Opportunity Ahead: A Summer at the Indiana Chamber

About three years ago, I made the decision to attend Hanover College—which is a little under five hours’ driving distance from my hometown of Mishawaka on a good day—where I will be a senior next year. I have again temporarily relocated from home to be in Indianapolis this summer for a communications internship with the Indiana Chamber.

Upon arriving home after completing the first day of my internship at the Chamber, my immediate task was to call my dad and relay to him the details of my initial experiences. As anticipated, he was overjoyed to learn that I considered the day to be a success and was looking forward to the days to come. He then predictably delivered a well-intentioned lecture, advising me to make the most out of this opportunity.

My dad (manager of a family-owned company based in Elkhart, Indiana) was the one who encouraged me to join my college’s business program to supplement my English major. To my surprise, I’ve largely enjoyed my business courses as much as or even more than many of my literature-based English classes. I have quickly realized that my two interests—writing and business—can create a happy union.

My summer internship here at the Chamber is a perfect example of the potential marriage of my interests. I’m excited to learn more about business while utilizing and improving my writing skills. As a college student planning on remaining and working in Indiana post-graduation next year, I look forward to learning about business in Indiana in particular. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to inform my business-savvy dad about a thing or two that he isn’t already aware of.

Four Company Leaders Have Plenty to Share

Of the 90-plus BizVoice magazines we have published since kicking off this journey in 1998, nearly all have included a roundtable discussion. Getting four people together in the same room for a 90-minute conversation always proves interesting.

While most roundtables take place in our Chamber offices, I recently traveled to South Bend to meet with four of this year's 33 Indiana Companies to Watch. (The magazine debuts at the awards event on August 22). No reason for each of them to make an approximately three-hour drive to Indy when we could hit the road and accomplish our objective.

This was a very interesting group — excellent representatives of what Indiana Companies to Watch is all about. Taking part were Sportula Products (Warsaw, producer of "hamburger flippers"; you will have to read the article), Royal Excursion (Mishawaka, transportation services), StrataShops (Elkhart, online furniture) and Integrative Flavors (Michigan City, food bases and flavorings). Sportula Products and StrataShops are the newcomers (founded in 2009 and 2008, respectively), Royal Excursion recently celebrated its 15th anniversary and the history of Integrative Flavors goes back to 1938 and supplying Army rations during World War II.

The companies reflect tremendous diversity in what they do, but there are strong similarities in how they have grown and dealt with various business challenges. How is that for a vague teaser? But trust me when I say it was a very good discussion, and I believe you will enjoy the article (online on the BizVoice site and in the interactive version on August 23).

Thanks to Dave, Shannon, Georgeann and John for their participation and insights. Check out the full story in a few weeks. And congratulations to all the Indiana Companies to Watch for 2013. The upcoming issue will help tell their stories.

(Re)Build it and They Will Come

I love history and art – not to mention a “feel good” story. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed writing a BizVoice® article last summer about restoration of Elkhart’s historic Lerner Theatre, one of many projects revolving around the city’s new downtown arts and entertainment district.

Renovation of the structure, built in 1924 as a vaudeville palace, was completed in June. It wasn’t transformation of the theatre alone that I found captivating. It was the “story within a story” – The Lerner’s rebirth revitalized Elkhart (helping to boost revenue and morale), one of those hit hardest during the economic downturn.

And the story continues.

Design firm Moody•Nolan and associate architect Cripe Design recently earned a Palladio Award (specifically the Sympathetic Addition Award) for their addition and façade restoration of the theater.

Jim Kienle, director of Moody•Nolan’s Historic Preservation Studio, was quoted in a 2010 BizVoice® story focusing on environmentally friendly preservation efforts involving restoration.

Looking forward to seeing what’s in store “in the next act” for The Lerner and other renovation projects.

Polish Pride: Michiana Enjoys Another Dyngus Day

While families everywhere were celebrating Easter this weekend, many Hoosiers with Polish heritage are extending festivities to today in honor of Dyngus Day. Most popular in the northern part of the state, the day features a combination of revelry and politics — and some rather interesting rituals (if you’re a guy, keep an eye out for flying plates headed in your direction). WNDU.com reports:

Michiana is celebrating Dyngus Day on Monday. The Polish holiday is the unofficial kick-off to the political season.

The West Side Democratic and Civic Club in South Bend will serve Polish food and allow people to meet political candidates face-to-face.

The event kicks off at 9:00 a.m. The club is located at 617 South Warren Street. There will be political guests stopping by all day, including Democrat and gubernatorial candidate John Gregg.

