Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann made Cass County the 52nd stop on her “Listen and Learn” tour Tuesday when she met with local officials to hear their concerns regarding job loss in the county, federal mandates and energy needs.
According to the latest data from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the 12-county region Cass is included in had an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent in July, about one percentage point higher than the nation’s rate at that time.
Logansport, formerly a hub for manufacturing in the area, has seen closings and layoffs at several factories in recent years.
“That’s been something that has been felt in the Logansport area more closely,” Ellspermann said of job losses in the area in an interview after the meeting.
Ellspermann went on to commend the county for what she feels are two ways officials are working to improve this dilemma. One of those ways is the new Ind. 25 Hoosier Heartland highway, scheduled to open next month.
“That’s very good for the governor and me to be thinking about and be cheerleading about for you as you go forward,” she said.
Local officials are expecting businesses to sprout up along the new transit route.
Logansport Community Development Director Chris Armstrong, who attended Ellspermann’s meeting, seconded her in an interview, pointing to the recent groundbreaking of Sagamore Warehouse on Stoney Pike. The fertilizer facility is expected to create up to 17 jobs.
“If it brings any jobs to our area, I think that’s huge,” Armstrong said. “Anything we can do to create jobs is high on our list.”
Another happening in the county Ellspermann considered positive is the power plant that Logansport Mayor Ted Franklin has been negotiating with Pyrolyzer LLC.
Supporters of the plant say it will be environmentally sound, create jobs, provide cheap electricity and allow the city to avoid future U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates against coal-powered plants.
However, concerns remain among officials and community members about what kind of emissions the plant will have, guarantees on what electric rates will be and the lack of precedence in all of the proposed plant’s technologies working together as a whole.
Ellspermann said while she doesn’t have a deep enough knowledge of the project, she praises the the proponents’ efforts as far as finding a way to adapt to the future EPA mandates.
“I’m not pleased at all with the EPA’s approach to making it difficult to use coal, but I think that having communities look at what is in their best interest and how they can be energy independent going forward is something Logansport is showing leadership on,” she said.
Cass County Councilman Grover Bishop said one concern he raised at the meeting was how the county could quicken its efforts to acquire replacement vehicles for Cass Area Transit.
In the past, the county was able to receive an exemption to a rule requiring the purchase of American-made vehicles, he said, because the public transportation service was already having frames for new vehicles prepared in Canada. The exemption has ultimately hampered efforts to update the fleet.
“Over time, it’s taken three years off from our vehicle replacement,” he said, adding that all of Cass Area Transit’s vehicles have mileages of more than 100,000.
Bishop said Ellspermann was receptive to the concerns brought to her.
“It was nice to see somebody up there acting like they cared,” he said. “I really think the visit was well received and I think she came in with a really positive attitude as well. It will remain to be seen how much it’s going to benefit and what is possible.”
Ellspermann began the “Listen and Learn” tour in May, according to a release from her office, when she set out to visit each of Indiana’s 92 counties to learn their strengths, challenges and priorities.
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.