Northern Indiana update: "the rust belt has shaken off the rust."

Author:Kurowski, Jeff

The recession of a few years ago is a distant memory to most people living in Northern Indiana.

No home runs were hit during the past year in terms of economic development in Elkhart, Kosciusko, Lagrange, Marshall and St. Joseph counties. However, many companies in the region expanded and personnel managers at several firms started to complain about a shortage of qualified labor. Barring any unforeseen calamities, steady economic growth should continue in the five-county area, according to several observers.

"The area has good transportation and it is in the center of the manufacturing belt of America," says Morton Marcus, director of the Indiana Business Research Center at the Indiana University School of Business. "The rust belt has shaken off the rust."

South Bend is the largest city in the five-county region, but suburban development has created essentially one continuous metropolitan area extending from Niles, Mich., to Goshen, the seat of Elkhart County.

The combined population of St. Joseph County (including South Bend and Mishawaka) and Elkhart County (including the cities of Elkhart and Goshen) totaled 410,000 as of June 1992, making the two-county area the third-largest metropolitan region in Indiana.

For decades, South Bend was the region's manufacturing center, but now it is the professional-services center, particularly medical and educational services.

Retail growth along the "Grape Road Corridor" on the north side of Mishawaka and residential growth in the Granger area at the northeast corner of St. Joseph County were among the past year's top business stories.

Pat McMahon, executive director of Project Future, the St. Joseph County private-sector economic-development organization, agrees that the northeast corner of St. Joseph County has become "a bedroom community" for the greater South Bend-Elkhart metropolitan area.

"A disproportionate number of upper-level managers hired by big companies are choosing to live in St. Joseph County and commute to an adjacent county," McMahon says. "There are almost entire subdivisions of people in upper management of certain companies."

McMahon and other economic-development officials are having success at selling St. Joseph County's central location and skilled labor force to manufacturers looking for new plant locations. Among their successes in the past year:

* The opening of a 250-employee plant in South Bend's Airport 2010 industrial park by the Santa Fe, Calif.-based Accuride...

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