By DAVE KITCHELL

Pharos-Tribune Opinion Page Editor

There was a time when most banks were locally owned and most factories were not owned by a corporate conglomerate one or more states away from where people earned a paycheck.

Times have really changed, and in a generational hurry. Who would have thought 20 years ago we would be seeing the names Wells Fargo or Chase in the cornfield surrounded communities of Indiana. But we are.

And that shapes the discussion for a new concept in funding business development: The micro grant. This is not a way to fund the micro midget racetrack west of Logansport, though it could probably apply. It is not a tax for funding a new microbrewery, though the Columbia and Schmidt breweries that were once located here might still be in business if they could take advantage of them.

The program being proposed by the Logansport-Cass County Economic Development Foundation has not been given the thumbs up by the city or county councils yet, but there is some reason to think it might happen. If the plan is adopted as presented, companies would be able to tap up to $15,000 by going directly to the foundation board and asking for it. Of course, there is no endless supply of cash generated through the County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT), but a small business with a need for cash, limited investors and no credit to leverage at a bank might find this program to be a welcome infusion of capital.

The second thing about this concept is that it does provide capital in a way that frees up CEDIT funding to be used by more than just a few major employers in the community. It also rewards local entrepreneurs for stepping out on the economic ledge and walking a tightrope of chance that could lead to progress, jobs, tax base and economic growth. By granting $15,000 or less, the CEDIT money can grow businesses that may not stay here otherwise because there is better support in other communities.

Then again, there are some downsides to this concept. One is that companies that want the money are probably going to have to come clean with their own corporate goals and marketing just to get a few thousand dollars. To do it, they may have to come before people who will be privy to that information and may even be a potential competitor.

Without it and CEDIT funding in general however, there may be limited venture capital coming to Logansport, Cass County and the region. With apologies to Greensburg, it is hard to imagine just exactly what makes a Greensburg more attractive to Honda than a Logansport, a Rochester or a Monticello. Maybe Greensburg officials agreed to make the tree growing out of the courthouse a Japanese bonsai sapling to symbolize the impact the automaker will have on an Indiana community.

In reality, Logansport may never get an automaker to locate here, but there are a few thoughts to ponder on that possibility. One is that marrying into one large industry could be sink or swim for the community in the long run (anyone from Kokomo can chime in here). Secondly, had the micro grant program been around when the ReVere Auto Company was located in downtown Logansport, Newton Van Zant may have stayed here instead of running from authorities and turning up in a grave somewhere in Iowa. Third, all the local companies from spring manufacturers to multi-slide operators could probably welcome a program that allows them to re-tool quickly if their automaker clients want a supplier that cannot only promise on-time delivery to Midwest markets, but little down-time in producing new prototypes and parts.

So for the city and county officials who must consider the issues surrounding the CEDIT program, there are some issues to think about. One of those ultimate issues is whether it would be better to save up all the CEDIT money for a rainy day when a ship finally decides to dock on the Wabash or whether keeping our little flotilla afloat is a better plan in the meantime.

It’s anybody’s guess which course is the right one for Logansport, Cass County and for area communities where people might be asking the same questions and wondering the same things.

Like most people, I appreciate the contributions of small business and all the hoops owners have to jump through from hiring to licensing to health insurance and marketing. If most jobs are created through small business addition and not corporate America, then maybe CEDIT funding has been tilted in the wrong direction all along.

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