By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — For years officials in Daviess County contended that one of the biggest obstacles to economic growth was the lack of an interstate highway through the community. They spent decades lobbying state and federal officials for what they first called the Mid-Continent Highway, a project that later came to be known as I-69. “You have no idea how many times we had a prospect ready to go and then they looked at our transportation and backed out,” said former Daviess County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dave Cox.
That transportation hurdle began to disappear one year ago when the state cut the ribbon opening I-69 from Evansville to Crane. “It’s really a big deal,” said Cox. “Communities within 15 miles of an interstate in the midwest are the ones that grow.”
Daviess County officials say they are already beginning to see that economic growth. They estimate more than $38 million in projects have begun in the area in the past year. “We have added 12 projects in the last year,” said Ron Arnold with the Daviess County Economic Development Corporation. “I think you can say that the highway has been a positive factor in those decisions, and we have more people talking with us about other projects.”
The development includes a 50,000 square foot expansion at MacAllister Caterpillar, the new Alliance Barrier Films plant, and an expansion of Maysville Enterprises warehouse operation in the Washington area. “This year we have seen several projects come together that represent excellent win-win successes,” said President of the Daviess County Commissioners Tony Wichman.
Further north The Indiana Rail Road Company has opened a new transload facility that will tie rail to the interstate near Odon and more rail connected projects are on the drawing board.
“We are working on a project that involves rail and we would not be getting any of the traction we are now seeing if it wasn’t for I-69,” said Arnold.
In all Daviess County has seen more than 250,000 square feet of new construction get underway since the highway opened, and officials say that from the WestGate@Crane Tech Park to Washington the county has around 225-250 job openings in virtually every economic sector. “If you are looking for work Daviess County just might be the area for you,” said Arnold.
Officials say the new highway is also having a positive impact on existing industry. “Sometimes it’s hard to identify all of the benefits,” said Arnold. “I think it is safe to say that all of our businesses in the I-69 corridor are operating more safely and less expensively, now.”
“I think I-69 is a really big benefit for companies like Perdue and GPC in terms of getting raw goods in and finished products out to market,” added Cox.
As positive as the economic growth has been in the first year, officials are convinced things are just beginning. “One of the things we have to do is to get the infrastructure in place that will support more growth,” said Arnold. “We are working on sewer and water projects and connector roads. We would have loved to have had those in place when I-69 opened but when the state put the road on a fast track we just didn’t have the time to get those done. Once those pieces go into place I think we will see a lot more action.”
Officials also believe there are other factors concerning I-69 that will encourage more growth. The highway still is not connected by a bridge at Evansville to the interstate system being developed in Kentucky and the leg north of Crane to SR 37 still is not due for completion until the end of the year.
“When the section from Bloomington to Crane is finished people will see that as the next best thing to having an interstate to Indianapolis because 37 is already four lanes with very few stop lights,” said Arnold. “They are also working on the bridge issue. Companies take a longer outlook and if they believe it will get built they will consider the area.”
One other piece of construction that could have an impact on future development along the road is the proposal to connect I-67 into I-69 on the east side of Washington, creating another interstate running south through Jasper, Owensboro and Bowling Green, Kentucky. “I-67 would have a big impact in terms of traffic,” said Arnold.
“If I-67 happens, my goodness, Daviess County will probably be on the other side of economic development with a lot more companies wanting to come in,” added Cox.
The $38 million in private investment in the county in the first year is good, but officials believe it is just a start. “That should just be a drop in the bucket,” said Arnold. “I expect to see a lot more. Things are going to happen. It’s just a matter of time.”