FRANCESVILLE — Pulaski County officials want to add a second county industrial park to take advantage of a rail track between Francesville and Medaryville.
County commissioners voted April 1 to appropriate $52,000 toward territorial engineering, site selection and planning for an industrial park along U.S. 421 and a CSX railroad branch that dead-ends on Medaryville’s north side.
“We would like to be able to provide opportunities for the west side of the county to develop an industrial park, thus attracting more individuals to live on the west side of the county,” said county commissioner Larry Brady. And the west side, he said, has rail access that more businesses could use.
“One of the things that really hurts Pulaski County’s competitiveness for business attraction is anymore, when the state sends out leads, rail and four-lane highway both are required,” said Nathan Origer, executive director of Pulaski County CDC/Economic Development.
The county’s current 85-acre industrial park, located in Winamac, has no rail access and is limited to two-lane highway access, Origer said. The one the county is looking to build on the county’s west side would be about the same size, 60 to 80 acres, “but with the major advantage of having rail access,” he explained.
“The lack of that really makes it difficult to market the industrial property in Winamac.”
The potential industrial park would “give people another option,” said Brady, “For people that say, ‘Oh, we like Winamac, but gosh darnit, you don’t have a rail system.’”
The county’s economy depends on its manufacturing base — somewhere between 16 and 20 percent of its workforce is employed in manufacturing, said Origer. It’s also been fairly steady through the recession, he added.
“They’ve hurt like others in the last few years, but we haven’t had any manufacturers shut down. We haven’t had any major layoffs in a number of years,” said Origer.
So in 2010, the CDC/ED won a planning grant from the Indiana Office for Community and Rural Affairs to develop a countywide strategic economic development plan.
“The big fish in the pot, so to speak, was the development of what’s called in the strategic plan the Pulaski County Center for Agriculture and Renewable Energy,” Origer said.
What’s pictured is an industrial park focusing on the agricultural industry and businesses that support it, he said, as well as businesses in the alternative energy sector. It’d be located somewhere along the 11-mile stretch from the White County line north to Medaryville, most likely between Francesville’s north side and the south side of Medaryville.
That won’t provide immediate access to a four-lane highway, he said — U.S. 421 is two lanes — but it does have the rail access that many manufacturers take advantage of in the face of rising gas prices.
Rail is more fuel-efficient than trucking, according to a report by Scientific American, and has improved far faster than trucking fuel efficiency, by about 20 percent between 1990 and 2006. It especially makes sense for large quantities of lightweight materials sent long-haul, said Origer.
“The past is the future, in some sense,” he said. “Rail is environmentally friendlier and more cost-effective.”
Engineers will start by picking up to four sites to investigate further, finding cooperative landowners and ruling out some sites based on preliminary drive-by inspections.
Origer hopes to have those sites selected and analyzed by the end of summer. The rest of the timetable will depend on the county can finance construction, likely through lending, bonds, federal and state grants or a combination of those sources.
The county will continue to market the space left in the existing Winamac industrial park, said Origer, probably to companies with close ties to the businesses already located there or to a large-scale tool-and-die service.
“There are too many factors going against this industrial park,” he said. “Twenty-five or 30 years ago it was great, but economic development has changed. The way we incentivize potential businesses has changed and what businesses need has changed.”