Boone EDC: Building a “Better” Boone County
The health of Boone County’s economy directly impacts each of its residents and all of its existing businesses, small, medium and large. The mission of Boone County Economic Development Corporation (Boone EDC) is to “seek the right economic opportunities to support strong communities and enhance the quality of life for all Boone County residents.” This includes leading workforce and new business development efforts throughout Boone County.
We sat down with Boone EDC’s executive director Molly Whitehead to discuss the overall status of Boone County’s economic health.
As some of the nation’s top economists are predicting an impending recession in 2020, Whitehead shared what Boone EDC has learned from the last economic downturn and how they are applying those lessons to help Boone County’s business sector weather a financial storm should one materialize in the near future.
Whitehead, a Boone County native, grew up on a farm on the far north side of the county. After college, Whitehead worked for state government in a variety of capacities.
“I had the opportunity to work and travel everywhere around the state of Indiana at that time,” Whitehead said. “It was 2008–2009, and it was in the middle of the recession. I saw communities that were either thriving or struggling, and what piqued my interest was what they [the thriving communities] were doing for themselves rather than relying on others to do things for their communities.”
After earning her MBA, Whitehead accepted a position with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. When the executive director position became available in 2014, Whitehead applied and has been working for the betterment of the county since.
In the aftermath of the last recession, Boone County and its communities, such as Zionsville, saw a period of perseverance and innovation in the business community, especially among its small businesses. While many small- and medium-sized businesses were temporarily paralyzed in the wake of the financial downturn, some took that time to redevelop their business models and came out stronger for it. Concurrently, the entire county experienced a period of slower growth than neighboring Hamilton County. Boone EDC also took advantage of that time by working to define the county—from an economic standpoint—through excellent strategic planning and regional, national and international marketing efforts that are ongoing.
“Coming out of the recession, we’ve [Boone County] been reaping the benefits of smart planning—that predates me—at a time of slower growth,” Whitehead said. “Say what you will about slower growth, but it presents those opportunities to think through how you want your infrastructure to look and evaluate the necessary steps you need to take along the way. I think we have set ourselves up very well, and it’s made my job easier in that I’ve had a good foundation to work with.”
Open for Businesses in Boone County
Whitehead shared that Boone EDC has taken proactive measures by bringing on a staff member who is dedicated to developing and working with small businesses and entrepreneurs.
“I do believe that small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” Whitehead said. “Yes, we still have to go after those ‘big’ deals that bring in 200 jobs and $100 million in capital investment as they are partially our bread and butter, but we are excited to bring on a staff person who is passionate about small business and entrepreneurship and who can dig into the weeds about what the barriers are for those business owners and figure out how we can help to eliminate those barriers.”
Did you know that Boone EDC offers its GROW Program and Microloan Program, specifically targeted at small businesses and entrepreneurs?
The GROW (Gumption, Resources, Opportunities and Workplace) Program, developed by Boone EDC, works in conjunction with zWORKS and awards an annual membership to zWORKS to an entrepreneur or small business owner seeking to grow and expand their operations in Boone County.
The Boone EDC Microloan mission is a resource for small businesses in Boone County. If you are looking for funding for new equipment, renovations, upgrades or more, the microloan is a low-interest investment option that can boost you to the next level.
Boone EDC engages its large manufacturers by hosting a quarterly Boone County Manufacturing Alliance. This is a group of general/plant managers and CEOs focused on meeting the needs of Boone County’s manufacturing businesses. Boone EDC also hosts quarterly HR Roundtables. This event is an opportunity for HR professionals in Boone County to network with each other while hearing about a topic relevant to their field.
Building the Boone County Brand
Boone EDC has been actively and successfully marketing to regional, national and international corporations amid heavy competition from neighboring counties. One of Boone EDC’s most recent successes was bringing in PTS Diagnostics, which moved its global headquarters from Marion County to Boone County earlier this summer.
“The thing about our neighbors to the east is that they have built up such an identity and brand awareness that they don’t have to offer incentives because they have companies banging down their door,” Whitehead stated. “Building our name and our brand recognition matters. I would love to get to that point where we don’t have to offer incentives because people will want to be here [Boone County], and we’re close.”
Contributing to the efforts to improve the county’s overall quality of life for employers and their employees also plays into the economic development equation, and Boone EDC is an active participant in those related initiatives as well.
“While I can’t make a legitimate argument that I’ll bring in five companies because we have connected trails, it is one more tool in the toolbox and says to people that we know amenities are important to the people who live and work here. That is one of the reasons why people love the ‘village’ of Zionsville. It brings a quality of life and sense of community to the area. All of the new and different parks in Whitestown appeals to a large, diverse group of people. Those types of improvements matter, even if you can’t quantify them.”
Preparing for Blue Skies or Gray
“At the county level, Boone County is taking more steps to become even more conservative with dollars and is saving up for that ‘rainy day,’” Whitehead explained. “We know that the day will come, though we don’t know to what extreme the market will dip. We are planning to make sure that we are better positioned, but we are not putting on the brakes. We are pushing ahead from the marketing perspective because we want as many companies and assets as we can possibly get and don’t want all of our eggs in one basket. We don’t want one mega-user coming in and when/if it closes, we lose all of the jobs. At some point there will be a recession, and we are taking the time—while times are good—to prepare.”
Boone EDC Launches WorkInBoone.com
Boone EDC just launched a website to help connect job seekers with career opportunities in Boone County. The website, www.WorkInBoone.com, features an interactive map that offers the ability to filter Boone County companies by industry.
“WorkInBoone.com is designed as a free resource for Boone County employers to recruit employees and provides an easy way for job seekers to connect with local businesses,” said Amy Hammerle, Boone EDC workforce and community development manager. “The website links job seekers directly to local companies via their career website or email address.”
Whitehead added, “We are often asked where people can go to find jobs in Boone County. Before now, there was not a one-stop shop. WorkInBoone.com is one component of our plan to provide workforce solutions to Boone County employers.”
Businesses will continue to be added to the website. Companies interested in being included on WorkInBoone.com should visit the employer section at the bottom of the website to sign up.