Members of the Knox County Development Corp. were greeted by a rather unusual request at their monthly meeting Friday — a pitch from the United Way for contributions to its 2019 Community Campaign.

At the meeting, held at Vincennes University’s new Agricultural Center, 4207 North Purdue Road, United Way of Knox County executive director Mark Hill acknowledged that his being there to pass around pledge cards for the campaign was an anomaly, but that he was covering bases in case word had not gotten around about his organization’s current campaign.

Hill said the active campaign was going on all over the county and that United Way personnel were taking extra time to make more attentive rounds at various organizations and speak with smaller groups of 20 to 30 people at a time, one of which was KCDC. 

Local trucking impresario Shepard Dunn also made a pitch to KCDC members for the United Way.

“It’s good to stand before this group again,” Dunn said. “We all get hit up for various things but the United Way touches so many things in our community and the money goes directly to (the) various entities (for which United Way raises money).”

Since the meeting was held in a brand new facility, VU's Agribusiness Program chair Susan Brocksmith gave a brief overview of the types of educational programs that would be housed in it. She touched briefly on upcoming plans for classes that would address community gardening, how drone use can benefit farmers and the potential in the state for growing hemp as a cash crop.

“We truly are on the leading edge of hemp,” Brocksmith said. “Is there potential? Absolutely.”

KCDC president Kent Utt reported to the membership on several running threads including the developing possibility of solar farms being built in various places in the county. He said that in addition to the over 2,000 acres that are being considered as sites for solar panel farms, one of the interested parties has expressed interest in another 300 acres in the Bruceville area.

Utt said he has also been speaking about the solar farms with commissioner Kellie Streeter on potential economic development agreements that would arise from them, and reiterated to KCDC members again just how much of an investment in Knox County it would be.

Utt called it a “major investment” that could carry opportunities for economic development. The names of the companies considering these projects have not been made public, but if the agreements come to fruition the capital investment potential for the county would be millions of dollars. 

Later, Utt said the interest in Knox County as the site for solar farms comes after analysis by several energy companies and that projects like this one are becoming more of a trend as coal-powered energy plants continue to close down permanently.

Utt also recapped a recent grant award that came along with several areas of Vincennes being identified by the state as so-called Opportunity Zones, a designated area inside of which businesses and certain individuals qualify for special tax breaks.

The idea behind Opportunity Zones is to encourage new businesses to start within them, spurring economic development. To do this, businesses located inside them can defer 15% of capital gains taxes over 10 years. Selection was limited to certain Census tracts that qualify as low income, or with a poverty rate of at least 20%.

In August KCDC and other local officials learned that the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs had awarded KCDC a federal grant to assist with the development of a prospectus to provide details of the Opportunity Zones, which include much of downtown Vincennes and historic downtown, Vincennes University and Kimmell Park as well as local businesses like Packaging Corporation of America, Wabash Steel and SCHOTT Gemtron.

Utt said Friday that the total acreage of the parts of Vincennes given this designation added up to about 965 acres.

Along with the grant money, KCDC has been awarded the help of the Purdue Center for Regional Development in creating the prospectus, something for which Utt had originally intended to hire a consultant but with a $40,000 price tag for that.

“I’m really excited we get to avoid that $40,000 price for a consultant,” he said.

Knox was one of six counties in the state that were awarded the Opportunity Zone designation.

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