by Wes Mills, Inside Indiana Business

KNOX COUNTY, Ind. – Officials in Knox County have launched a local business retention and expansion program aimed at helping local businesses and improving economic development. Knox County Indiana Economic Development and the Knox County Chamber of Commerce are partnering on this effort to examine the needs and challenges facing employers. The partners have initiated a survey process to survey local business owners and managers.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Knox County Development Corp. CEO Chris Pfaff explained what he hopes the survey will discover.

“I think the biggest thing is just looking for trends, and then any specific thing that are barriers to growth,” said Pfaff. “There are a lot of different questions in there about how do you perceive our community? And a lot of these questions are teasers to open up a conversation with our local companies about their experience in doing business here in Vincennes and Knox County.”

The partners say a number of Knox County businesses will receive a letter in the coming weeks detailing how they can participate in the program. It will explain why participating in the survey process will eventually benefit the business and the community as a whole.

The project includes not only manufacturers, but also the service, food and beverage industries.

“Those surveys are going to be industry specific,” said Knox County Chamber of Commerce President Jamie Neal. “We’ll have a pretty good grasp or idea of what their needs are going to be and how we can respond to those.”

“Being able to give these small businesses, the restaurants, the hospitality industry, to listen to what their needs are is really important,” said Neal. “We’re excited to be a part of this program and to see what we can do to help expand and grow our community.”

Even without this survey, economic development officials know housing is top of mind for many employers. They say it is a critical function when trying to attract and retain employees.

“Regardless of what industry you’re in, whether it’s healthcare, or manufacturing, or food and beverage or hospitality, I think we all recognize that talent, attraction and retention is probably our number one issue right now. And of course, that’s tied to housing,” said Pfaff.

The Indiana First Region, of which Knox County is a member, received $15 million from the state’s Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI). Pfaff says about half of the funding has already been designated for housing projects in the five county region, which includes Knox, Pike, Perry, Spencer and Harrison.

“Here in Knox [County], we did a housing study a year and a half ago, and found that, we’re not even keeping up with demand,” said Pfaff. “Everyone is focused on housing.”