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Starke County Development Foundation Celebrates 25th Anniversary Today

Charles Weaver

Charles Weaver

Today, a gala will be held at the Knox Community Center to celebrate the formation of the Starke County Development Foundation. The program will begin at 12:30 p.m. CT and is open to the public.

Supporting the Development Foundation over the course of 25 years have been our U.S. Representatives who have represented Starke County. They include Republicans John Hiler, Chris Chocola, and Steve Buyer and Democrats Tim Roemer and Joe Donnelly.

“It has been a great group and their hearts and their souls are dedicated to Starke County,” said Congressman Joe Donnelly. “Our goal in Starke County is for everybody to find employment and for employers to realize what a great place Starke County is to do business. With very little fanfare or pats on the back, they plug away day after day. I’m enormously grateful and I know the people of our entire region are enormously grateful their work.”

If you were one of the early supporters who donated to get the organization started, you are cordially invited to attend. You will be recognized by being given a monogrammed brick from the Craigmile Mint Still, which was the first in the county.

Charlie Weaver and Sandy Dedloff arrange bricks from the first mint still in Starke County

“The bricks are from Starke County’s mint still which was the Craigmile Mint Still and was located near Bass Lake in the early 1900s,” said Sandy Dedloff who helped arrange bricks Thursday. “These bricks and other types of keepsakes and momentos are available for people to enjoy.”

Here’s more on the history of the Starke County Development Foundation:

THE EARLY HISTORY OF STARKE COUNTY DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION

In 1984, a small group of interested citizens in Starke County began a series of meetings and discussions that ultimately led to the incorporation in mid-May of 1985 of the Starke County Development Foundation (SCDF). Led by Robert E. Hamilton, then President of Farmers Bank & Trust, this early group of County leaders also included Spencer Grover, Jack Lynch, Chris Madsen, Charles Rowe, Marvin Peters, Melba Schilling, and Steve Spaw. Hamilton had arrived in Starke County in the early 1980’s and soon came to realize that one of the best things that could happen to the community would be a revitalization effort aimed at bringing jobs to the County, and providing a stable tax base. As he explained to his Board of Directors at the Bank, “You can’t make loans and expect them to be paid back without jobs.” He saw this as a win-win situation for all, as more industry would help create additional demand for professional services, housing, retail, and other areas of growth. As proof of his dedication and the perceived need for this organization, Hamilton has said that in the period leading to the formation of SCDF, he probably spent more time involved in that activity than he did as President of the Bank, a fact agreed to by many of the initial Board members. He also spoke to the other two banks in the County and together, they agreed that if this effort was to be successful, all three banks would have to get behind the effort, both with personnel and with cash, which they did. They were able to set aside competition for a greater common cause.

Hamilton personally selected the early Board based on what he believed he might need to bring about these goals, with Jack Lynch being the first person invited to serve on the SCDF Board, followed shortly by the addition of the above individuals who were described by one of the initial Board members as “nitty gritty, git ‘er done” types of people. In talking with several of these individuals, all describe numerous lengthy meetings being held to discuss nearly every ramification of what they were trying to do, from concerns over being sure that this would be a County-wide organization to the choice of a name for the organization and everything in between. As far as the name was concerned, the initial Board agreed that “Foundation” sounded better than “Corporation”, and “Development” was a more accurate word for what they were trying to do than was “Growth”. The words “Starke County” in the name was thought to be of paramount importance to combat the feelings of territorialism by some segments of the County that this development effort was “going to be all about Knox.”

To learn more about what other communities were doing in the State of Indiana at the time, Hamilton attended a series of meetings in Indianapolis designed to further acquaint him with people in the business of economic development and what they were doing. One of those people was Deb Wiggins who was at that time serving as the Executive Vice President of the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce. Hamilton opened a dialogue with her, due to the fact that she was literally one of the closest geographically to Starke County, and soon enlisted her assistance on a part time basis. She ultimately served as the first Executive Director of SCDF.

Hamilton and Wiggins were instrumental in preparing a document that ultimately served as a working blueprint for the launching of this organization. They saw a need to do fundraising early on, in order to provide a stream of income which would be vital in start-up needs for SCDF. They prepared a document containing in excess of twenty pages which contained objectives, tasks, responsibilities, and target dates for how to not only fund-raise, but also to spread the word throughout the County of what the organization was all about. It was important to note that from the beginning, these early leaders felt that this needed to be a County-wide organization and not a separate organization in each community, and they were careful in their planning to include people from all areas of the county who might be influential in accomplishing this task. This planning document would still be the envy of many a new organization today. The mission of SCDF in those early days was rather simple – “to increase job opportunities for the people of Starke County, and to ensure the growth and prosperity of the region.” Each objective was geared towards realizing this mission, and fundraising began rather soon after incorporation of SCDF. Simple, perhaps, but what this early group was trying to do in the area of job creation also had the possible effect of raising the costs to those already here – i.e. the employers who were willing to support this notion were in effect willing to risk their employees to other employers, if this plan was successful. Despite this potential for what both Hamilton and Wiggins have described as “self-inflicted costs,” Hamilton and the first Board were able to enlist the needed support from this important group in the County.

