FLORA — Sure, you can get a John Deere belt buckle or ball cap. But what if you want a John Deere dog’s chew toy, steering wheel cover or even a John Deere ant farm?

They’ve got those, too.

John Deere farm implements dealer Tri Green Tractor in Flora and its offshoot gift shop and Internet business, trigreentoytractor.com, were named Carroll County’s 2013 Business of the Year by the countywide chamber of commerce.

It’s only the third business to receive that distinction. The relatively young Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, organized in 2005, named Indiana Packers, Delphi, its first Business of the Year in 2011. Last year, The Grapevine Boutique in Flora received the award.

Chamber executive director Julia Leahy said recent growth and physical expansion the Flora business, one of four Tri Green locations, has benefited the county.

“We’re happy that they’re here and that they’re expanding,” Leahy said. “That tells us that they’re here for a long time.”

The Flora location then known as Jackson-Lee-Pearson merged in 2011 with two other John Deere dealerships to form one entity. Since then, the company has remodeled its showroom and launched an online toy and gift retail business.

The merger allowed the three dealership to take advantage of the larger scale a group would provide. But in addition to the cost savings generated by combining forces, the group intended to seek greater security for its employees, which in 2011 numbered just under 100.

Even though the area was in the middle of an economic downturn in 2011, agriculture was booming, Tri Green partner Jason Pearson said. “It was as good as it was bad on the other side.”

For that reason, Pearson and the other two partners decided to put their heads together, so to speak, while business was doing well. And both the Flora location and the group as a whole have continued to grow — by about 10 percent since the merger in July 2011, Pearson said.

Leahy pointed to the growing retail business run by Jason’s wife Michelle Pearson as a sign of the group’s success.

“They’ve really developed their e-commerce,” Leahy said. “She’ll use local folks to customize some of their products, too,” such as having backpacks or blankets embroidered locally in Flora. “They’ll do business locally whenever they can.”

But the dealership’s importance lies in its support of the local agricultural industry, Leahy said, since much of the county’s economy depends on agriculture.

More than 190,000 acres in Carroll County — or two-thirds of the county’s total land area — is devoted to farmland and farm products’ market value amounted to more than $151 million in 2007, the latest data available, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture.

The Flora implements dealership has been around since the 1950s. The current owner’s father, Willam J. Pearson, bought a third interest in the business in 1972 before eventually becoming sole owner in 1989. On his retirement, son Jason Pearson bought the business and became manager of both its Flora location and a branch in Frankfort. Michelle Pearson developed the company’s Web-based toy sales within the last few years.

Jason Pearson and partners Jack Chambers, of the Logansport Tri Green location formerly known as Green Power, and Rex Riggs, of the location in Swayzee formerly called Harper Implements, decided to merge in 2011.

All told, the company employs 115 at its Flora, Frankfort, Logansport and Swayzee dealerships. About 33 of those work in Flora, either in sales or in parts and repairs. Just like Jason Pearson did.

“I grew up in the dealership, basically,” Pearson said. After he graduated in 1993 from Ball State University, Pearson returned to his father’s business. Although he now manages parts and services for the Tri Green group, he said many of the longtime employees in Flora were his supervisors at one time or another.

“It’s really a service-based industry,” Pearson said. “These tractors and combines now have up to 30 computer controls on them,” like global positioning technology.

The company is a heavy supporter of the county’s FFA programs and 4-H fair, according to Leahy. Pearson explained that’s to develop rapport with the next generation of farmers.

“To me, it’s young people,” he said. “It’s having those young people feeling comfortable when they walk into the dealership.”

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

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