Site visit lifts county's hopes for landing Harley

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Harley-Davidson Inc. officials were in Shelby County yesterday assessing it as a location for a new motorcycle plant, but it isn’t yet clear how the county stacks up to other U.S. locales that also are in the running for the economic-development prize.

Management from the Milwaukee-based company toured Shelby County after visiting two other potential sites -- Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Shelbyville, Ky. -- earlier in the week, Harley spokesman Bob Klein told the Business Journal of Milwaukee. He said a fourth U.S. community also is under consideration, but he declined to identify it because management hasn’t made a visit.

The company is scouting sites as it considers scaling back or discontinuing production at an aging complex in York, Pa., that employs 2,500. Workers there are scattered across 42 buildings with a total of 1 million square feet. A new plant could employ more than 1,000.

Shelbyville Mayor Scott Furgeson said this morning that city officials have not offered any economic incentives, but he thinks the state is putting a package together.

“It’s always too early to get excited until you see them digging in the ground,” Furgeson said. “But just reading about it, it’s an exciting project.”

A spokeswoman for the Indiana Economic Development Corp. wouldn’t discuss Harley’s interest in Indiana, saying “it’s just too early.”

Incentives could play a key role in attracting or retaining jobs. The state of Pennsylvania already has pledged $15 million that Harley-Davidson could apply toward upgrading the York complex.

Ferguson is unsure how Shelby County turned up on Harley-Davidson’s radar. Typically, large companies hire a site-selection consultant who contacts economic development organizations such as the Indy Partnership, which puts feelers out, Ferguson said. 

An Indy Partnership representative declined to comment.

The company expects to decide how to proceed by the end of the year. Calls to Harley Davidson were not returned this morning.

Harley-Davidson is an iconic American corporation that is struggling financially amid the recession and an aging demographic.

In fact, these are probably the leanest times Harley has faced since going public in 1986, analysts said.

“We are going with the scenario that 2009 is not going to offer any type of recovery for Harley,” Edward D. Jones & Co. analyst Robin Diedrich said in a recent report.


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