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The Value of Vision

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

In my article last month, I noted that at the Indiana Economic Development Director’s Course hosted by IEDA, Jim Plump (Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.), and Thayr Richey (Strategic Development Group) identified key qualities of an economic development professional. One of the qualities on the list was ‘visionary.’

Being a visionary is a misunderstood quality, but I think a large part of vision is the accumulation of experience and expertise and applying it to a challenge to create a novel solution for the future.

Challenges we have plenty of, but visionary solutions for the future? Not so much.

I was thinking about this during a conversation with Jim Tidd, Executive Director of the Miami County Development Authority.

In 1994, Miami County and the City of Peru were forced into a dramatic, economic transition. The US Department of Defense, during its Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process decided to ‘realign’ Grissom Air Base. The base had a $156 million annual impact on the community and accounted for nearly 4,500 direct and indirect jobs. Because it was’realignment’ and not a ‘closure,’ some level of military activity would continue at the facility. But in Jim’s words, “it felt like the City of Peru was vanishing.”

How to leverage an air installation and turn a potential liability into an asset, particularly one as unique as this? That was the challenge, and one that Jim Tidd was uniquely suited to handle. The Air Force entered into a ‘joint-use agreement,’ with the community, one of only thirteen in the US. This meant that the military would continue using the base, but would allow the community to be a ‘tenant,’ using the base as an economic development asset.

The community looked at the assets included as part of the base: the hangers, the military grade runway, etc., and came up with some unique proposals: the facility could be for rodeos, or for indoor go carting or…a flea market, perhaps?

Jim, a former Air Force officer, saw the facility as more than just an empty space to be filled. He suspected that the base represented a unique aviation asset, and he developed a plan to maintain and upgrade the base for all sorts of aircraft maintenance. With this vision before him, Jim made the rounds at trade shows, sharing that vision with those who could help him make it a reality.

In 2009, Jim met Barbara Baldwin, CEO of the Dean Baldwin Company, a company that paints commercial aircraft. Coincidentally, the company was looking to expand and liked the proximity of a town like Peru to major airline markets. Now, jets of all types and sizes regularly fly into Miami County for painting and maintenance.

In dozens of other US communities, the BRAC process created an economic cul-de-sac where former military installations grow weeds and host the occasional rodeo. In Miami County, a combination of experience, expertise and vision created a unique asset that will instead have a local economic impact of $162 million over the next five years.

Lee Lewellen, CEO
Indiana Economic Development Association
IEDA Foundation