St. Joseph County Republican Headquarters is hosting a pancake breakfast from 7:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence and congressional candidate Jackie Walorski will make an appearance.

The headquarters is located at 4133 South Main Street in South Bend.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg will continue the tradition of renaming streets starting at 10:00 a.m. He’ll reveal the "Dyngus Day" sign at the corner of Ford and Warren and the "Solidarity Day" sign at Western and Laurel. The annual "Solidarity Day" celebration takes place at the Elks Lodge in South Bend afterward. "Solidarity Day" started back in 1971 as a way to unite people of all races.

Monday also marks Mayor Buttigieg’s 100th day in office.

For more on the history of Dyngus Day, read this write-up about where it came from and what it entails.

Keeping a Close Watch on Hoosier Success Stories

The BizVoice magazine team is hard at work on profiles and stories related to the 2011 Indiana Companies to Watch program. That included a Monday trip to Warsaw to conduct a roundtable discussion with the leaders of four of this year’s 43 honorees.

It’s always great to sit down and learn what makes organizations shine. Some (maybe a lot of) passion, willingness to take risks and deep caring for the people within their companies are a few of the common attributes typically seen. And Monday was no exception.

I don’t think the 2011 honorees have been officially released yet. But we gathered in Northern Indiana to bring in business leaders from Fort Wayne, South Bend, Elkhart and Rochester (thanks Sam, Bernie, Gregg and Rex). Three of the companies were formed in the last 11 years, while the fourth goes back to 1984. They may be diverse in their types of work, but similar in the good news their success means for their employees, families and communities.

Here is our 2010 Indiana Companes to Watch coverage in BizVoice. The 2011 edition will debut at the August 25 awards event.

Elkhart and RVs: A New NeXus

It wasn’t that long ago that Elkhart was gaining national attention for all the wrong reasons — a brutally high unemployment rate symbolized by a struggling recreational vehicle industry.

The good news is that hard work and innovation have helped produce new jobs and RVs are making a comeback. And a new player in the field, NeXus RV, is making a big splash with an open house unlike any other later this month (June 20-30).

You can check out all the details online. But it’s special when a couple of industry veterans come together to manufacture and sell motor homes on the same campus and offer perks that include the following:

  • Fly & Drive program (think free airline tickets)
  • On Demand Video Studio (get an online tour from company owner Dave Middleton)
  • Promotional specials and bonus savings galore during the open house

Elkhart is the RV capital of the world. It’s great to see the industry on the rebound and another new entry providing jobs and contributing to the Hoosier economy in NeXus RV.

Good News for Industrial Sector, Rust Belt

Joel Kotkin says manufacturing – and the auto industry – are making a comeback. The author and geographer details new impressive numbers for Indiana and Midwest industrial cities. Kotkin will offer these findings and much more to the Indiana Vision 2025 task force and Indiana Chamber board members during a work session next week. Forbes reports:

Manufacturing has grown consistently over the past 21 months, and now, for the first time in years, according to data mined by Pepperdine University’s Michael Shires, manufacturing regions are beginning to move up on our list of best cities for jobs.

The fastest-growing industrial areas include four long-suffering Rust Belt cities Anderson, Ind. (No. 4), Youngstown, Ohio (No. 5), Lansing, Mich. (No. 9) and Elkhart-Goshen, Ind. (No. 10). The growth in these and other industrial areas influenced, often dramatically, their overall job rankings. Elkhart, for example, rose 137 places, on our best cities for jobs list; and Lansing moved up 155. Other industrial areas showing huge gains include Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich., up 242 places, Holland-Grand Haven, Mich., (up 172),  Grand Rapids, Mich., (up 167)   Kokomo Ind., (up 177) ; and Sandusky, Ohio, (up 128).

Industrial growth also affected some of the largest metros, whose economies in other areas, such as business services, often depend on customers from the industrial sector. Economist Hank Robison, co-founder of the forecasting firm EMSI, points out that manufacturing jobs — along with those in the information sector — are unique in creating high levels of value and jobs across other sectors in the economy.  They constitute a foundation upon which other sectors, like retail and government, depend on.

County Counts: 2010 Business Numbers

Population statistics for Indiana counties in 2010 don’t reveal many surprises. For those interested, we’ll list the top 10 below.

I came across some recent numbers, however, that included businesses, sales and employees by county. Among the items that jumped out: Elkhart, while sixth in population, number of businesses and employees, generated the third highest sales total.

