Craig Kirk

Craig Kirk, chairman of the Knox County Development Corp.'s board of directors, updates members of the county council during the council's meeting on Tuesday at City Hall, 201 Vigo St.

KCDC board chairman gives report to county council

The Knox County Development Corp. is re-evaluating the way it does business, board president Craig Kirk said this week.

Kirk went before members of the county council on Tuesday to offer a brief report on the organization's recent goings-on.

“In the absence of a CEO, I thought it would be good for you to hear where our organization is headed,” he said.

Kirk said the board of directors are looking to Erik Pages, the president of EntreWorks Consulting, an economic development consulting and policy development firm with headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, for help in drafting a new strategic plan — and in narrowing down a current long list of applicants for the open CEO position.

Pages, too, has worked with focus groups associated with the development of the Pantheon: A Business and Innovation Theatre, a shared workspace and small business incubator set to open this summer in the historic downtown theater.

Kirk told the council, whose members last year opted to cut their annual funding to KCDC in half, that economic development is changing — and that the local organization must change right along with it.

Economic development, he said, is “more tech driven” and “more efficient” than ever before. The jobs are often fewer, he added, but better paying.

“Companies aren't looking for tax abatements and free land anymore,” Kirk said. “We can't count on companies to come in and fill up our industrial park.”

KCDC currently owns more than 100 “shovel-ready” acres in the U.S. 41 Industrial Park that could be quickly turned around for development.

And while KCDC's focus remains on “business attraction and homegrown business support,” Kirk said it also wants to rewrite the strategic plan to be in a position to offer what growing companies want.

And a lot of that is going to rely on help from city and county elected officials.

Companies, Kirk said, want “quality of place,” things like abundant parks, places to walk and exercise, restaurants, nightlife, etc.

They also want quality schools, a sense of culture and adequate housing, which is something Vincennes has struggled with in recent years, particularly in terms of mid-range housing.

“Businesses want their employees to have good quality of life,” he said. “These aren't areas (KCDC has) played in before, but economic development continues to change, so these are the things KCDC is suddenly involved in.”

Kirk also updated the county council on the ongoing search for a new CEO.

Former CEO Kent Utt announced his resignation rather suddenly back in November.

Utt had been at the organization's helm for four years but reportedly left to pursue a career as a self-employed property appraiser.

Kirk said KCDC, so far, has received about 60 applications; of them, 55 were “immediately rejected” for various reasons, he said.

They would “love” to have someone from Indiana, Kirk said, although they are open to other possibilities. They've even begun the vetting process for a potential candidate from Idaho.

“And there are some local folks who are intriguing,” he said. “I don't think we're far off from finding someone.”

Kirk said the organization hopes to have someone in place by this summer.

Both the county and city used to give to the KCDC $48,000 per year to help with administrative costs, and another $150,000 each, per a long-standing inter-local agreement, that was set aside specifically for capital projects.

The county council during budget hearings last fall decided to cut both council contributions in half; the county this year will give just $24,000 toward annual administrative costs, i.e. salaries, and $75,000 toward economic development projects.

The city council last month opted to leave its contributions the same as in previous years.

Kirk also told the county council that they've set the date for their annual banquet for May 13.

The annual meeting — a luncheon with keynote speaker held at VU's Robert E. Green Activities Center — is typically in March, but Kirk announced last month that the organization had decided to push it back.

They were attempting to recruit Gov. Eric Holcomb to come speak, but his schedule simply won't allow it.

Instead, they've secured Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch for that date.

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