Calif.

It is important to note that prior to the decision by Toyota Industrial Equipment Mfg. to establish a footing in Bartholomew County in 1990, there had been no Toyota employees in Columbus. Today there are 724. The expansion is expected to add 100 to the administrative, marketing and manufacturing complex.

The development of the local company and the deepening of its ties to Columbus did not occur overnight. The company’s growth was incremental. Since 1990, it has gone through at least a dozen expansions.

The Toyota story is only one chapter in a very significant history that has tracked a tremendous investment by the community in attracting and keeping businesses and an even greater return that the community has experienced.

Indeed, some of the companies that began coming to Columbus in the mid-1990s are ranked among the county’s largest employers. NTN Driveshaft, which came here in 1989, employs approximately 1,700 workers today.

Enkei America Inc., one of the first companies to decide on Columbus in 1985, has more than 800.

The seeds for this highly successful economic development effort were planted in the late 1970s and early ’80s, principally under the leadership of Economic Development Director David Richmond.

It was a slow start that didn’t pick up steam until the mid-1980s during the first term of Columbus Mayor Bob Stewart. He, Economic Development Director Brooke Tuttle and business leaders throughout the community powered an effort that brought forth a steady stream of announcements of new business ventures.

To gain those commitments, government leaders had to provide some incentives. The City Council approved numerous tax abatements and other incentives to potential investors. Those incentives were not without controversy, as some critics argued the city was giving away too much.

The incentives were used not only to attract new companies but to encourage them and others to expand and hire more local workers.

It worked. A majority of those abatements either are nearing their end or have expired, and the companies now are paying millions of dollars in property taxes. The thousands of employees who were added as the result of the economic development initiatives are paying millions more in local income and property taxes.

The philosophy that guided government and business leaders in the 1980s and forward has been followed by Stewart’s successors — Fred Armstrong and Kristen Brown.

The influx of new businesses has slowed, but progress still is being made. To maintain this process will require the city to give potential investors reasons to come here.

Last week’s groundbreaking for the new headquarters building for Toyota Material Handling U.S.A. should provide ample support to the theory that economic development is worth the effort.

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