Here’s the numbers; draw your own conclusions.

Top 10 in population:

1. Marion: 892,403

2. Lake: 501,248

3. Allen: 356,857

4. Hamilton: 280,425

5. St. Joseph: 271,159

6. Elkhart: 202,892

7. Vanderburgh: 176,122

8. Tippecanoe: 168,650

9. Porter: 165,244

10. Hendricks: 143,458

Top 10 in businesses (ranked by number of employees)

COUNTY                            BUSINESSES           EMPLOYEES              SALES

1. Marion                                33,788                     633,691             $157,929,646

2. Allen                                   12,540                     197,661              $48,525,593

3. Lake                                   15,207                     176,748              $37,617,188

4. St. Joseph                           9,146                     135,683              $24,793,763

5. Vanderburgh                       7,432                     131,769              $24,693,842

6. Elkhart                                  7,137                     122,835              $38,245,084

7. Hamilton                              9,350                     115,316              $24,953,277

8. Tippecanoe                         4,871                        88,321             $22,935,115

9. Monroe                                 4,608                        62,571             $11,051,280

10. Porter                                 5,362                        58,493              $15,312,321 

Surgery Center in South Bend Celebrates Milestones

Allied Physicians Surgery Center (an Indiana Chamber member in South Bend) is currently celebrating a couple of major landmarks. The physician-owned, multi-specialty ambulatory surgery center celebrated its 100,000th case last month, and will reach its 10th anniversary this Valentine’s Day.

"Reaching 100,000 cases in less than 10 years is pretty remarkable," explains Controller Thomasine Harrison. "We’ve actually reached over 12,000 cases in a year before."

She adds that while the economy has impacted the business to a degree, its challenges haven’t been as notable as those in other industries.

"The economy has impacted us a bit in recent years, although not as badly as some," Harrison says. "But because we’re close to Elkhart, we’ve seen our worker’s compensation cases go down."

Lagging economy notwithstanding, the past and future of Allied Physicians Surgery Center remains quite bright.

"When we first started, we had a smaller physician base, and we’ve added specialties over the years (including ophthalmology and facial plastic surgery)," explains Clinical Director Chuck Strasser. "Now we’re really helping the community as far as access, and we offer a cost-effective, safe environment."

Founded in 2000, the company has grown to host 90 employees and features a very low turnover ratio.

"I think we have a very happy staff," Strasser contends. "One nice thing we do is offer a productivity bonus each year based on our success, so people like that."

It seems that treating its staff well directly correlates to happy workers and customers.

"Doctors like to do their cases here because they can get on our schedule easily and our staff is well-trained," Harrison notes. "We average 99-100% satisfaction rating from our patients. They say our people genuinely care about their well-being."

The company also has an ardor for community service, taking part in programs with the United Way, Logan Center and the local fire department.

Allied Physicians is a member of the Indiana Federation of Ambulatory Surgery Centers and is accredited by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. If you require an elective surgery and want more information, contact Allied Physicians at (574) 243-9700.

Electrifying Elkhart

Elkhart’s recent economic struggles have been well-documented, most notably last year when President Obama visited. But hopefully the page is turning in Northern Indiana as Gov. Daniels and others laud the fact that a Scandinavian electric car manufacturer plans to bring several hundred jobs to the area.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and local officials joined executives from electric car manufacturer, THINK today to announce the company’s decision to locate its North American production facility in Elkhart, creating more than 400 jobs by 2013.

A leading international manufacturer of pure electric vehicles (EV) based in Norway, THINK is scheduled to begin selling the THINK City, one of the world’s first highway-ready EVs, in the U.S. later this year. The company plans to invest more than $43 million in building improvements and equipment in Elkhart. The plant is slated to begin assembling vehicles in early 2011. THINK’s investments in Elkhart will support manufacturing capacity for more than 20,000 vehicles a year. The company recently started delivering the latest generation of its THINK City model to customers in Europe where it has more than 1,500 cars on the road.

"We’ve said we’re out to make Indiana the electric vehicle state. It’s beginning to look like the state capital will be Elkhart County," said Daniels.

The THINK City can travel at highway speed for more than 100 miles on a single battery charge with zero tailpipe emissions. The vehicle is currently in production in Finland at the site of THINK’s manufacturing partner, Valmet Automotive, which also houses assembly facilities for Porsche AG’s Boxster and Cayman models. European production of the THINK City will continue at Valmet to support European market demand.

Inside INdiana Business has the full presser here.