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These stories might cheer you up

March 16, 2009
Earlier this month, when temperatures hit the 70s and the sun shone brightly, I noticed the lilies and daffodils in my back yard starting to break through the hard, frozen ground.

A new spring was in the air ... and in my step.

Then, of course, winter gave us a last-gasp swipe of her cold, gray hand. Temperatures dropped 30 degrees, a chilly wind blew, and spring was put on hold once again.

What a perfect metaphor for the economy and the markets.

We are surrounded by negativity. And every time a ray of hope shines through, the cold, gray hand of bad news smothers it like a black cloud. Each time our step gets a little lighter, we get cuffed on the back of the head.

My head hurts. If you're like me, you are tiring of it, and you are burning lots of energy trying to stay positive. You are wondering: When will our economic spring arrive?

I can't answer that question, of course, but I'm going to help you here. This week I'm going to be your own, personal Pollyanna and try to cheer you up with some good news. It's all stuff we've covered, but it gets lost in the grayness.

Forget the bad news for a minute, and check this out.

Republic Airways is loaning Frontier Airlines $40 million to help it out of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, in an industry that's struggling, Republic reported both higher operating income and earnings in 2008 than in 2007.

Pretty good.

The same profit story can be told at ITT Educational Services, a company benefiting from high unemployment rates by teaching new skills to the recently laid off. The company's shares were trading above $100 last week, against a 52-week low of around $42.

Even better.

Everything stinks in the heavy manufacturing sector, right? Tell that to Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis. Last month, the company signed a 10-year, $400 million deal to build engines for Bell helicopters. Rolls also announced its sixth new civil engine program in less than three years and opened a $4 million training center at the airport.

Nobody's buying or selling real estate, right? What about the Brooklyn firm Hampshire Properties that just plunked down $55 million for six apartment properties in the Indianapolis market?

A couple of home-grown real estate heavyweights are getting creative, too. Longtime residential builder Paul Shoopman has teamed up with F.C. Tucker to staff model homes in seven Shoopman communities with Tucker agents.

Some in the technology sector are making significant progress. ExactTarget and Compendium Blogware are adding sales and employees, while Vontoo, a voice-messaging company, recently raised $2 million in new financing.

Part of Vontoo's new money came from Gravity Ventures, a fledgling venture firm started by a small group of 30-somethings who are trying to raise $1 million and put it to work. How's that for optimism? By the way, Gravity has also invested in Compendium.

Privately held central Indiana companies like AIT Laboratories and Premiere Credit of North America continue to do well and expand.

AIT, which provides testing and research services to the health care industry, won the Indiana Chamber's Small Business of the Year award last month. The company recently launched a pharmaceutical division that plans to add 130 jobs in the next five years.

Premiere Credit, a debt-recovery firm, is planning to add 300 employees and is looking for 25,000 square feet of more space.

Do you feel better now? These are positive stories from a world that seems overstocked with negative news. I'm convinced many similar stories exist out there that are going untold. Do you know of any? Better yet, do you have one to tell?

Now's the time to share it. My e-mail address is below.

___

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com. 
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