Butler Growth & Future

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Article by Jeff Jones | KPC News | April 6, 2018
BUTLER — Setting a course for future growth and development won’t happen overnight.
It won’t happen at all unless discussion starts.
Butler started that process Thursday with a meeting of business and industrial leaders and state and congressional representatives gathered at Butler City Hall. City Councilman Jerry Eldridge, RDistrict 1, and City Planner Steve Bingham presided over the hour-long meeting.
Another meeting is set for 10 a.m. Thursday, May 3, also at City Hall. Eldridge wants to get meetings with leaders established first and hold similar meetings for citizens in the near future.
Butler finds itself in a situation where employment opportunities are plentiful, but housing, shopping and attractions are not.
“We’ve gotten to this chicken-and-egg situation. It’s a vicious cycle,” Eldridge said. “We’re trying to change that mindset. Butler has a lot of things going for it, but we haven’t been able to bring investment to Butler.
“If we continue to wait for something to happen, it won’t happen,” he told the gathering of about 15 people. “This is something we need your help with to make this happen.”
State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, suggested using the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) and a federal New Market Tax Credit program as sources to spur growth.
“That could bring venture capitalists into the area, and they would be able to claim tax credits,” Smaltz explained. The program targets economically distressed areas, and most of DeKalb County — including Butler and Auburn — would qualify for it, he said.
Instead of trying to hit a home run with a new initiative, “It might be better to go for singles and doubles,” Bingham said.
Cal Hubbell, plant manager at Janus International, asked if Butler has any plans for housing development going forward.
Bingham said Butler is one of few communities in the state that offers residential tax abatement for new home construction. The three-year program offers a declining-scale incentive. Taxes are abated at 100 percent the first year, at 66 percent the second year and at 33 percent the third year.
ColorMaster representative Kyle Skaggs said many of his company’s employees drive 35-40 miles to Butler each day, but believed some would be interested in relocating to Butler, preferably if new housing or a new subdivision were available. Of the 80 people who work at ColorMaster, only three currently live in Butler, he said.
Russ Jehl, deputy district director for U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, asked if DeKalb County had conducted any type of housing survey.
Anton King, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership, said there has not been one, but indicated he would be open to getting that accomplished.
Jehl said while Indiana is blessed with strong economic numbers, many communities like Butler have more jobs than qualified workers or housing for those workers.
“You’re not alone,” Jehl stated. “Almost every community with the exception of Fort Wayne is like that.”
Bingham said Butler’s population hasn’t changed much since the 1970s. Most communities, he said, see growth around 10 percent over the course of a decade.
“For years, there has been a stigma about Butler that there was blight and a drug problem,” Skaggs said. “It’s something that has to be overcome, and I think it is, but is that stigma still there?
“I think a lot of the reasons it has improved is because of business investment into the community,” he added. “Through housing incentives, I think commercial and retail businesses will come.”
Bingham agreed. “I was city planner in Garrett for 22 years, and that’s the way it worked there,” he said.
“You have a good school system here,” Hubbell said. “People just don’t know what’s here.”
“We do have some really good things here that are overlooked sometimes,” Eldridge said. “We need to play that up.”
“People in their own communities aren’t always aware of what they have,” said Teresa Harmeyer, executive director of the DeKalb Chamber Partnership.
The process should include the needs of current high school students. Veronica Sebert of Sebert Oil Co. and Zach Washler, executive director of United Way of DeKalb County, are Eastside graduates who came back into the community, but not everybody does that.
“How do we get people who are here, who go to school here, to come back here?” Sebert asked. “Right now, we don’t have that draw to keep people here.”

Breaking the poverty cycle is another important step, added Pat Brown of the Fight DeKalb Poverty group. “Small things can build a community,” she said. “It only takes one little ripple of a rock skipping across a pond. That can turn into a wave. It takes starting at the bottom and working your way up.”
Skaggs said DeKalb Eastern allows ColorMaster officials to come into its schools to tell students about opportunities the company has available.
Moving forward, Smaltz suggested establishing short-term goals, perhaps at 90-day intervals, to realize some accomplishments and build momentum.
“I was encouraged by what I heard,” Eldridge said afterward. “It was a mix of a lot of people, and I think we were all on the same page. The fact that we’re meeting again lends itself to future meetings.
“I thought we had a good turnout and some really good discussions today,” he said. “I think we got a pretty good start today.” 

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