Pharos-Tribune

November 13, 2013

KITCHELL: City must protect endangered species


Pharos-Tribune

---- — This week’s question of interest in Logansport is “How many economic development organizations do we need to have a dry cleaner?”

Logansport, which 50 years ago had multiple dry cleaners and no economic development organizations, is about to have two economic development organizations and no dry cleaners.

It’s a curoius economic development situation. County officials announced last week they will have their own economic development staff member for the first time. That leaves the joint city/county organization known as “CLEDO” in limbo because if county officials are pursuing their own course, why would they need an additional city/county organization?

As the new economic development staff member for the county accurately pointed out, most economic development is created through existing business and industry. But if we’re trying to preserve jobs, particularly for small business which generates most jobs, then why not help an existing business, Stite’s Cleaners, which is closing its East Market Street store before the end of the month? The company has cited the economy, less demand for dry cleaning and a flood at its Kokomo location as reasons to end its business, which has been around for nearly 75 years.

Maybe the local demand for dry cleaning has changed because of the loss of white collar jobs traditionally associated with suits and ties, skirts and dresses — and higher salaries. This again could be symptomatic of Cass County’s unusually low college attainment rate.

Another connection that economic development officials for both the city and county to consider is the need for a stable service sector economy that provides the ongoing hometown support residents need and expect from a community with approximately 20,000 people. Losing a dry cleaner may not be the end of the world signals that if one dry cleaner can’t thrive here, similar small businesses with a monopoly on the market may not be able to make it either.

So why not extend economic development incentives to another dry cleaner from another community? It’s somewhat ironic that the city has already invested in a clean-up of the former Richardson’s Dry Cleaners right across from the City Building, but the building has remained vacant for years now.

Meanwhile, other cities are taking our community’s economy to the cleaners figuratively and literally because so much more is available in larger cities nearby.

The absence of a dry cleaner sends a message to those of us who have made Logansport our home for decades, but the message sent to the world outside Logansport when the city and county have dueling economic development organizations is this: This community doesn’t have its act together.

This situation is somewhat unfair to Logansport taxpayers who are paying twice for the same service because they are both city and county residents. But soon, they’ll be paying for separate city and county ambulance services.

What next, an Eel Township economic development director or a Clay Township Ambulance Service?

While those scenarios may not be realistic, another one is. The next time a prospective business or industry representatives begin looking at Logansport as a site for a plant or store, who will they contact first, the city or the county? Will they offend the party they don’t contact? Will they play the city against the county to get the most out of both local units of government? Will they want mutual support for a project, and will that make the task of opening here more difficult than other places?

And what if a county economic development project couldn’t be pulled off without city support? What will happen then?

The bigger question for us all is if we know of any other Indiana community with such a divergent relationship between the officials in the county seat and the county? I can’t think of one, and this situation is so unusual because the Cass/Logansport Economic Development Foundation was streamlined two years ago, presumably to give local officials more representation on the board at the expense of various local industrial sectors represented on the board of CLEDO, formerly the Logansport-Cass County Economic Development Foundation.

What for many years has been a community with city/coiunty cooperation that could used the confluence of the Wabash and Eel as its metaphor has changed course. Time will tell if this situation has become a stain on the community’s fabric that can be removed without a dry cleaner or if it will come out in the wash of future elections on city and county ballots.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at ptnews@pharostribune.com.