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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, May 06, 2018 1:00 am

Electric Works - it's a jobs thing

Ron Turpin

I support Electric Works and believe it worthy of local taxpayer investment. I do so based on reasons that can be summed up by two numbers: 21,018 and 87 percent. These numbers are the net domestic migration out of Allen County since 1991 and the per-capita income of Allen County residents as a percentage the national average.

If we do not actively work to reverse these trends, eventually our community will lose jobs and net migration will increase. Employers will look to other communities to fill their jobs (as there will not be enough employees to fill them), leading to a shrinking tax base (fewer people to pay for basic services) of people who, on average, are making less money than the same employees in other parts of the country (which hurts buying power).

This is not a place we or our children will want to be.

In the past, we as a community have assumed that having low taxes and a low cost of living are enough to attract the jobs we need to grow.

After studying numerous cities with top-tier economies over the last 10 years, I and others have found that this assumption was wrong. Communities need much more: they need to show that if companies bring jobs, the community has the amenities to attract and retain talented people from around the country (who typically fill about 70 percent of the new jobs created). To do that, we must continually improve our quality of place.

Things like good roads, strong schools and a quality police force are not enough; as we compete to attract jobs to Allen County, the communities we compete against have these same assets. To set ourselves apart, we must engage in bold, innovative and cutting-edge projects such as Electric Works – if they make financial sense. I have seen the detailed financials on this project, and it does make sense.

Phase 1 of the Electric Works project is estimated to cost around $221 million. Of that figure, the developers are requesting $65 million in local funds (a combination of grants and loans) with another $73-plus million coming from state/federal funds, and the remaining $82-plus million coming from the developers themselves (direct cash plus bank loans).

It is interesting to note that 10 years ago, our local government invested $65 million in the construction of Parkview Field (more than $80 million in today's dollars, adjusting for inflation). You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't believe that was money well spent. It would be a similarly wise investment to spend fewer public dollars (adjusting for inflation) on a project that will immediately attract state and federal funds that otherwise would be spent in other communities. Leveraging those dollars, we could transform a symbol of a bygone era into the hub of a brighter future, sparking 1,500-plus permanent, high-wage jobs and $387 million in annual economic impact.

The first step in approvals for local government financing begins with the Legacy Committee meeting on May 23. Since its formation, I have had the supreme privilege of serving as the chair of this committee. During that time, we focused heavily on only those half-dozen or so projects that had the highest transformational impact in the community. All of these pale in comparison to what Electric Works can do in terms of transformation.

Can you imagine what that 39-acre campus, fully transformed, can do not only for the neighborhood around it (which you are already starting to see), but for our city and county in general? Alas, I am no longer a member of the committee, but if I were, I would fully support this project as it is exactly what the fund was envisioned to do; and do so in a way that protects the fund's corpus, allowing us to make investments in ourselves for years to come. I would urge members of the public to attend the Legacy Committee meeting on May 23 and show your support for Electric Works.

My oldest child graduates from high school this year. Just as my wife and I are investing in her college education to give her a brighter future, we as a community have a choice: do we invest in ourselves with projects such as Electric Works? Or do we reject this project with its transformational impact and take the easy road by doing nothing, allowing that asset to continue to waste away for years to come? I know which future I want to embrace.

Ron Turpin is chief financial officer for Gibson, an insurance and risk management company.