by Jason M. Rodriguez
At a City Council meeting early this year, Joe Farr, the developer behind the Cass County Commons development on Lexington Drive, called Logansport “the most development unfriendly town” he had seen.
The words have been campaign fodder for mayoral challengers Ted Franklin and Seger Mathew. They say that for Logansport to reach its potential for a stronger job force, the process for new businesses needs to be simpler.
The two are trying to unseat Mayor Mike Fincher in Tuesday’s election, and jobs have been a central theme on the campaign trail.
In contrast, Fincher has pointed to the business successes in his tenure, and Farr, who contacted the Pharos-Tribune last week, said it wasn’t the mayor he was taking about.
Fincher was a big help in guiding the project through the approval process, said Farr of JDF Development in Carmel.
“The biggest thing for us that caused plenty of headaches was the review of the plans before we could get our permits,” Farr said. “You need to make the plan review and comment process as painless as possible while maintaining the standards you set for your community. ... The timing on these projects get very hairy.”
Farr said it was “three meetings and a month-and-a-half worth of headaches” before the land could be developed and jobs could be created for Logansport.
Meanwhile, Fire Stone Grill in downtown Logansport has been stalled for nearly two years over a disagreement about city regulations and a lawsuit filed by the owner, Bernadene Thimlar. Last week, the two sides reached a preliminary agreement that should allow the restaurant to open yet this year.
“It’s been almost two years of waiting for nothing,” Thimlar told the Pharos-Tribune last week.
Nolan “Skip” Kuker, president of the Logansport-Cass County Economic Development Foundation, described those instances as “headline grabbers” and listed a number of projects that went smoothly.
“For every one of those, I can give you another one that will say it was a piece of cake,” Kuker said.
He said some of the regulations businesses faced were state mandates.
“We work with whatever regulations that are in place,” he said. “Really, it’s what we’ve got to deal with.”
Mathew, the independent candidate, said there is a fine balance between maintaining the standards the city has and being a community known for welcoming new enterprise.
“The first thing I’m going to do is ask the council to sit down with me and go over the zoning ordinances,” he said. “I want people to say Logansport is a town that welcomes businesses, but I also want to maintain quality in our business district.”
Franklin, the Republican challenger, made a campaign issue of Fire Stone Grill, saying that type of red tape creates a business environment that is not seen favorably by business prospects. He also mentioned the city’s sign regulations that some have said are designed to keep the city from looking like Las Vegas.
“Well, we can use a little Las Vegas,” Franklin said. “We have to have a whole new outlook on those things, and it starts in the mayor’s office. It’s time for some new blood.”
Fincher, the incumbent Democrat, said the city had been in the process of reviewing the procedures it follows when new businesses come to town. He said he spoke to Farr about the issue.
“I told him I thought we needed to sit down with a developer and see if we could come up with a way that makes it easier for everyone,” Fincher said.
Franklin said he believed the climate — higher taxes and utility rates — hindered development. He said Logansport is 29th from the top out of the state’s 1,953 taxing entities.
“That’s pretty damning when you’re trying to bring business in,” he said.
Franklin said easing some regulations, reducing the tax rate and working with Logansport Municipal Utilities to make rates more appealing to incoming businesses would help replace the 1,236 jobs lost in the last five years.
He said he would work with other entities, such as Cass County Fire District No. 1, to make Logansport more competitive.
“One of the first things businesses look at is your tax rate and your utility rate because those are such big expenses for companies,” he said.
One of Franklin’s plans to bring jobs to the area is to capitalize on the area’s rural makeup.
“I think that we have missed opportunities,” he said. “I think we need to capitalize on the fact that we’re an agribusiness community and look for those types of companies. Those are the jobs that some people in this area have the skill set for.”
Fincher said his plan for new jobs starts with an educated work force — something he and the city have worked on for years.
“I’ve been clear from Day 1,” Fincher said. “I believe and will believe until the day I die that an educated work force is the key, but it’s not the only key.”
The City Council, under Fincher’s leadership, was instrumental in bringing Trine University to Logansport. Couple that with the new campus of Ivy Tech Community College, and Fincher says the town is on the right track to producing a well-educated work force.
Infrastructure in the form of profitable and sufficient electric, water and sewer services to handle the growth in population associated with more jobs must be kept in mind, as well as a top-notch wireless communication service, he said.
“If I could have brought a thousand jobs a year to Logansport, I would have,” Fincher said. “It’s a willingness that’s needed by all to adopt procedures to get that done.”
Mathew says it all comes down to letting companies know Logansport is interested in their business and starting conversations that weren’t happening before.
“To bring jobs in, you have to know what Logansport has to offer,” he said. “We need to go to these companies, ask to meet with them, and you have to market yourself with what you have to offer.”
• Jason M. Rodriguez is news editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.