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Vera Bradley will expand design HQ, add 128 jobs

Just how many purses does a woman need anyway?

The answer must be plenty as Vera Bradley Inc. is at it again with a $26.6 million investment and a plan to create up to 128 new jobs by 2017, the company announced Friday.

Just two years ago, the handbag designer announced a $22.5 million expansion for its Roanoke distribution center to 420,000 square feet, adding 124 new jobs. Now, it plans to expand its present 40,000-square-foot design center by 149,000 square feet and grow its distribution center an additional 10,000 square feet.

Both locations are just south of Fort Wayne, off the Lafayette Center Road exit on Interstate 69. The expansions should be completed by next year.

“We are proud to invest in our home state,” Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, chief creative officer and cofounder, said in a statement.

“Our design center expansion will bring nearly all of our northeast Indiana employees together on one campus.”

And eventually the company intends to have all of its operations at the Stonebridge Road campus, spokeswoman Melissa Schenkel said. The company has its headquarters at 2208 Production Road, and a manufacturing operation in New Haven.

That pleases officials at the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance.

“Ever since the company went public in 2010 there have been others out there (courting) them,” said Ashley Steenman, vice president of business development for the alliance. “They’ve become a global company. We always want Allen County and Fort Wayne to be the first place they consider when they’re adding facilities and workers.”

That growth hasn’t been without some pains. The company more than doubled its share price to $52.25 in May 2011 from its first trading price of $24.85. On Friday, Vera Bradley shares closed at $22.65, down $1.32 or 5.5 percent on the Nasdaq stock market.

The company also is in the midst of replacing CEO Michael Ray, who announced his retirement in June – the same day the corporation reported a 27 percent drop in earnings for its first fiscal quarter. Ray is Baekgaard’s son-in-law.

Supporters and others insist the future is bright for Vera Bradley.

“As I travel across this great Hoosier state, I witness daily the endless possibilities that can result from a terrific idea,” Gov. Mike Pence said in a statement. “ … I’m proud that because of Indiana’s low- tax, pro-growth business climate, the company has been able to grow at an incredible rate right here at home, further proving that Indiana is a state that works for business.”

Founded 31 years ago by Baekgaard and Patricia R. Miller, Vera Bradley products are available at 79 retail stores and 14 outlet locations across the country.

Fiscal 2013 net revenue was $541 million. Vera Bradley has 1,000 full-time employees in Indiana.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has offered the company up to $1.75 million in conditional tax credits.

The tax credits are performance-based, meaning until Hoosiers are hired the company is not eligible to claim incentives. Allen County will consider additional property tax abatement, but officials were unavailable Friday to comment further.

pwyche@jg.net

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