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State of the County focuses on economy, health care

The second annual State of the County message was delivered last Wednesday night in the Baumgart Room of the Harrison County Hospital in Corydon. Speakers for the event were Commissioner James Goldman and HCH CEO Steve Taylor. Darrell Voelker, Harrison County’s economic development coordinator, gave the opening remarks for the audience and also introduced the two speakers.
‘We want to release the message of what’s going on with the county economy,’ said Voelker.
‘When you can get a farmer indoors on a sunny day in March, you’ve done something,’ he said speaking of Goldman.
Goldman spoke first to the audience about Harrison County’s economy. He compared county unemployment rates from 2006 to 2007. The rate dropped to 4.8 percent in 2007, from 5.3 in 2006.
‘That’s important, to see that it did drop,’ said Goldman.
The 4.8-percent unemployment rate is comparable to the 4.6 percent of Indiana and 5.0 percent of the country.
Goldman said a better way to look at the day-to-day economy of the county is to look at building permits. Single-family residence permits issued numbered 215 in 2004, 181 in 2005, 148 in 2006 and 140 last year.
‘It’s been a steady decline,’ Goldman said. ‘Hopefully, we’re nearing the end of that trend. It clearly shows the downward trend, but between ’06 and ’07, you can see it kind of bottoming out.’
Referring to the economic development board, Goldman said its goal is to work to bring in new jobs and industry as well as assist existing businesses.
‘I think that’s important, help them grow and do a better job,’ said Goldman.
He said the plan of action this year will include marketing the industrial park area and other ‘shovel-ready’ sites. Last year, an advisory board of business leaders in the community was created.
‘We created it, but that’s all we did,’ he said. ‘We need to bring them in and use their expertise.’
Goldman identified two key areas he hopes will be developed in the near future: the old Keller Manufacturing Co. property and the Lanesville interchange.
The Harrison County Regional Sewer District has been a great help to the community, said Goldman. The district will soon improve the sewer situation in New Salisbury, which was sorely needed, he said.
Cleaning up and finding a buyer for the old Wennings property in Central Barren was a ‘big victory,’ according to Goldman.
Goldman also praised Howard Packaging Co., Corydon Asphalt, Tyson Foods and ICON Metal Forming.
‘It was a wonder if anyone could make a go of that place (ICON), now they employ 425 people and have invested over $4 million in manufacturing,’ he said.
Goldman commended Tyson Foods for joining in the global market by selling chicken feet to China.
‘It’s a delicacy there; a waste product has become a marketable item,’ he said.
Goldman also spoke about the revolving loan plan, which helps new businesses get started. ‘It’s a good program,’ he said.
The last project he mentioned was the effort to bring high-speed Internet to the entire county, but said it is difficult with the terrain of the county.
‘We do have a lot of small successes, a few huge successes, and right here is one of them,’ he said of the hospital, which opened its new facility Feb. 21. ‘I think if we keep working together, the county will keep growing.’
Taylor then addressed the state of health care both in the county and the nation.
‘I think times are as tough now as any,’ he said. ‘In the last 10 years, every hospital in Louisville except for one has lost money and has had to lay-off people.’
Taylor mentioned many of the reason for the current health care problems: aging population, manpower shortages, declining reimbursement, under- and un-insured population, escalating health care costs, exploding medical science, increased competition and restructuring medical staffs.
‘All in all, it’s a good system,’ said Taylor. ‘It’s probably the best in the world. We still get people from all over the world coming to our Mayo Clinics.’
One of the examples of the exploding medical science is the electronic medical records (EMR).
‘I always thought I would be retired or dead before we had that (EMR),’ said Taylor, adding that the medical science boom has definitely improved the quality of life, but it comes with a high cost.
Taylor said he has received nothing but compliments about the new hospital. He said HCH offers the largest patient opinion survey, so they can receive feedback on a daily basis. The growth of the hospital over the years has been substantial, as evident by the increase in parking spaces. In 1989, the hospital had 175 parking spaces compared to the more than 800 that will be at the new campus when it is fully developed, he said.