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March 3, 2013

CLEDO heads set upbeat tone

Milt Cole given inaugural Make a Difference award at annual dinner.

LOGANSPORT — Local economic development leaders painted an upbeat view Thursday of Cass County’s economic potential.

In her presentation at the Cass Logan Economic Development Organization annual dinner, CLEDO president Connie Neininger focused on statistics she said contradicted a “good ol’ days” mentality.

“Everyone says, ‘Well, we used to be,’” Neininger explained Friday. “We used to be the metal stamping capital of the world. We used to be the railroad center in the state of Indiana.”

However, when she researched Cass County in the process of acclimating herself to the president’s seat at CLEDO this fall, “I realized there hasn’t been that drastic of a change regarding the numbers.”

“Yes, there were a few years we had some upticks, and we had more population, but when you really take a look at the history, we’re holding our own.”

Since 1950, she told the roughly 85 attending the dinner, Cass County hasn’t lost population. The county has even grown its retail sales in the last five years at a faster rate than the state of Indiana or the U.S. as a whole.

The county still needs to improve in some areas, she said — education among them — and isn’t keeping pace with state and national improvement in some others, but overall, she said the county’s statistics don’t tell the dire tale that she’s heard local businesspeople share.

Instead, the county is “different,” Neininger said after the dinner.

“Instead of ‘we used to be this’ or ‘we used to be that,’ we are different from what it was then,” she said. “Different isn’t necessarily bad. Different can be good. And so what I would like to see people do is start finding what is good in the way that we are different today.”

One opportunity she pointed out was the area’s recently developed cultural diversity.

“We have an opportunity, especially with our cultural diversity, to be a place of destination because so many — especially of the younger generation — they are looking to move to urban centers,” Neininger said. “We need to find a reason to bring families back here and that’s what I think I’m seeing with our cultural diversity. It’s a growth in family living.

“We need to embrace that cultural diversity.”

Before Neininger’s address Thursday, CLEDO board chairman Jim Hayden inaugurated the organization’s Make a Difference award, recognizing Cole Hardwood owner Milt Cole this year for “his commitment, generosity and gifts.”

Since Cole was unable to attend the meeting, his sons Keith and Randy Cole accepted Hayden’s recognition on their father’s behalf.

Hayden pointed to Cole’s contribution of more than $1 million to the county’s trail system, Ivy Tech Community College and Riley Hospital in Indianapolis and his annual donations to area nonprofits, including United Way, the Cass County Family YMCA and CLEDO.

“It’s what other businesspeople need, and he’s always leading by example,” Hayden said Friday. “He never asks you to do something that he isn’t willing to do a whole lot more for.”

Neininger also surprised CLEDO office manager Judi Barr with a gift and a tearful expression of gratitude as Neininger informed those present that Barr would soon depart from the CLEDO office.

“I’m going to miss her,” Neininger managed to choke out before stepping away from the microphone to wipe her eyes.

Barr’s last day with CLEDO is March 15.

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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