Despite many obstacles, one thing is for sure — it’s been a great four years, said Boone County Economic Development Corp. executive director Dax Norton at the organization’s annual meeting Wednesday at Eagle Church in Whitestown.
Norton said the county’s success was in part due to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels who made Indiana a better state to live in and do business.
Daniels, who served as the meeting’s keynote speaker, highlighted accomplishments from his tenure in office to an audience of more than 100 people.
Daniels was given a heart-wrenching introduction by Mickey Webster, a Skjodt-Barrett Foods employee who was grateful to find a job at the food company after losing her previous job of 20 years.
“Things aren’t well in many states, but things are a little different here,” Daniels said.
Daniels said his guiding mission since taking office has been to raise disposable income of Hoosiers. He said that state spending has increased by just 1.3 percent, half the rate of inflation and putting Indiana in the Top 3 for average state spending.
He said 55.4 percent of every dollar of the general fund expenditures goes to schools kindergarten through 12th grade; and approximately two-thirds of state government spending goes to education including higher education.
“We are not in the red and have a reserve fund of $2.5 billion, 15 percent of the annual budget,” Daniels said. “We have come a long way and I hope Indiana never resorts to the former gimmick again,” when the state “stiffed” schools because it didn’t have the money.
He said that when the legislature got comfortable, he decided not to keep taxpayers’ money.
“Under my deal, every Indiana taxpayer will get a discount of $100-something for next year’s income tax,” he said.
The state is also paying down state debts by 46 percent.
“Forty-six percent is the average for other states’ debt going up, but ours is the opposite,” he said. “We have a better credit rating than the United States has.”
Daniels also said Indiana has record-breaking conservation citing several projects in the works including the Healthy Rivers Initiative and the Bicentennial Nature Trust.
He said Indiana has the most efficient state government in the Midwest. More people moved to Indiana than moved out and the state has received more college graduates than anywhere in the north east quadrant of the United States.
Also during the annual meeting, Norton gave a brief overview of Boone County’s economic development accomplishments within the past year and within the past four years. He said that it’s been a bittersweet year during one of the worst recessions in Indiana.
“We have no vacant buildings, had two new big companies open in Boone County, had only two business relocate and we are hoping to build four to five new buildings,” he said.
Among last year’s accomplishments were D.A. Lubricants and Skodt-Barrett Foods opened in Lebanon. Skjodt-Barrett also announced last month that the company will add 150 new jobs by Labor Day, he said.
Within the past year, Norton said Amazon.com in Whitestown has expanded and the county has received a total commitment investment of $66 million and a total of 375 new job commitments within the county.
Since Norton took the position as county EDC executive director in 2008, the county has had 12 new companies relocate to the county, four expansions, $184 million in investments and has created 2,750 new jobs. The county is also known as having the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the state, fourth fastest growing county in the state, second healthiest county, Top 5 safest county, has created two micro loan projects and a Zionsville App for smartphones, iPads and tablets.
Norton spoke highly of several investors and the hard work of those involved in bringing economic development to the county.
“Collaborations between investors and our board of director is what makes economic development work in Boone County,” he said. “We are also trying to innovate and bring new things to the table and because of our investors, we are able to do that. It’s been a great year.”
Daniels ended his speech by praising Boone County’s economic development.
“We need more Boone counties that have knocked it out of the park with economic development,” he said. “We have had some great days here and have cut some big ribbons in Boone County and I know whoever comes next will get the same opportunity.”
Also at the meeting, Norton gave awards to past presidents Mike Latz (2009-12) and James Edwards (2008-09); awarded Lebanon Utilities as the Boone Economic Development Corp. Partner of the Year; and gave the Economic Development Legacy Award to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. He also recognized outgoing board member Todd Vannatta, who served as a board member from 2000-12.