Elkhart County getting nearly 400 new jobs

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A northern Indiana county that experienced the state's highest unemployment rate three years ago is continuing its rebound with nearly 400 new jobs expected to be created in the coming months.

The Elkhart County Council on Saturday gave final or preliminary approval to tax phase-ins for four companies seeking to expand in the county where the jobless rate topped out at nearly 19 percent in March 2009, The Elkhart Truth and The Goshen News reported.

Recreational vehicle frame manufacturer Fortress Technologies LLC has agreed to hire 266 people over the next seven years in exchange for a property tax phase-in for new equipment at a plant site in Middlebury.

The company will invest $6.6 million in new manufacturing equipment. According to an agreement with the county, annual salaries for the new full-time employees will total $10.47 million—that's about $40,000 a year per job.

The council also has given preliminary approval to tax phase-ins for three other companies that promise to hire a total of 125 people.

Indiana Galvanizing LLC, a family-owned steel galvanizing business based in Missouri, hopes to create 60 jobs in Middlebury with the help of a seven-year tax phase-in. The company wants to hire 60 employees with annual salaries adding up to more than $2.24 million. It plans to invest $500,000 in real estate, with new manufacturing and technology equipment valued at $510,000.

The Middlebury plant will be the company's third and represent a move outside its comfort zone, said Jason Monnig, whose grandfather started the parent company in 1960.

"Our employees, our vendors and our local governments are like family to us, and we weren't all that familiar with Indiana or Ohio or Michigan or the other places we started looking, but the process has been a good one both at the state level and the county level," Monnig said.

Another company, Smart Cabinet LLC, has proposed hiring 55 workers in New Paris, where the company plans to invest $3.5 million in real estate, about $5.4 million in new manufacturing equipment and $210,000 in technology. The woodworking company has been in business for seven years with more than 400 customers from coast to coast, according to President Kirk Barron.

Smart Cabinet has asked for tax phase-ins spanning eight years for the new equipment and 10 years for real estate. Salaries for the new employees are expected to add up to almost $3 million annually.

The smallest of the three new tax phase-in requests came from Alliance Aluminum Products, an aluminum extrusion business that has outgrown its home in Bristol. The company hopes to invest $1.4 million in real estate and add 10 positions with an annual payroll of $343,200. If approved, the proposed tax phase-in would cover eight years.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this year that Elkhart County employment rose 6.2 percent over the year ending in March, the largest percentage increase among the nation's largest 322 counties.

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