In early 1986, a series of public meetings were held throughout the County to help kick-off the fundraising efforts, and to find people who might join the Board and lend their time and talents to its work. People were carefully cultivated for Board membership, looking to keep geographical balance among the four corners of the County, as well as maintain some political balance as well, for what would be a non-political organization, and ultimately, about 15 other individuals joined the Board in 1986, including Nancy Dembowski and Charles Weaver, both of whom are still active with SCDF today.

Hamilton, in one of his meetings in Indianapolis, learned of a program of tax credits known as the Neighborhood Assistance Program, or NAP. Under this program, for every dollar contributed, a person could obtain a state tax credit equal to fifty cents. Seeing how this might help stimulate donations, Hamilton obtained permission to use this program for a period of three years. At the end of that three year period of time, records show that over $295,600 had been raised, thereby providing necessary seed money to begin operations in earnest. And, at the end of the first five years of SCDF, 91 investors had donated a total of more than $359,000 to SCDF. Major benefactors included what were then Farmers Bank & Trust and American State Bank, and there were several other persons, groups, and businesses that each contributed more than $1,000 to the cause, and a list of those benefactors is included in this document.

Starting work on the old Foundry building

The other early source of income came about with the purchase of the old Foundry Building, located at 1301 West Culver Road for the sum of $80,000. Hamilton had taken a bank customer to look at this building, only to fall in a hole even before he could get the lights turned on. Despite that, Hamilton had the vision and imagination to see that an improved building could provide cash flow, and after acquiring the building, SCDF spent about $180,000 in additional funds to make it possible to be used again. Prior to acquiring ownership, this building had stood empty for 15 years and was in a state of total dilapidation and was rotting away. There had been little interest in putting the building back in order and helping add to the County tax base.

Finished incubator building

Early pictures clearly show how bad a condition this building was in, but nevertheless, a group of volunteers donated labor and materials in order to redo the building and make it usable once again. The end result was what was known at that time as the Starke County Manufacturing Center, which was formally dedicated on September 14, 1987. The building had its first use as an incubator facility for start-up businesses, an idea attributed to Steve Spaw, who had seen such a facility when he was visiting another State out West. The Center opened with two such businesses located there, and in addition, SCDF offices soon took up residence there as well. Then Lt. Governor John Mutz attended that dedication ceremony and in his remarks, noted that such facility was one of only seven such incubator facilities in the entire State of Indiana.

From this humble beginning, this building within a very short period of time housed Bobko Trailer, which over the course of several years has evolved into Galbreath, Ravens, and today, Kruz, Inc. owns and operates its business at that location, having acquired the building from SCDF in 2004, after it and its predecessors had paid rent to SCDF, and seen several additions made to that facility. Innovation, coupled with imagination and inspiration had taken a worn-out building and made it the start towards reinvigorating Starke County and at the same time, created an organization that over the past twenty-five years has played a leading role in helping make jobs available to those who live here.

Since its inception in 1985, some one hundred twenty-six (126) people have served on the Board, eight (8) different people have served at least one (1) term as President, and there have been seven (7) Executive Directors. The accomplishments are too lengthy to list in their totality, but a time line containing some of the more important milestones is found below. Through their combined efforts, industrial parks have been established in North Judson, Hamlet, and Knox; infrastructure has been added to serve said parks, including rail; several industrial companies over the history of SCDF have been enticed to locate in Starke County, and once here, have chosen to increase the size of their facilities, and their job offerings, as well as pay taxes, all of which has been most beneficial to the County and its residents, all due in large part to the vision and foresight of that original Board of 8, as expanded shortly thereafter.

The story of the formation of SCDF is truly eye-opening. In 1985, most Counties had been “doing” economic development for several years. Starke County may have come late to the table, but the vision and foresight of Bob Hamilton and others whom he convinced to join his cause took to the task with enthusiasm and hard work. They didn’t take the easy road of copying what others had put in place, but instead, set forth on a new journey, building upon the imagination and vision of its leader with an innovative approach to getting the job done that not only has withstood the test of time, but continues to describe the method by which the organization goes about its business today, some quarter of a century later.

Perhaps Hamilton’s own words, provided in a recent telephone interview from his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado sums ups the early history, as well as provides guidance for the future when he said, “What would it be like if we hadn’t made the effort to attract industries? Keep up the good work. Have the strength and courage of your convictions and a willingness to be involved. Keep trying to get the industrial base. Wish everyone well and don’t get fat with past successes. It is a never ending process; a never ending effort. Companies come and go and need to be constantly replenished. We can keep them coming if we don’t abandon hope for the future.”

INITIAL GOALS OF STARKE COUNTY DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION – 1985

1.       To evaluate Starke County’s resource base in terms of advantage barriers to economic development.

2.       To develop a community economic development inventory.

3.       To identify the sites and buildings available for industrial development.

4.       To retain jobs and generate the expansion of existing business and industry.

5.       To secure new investments that will generate new job opportunities.

6.       To develop a business incubator program and facility for potential new start-up businesses.

7.       To establish a team of key community leaders to serve as a quasi “sales force” during the industrial attraction and expansion process

8.       To assess the retail development potential of the towns in Starke County.

9.       To catalog the available retail space in the towns of Starke County.

10.     To secure retail business investments for the central business district of the towns of Starke County.

11.     To enhance the physical beauty of the downtown areas of Starke County.