Economic development focused on business, workforce and grants

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As the city continues to grow in population and businesses, economic development department director Judi Johnson is keeping a watchful eye on the employees available in Noblesville.

“The No. 1 thing we’re requested is workforce,” she said.

The Noblesville Chamber of Commerce, schools and Community Vision for Excellence Vision Committee are all working on this initiative together.

“We’re partnering together to fill skills gaps,” Johnson said.

To attract businesses to Noblesville, the economic development department is using different marketing strategies. Johnson said specific industry sectors were being targeted, including high tech, manufacturing, logistics and information technology.

“We’re being more specific with our marketing dollars,” she said.

Johnson credits the right-to-work law and tax structures as state changes that have benefited businesses moving to Noblesville. Two new businesses that should open this year include Panda Express at Hamilton Town Center and LA Fitness off Ind. 37.

“We’ve seen great expansion in 2012,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of retail come to Noblesville.”

Change didn’t just occur outside of City Hall last year. Within the economic development department, Johnson was appointed as director and the city hired economic development specialists Courtney Zaugg and Alaina Shonkwiler. Zaugg is focusing on business development throughout the entire city and Shonkwiler is focusing primarily on the downtown area.

In addition to working on attracting businesses to Noblesville, the department is working to complete several projects that started in 2012.

Johnson said the city received a technical assistance grant from the Indiana Arts Commission that would allow a consultant to work with city staff, key community arts stakeholders, and members of the public to create a plan that would further advance the arts in Noblesville. In late September, the economic development department hosted a community meeting to gather suggestions and ideas from the public about the creation of a cultural arts district in downtown Noblesville.

“We’re defining the district’s boundaries, the assets we have, and bringing together what we learned to write a submission for a cultural arts district,” Johnson said. “Our ultimate goal is to create a true cultural arts district in and around the downtown area.”

Another grant awarded to the city that will be used this year is a $400,000 United States EPA Brownfield Redevelopment Assessment grant. The city is identifying and exploring how these areas can be used and redeveloped, Johnson said.

“We’ll be bringing the community into what we’re doing and asking for responses,” she said.

Noblesville applied for this funding by creating a coalition with Arcadia and Sheridan. During the next three years, the funding will allow Noblesville to inventory, characterize, assess and conduct both planning and community involvement related to brownfield sites. The grant will also be used to incentivize private and public reuse of properties that have been previously developed and that potentially need to be cleaned up.

The Economic Development Strategic Plan was updated last year and will serve as the department’s and the city’s roadmap for Noblesville for the next five years.

“The Strategic Plan approved in 2002 focused on building a product—in other words, infrastructure development, creation of the Corporate Campus, and more. The updated Strategic Plan focuses on marketing and analyzing the successes realized as a result of the original plan,” mayor John Ditslear said. “A feature built into the updated Strategic Plan is flexibility. No matter what the economic climate, the plan was purposely constructed to maintain momentum in high and low tides.”

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