St. Joe Co. 'fast tracks' job creation efforts

St. Joseph County officials hope to put job creation efforts on a fast track.

The County Board of Commissioners today laid the groundwork for the construction of a new rail spur that would serve industrial property near New Carlisle.

While there is no guarantee that the investment would bring in new jobs, that is the hope and the expectation.

Western St. Joseph County has seen its share of job creation successes like the massive I/N Tek Plant, but the area has also seen some pretty big failures, like the power plant project that was abandoned more than a decade ago.

“Certainly if the (power) plant were in construction it would certainly aid with construction, but the main focus of the railroad spur is just to offer that as a magnet for other developments,” said Second District St. Joseph County Commissioner Dave Thomas.

While the idea of building a rail spur was originally part of a plan to revive the power plant project (as a way to bring in plant pieces that were too big to truck), plans for the rail spur are now moving forward while plans to build the power plant are not.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the county to position itself to be able to offer this service to attract some of these larger industrial customers that in turn result in an incredible number of jobs,” said St. Joseph County Engineer Jessica Clark.

At a time when 27 percent of all economic development projects that consider locating in the state of Indiana are looking for sites with rail, St. Joseph County current has nothing to offer in terms of large, vacant, rail ready sites.

“With all the other resources that we have especially in the western part of the county from water, from good power, that rail would make us a really difficult site to pass up for companies,” said St. Joseph County Commissioner Andrew Kostielney.

The sight in question is about 5,000 acres and some feel adding access to rail would allow the county to compete for the type of large economic development projects that could bring thousands of new jobs.

The cost of the rail spur extension is predicted to cost up to $3 million. Today, the commissioners agreed to pay $588,000 to engineers who will design the spur and come up with more specific cost estimates.

Plans call for one stretch of the spur to feed a ‘public access’ site, that would put rail within the reach of any nearby company that was interested.

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