“Branding and making this area a destination over the last two or three years has become a talking point for both Louisville and Southern Indiana, but they’re doing it from a regional perspective,” says Misty McCammack, economic development manager in Plainfield, Ind., for Duke Energy, which services Southern Indiana. “Communities are coming together that never have come together before.”
The region consists of 15 counties and nearly 1.5 million people, who work in nearly 32,000 businesses, including those located in 43 business and industrial parks. Louisville is the dominant metropolis, of course, but each city and county — and both states — bring distinct economic strains into the overall picture. And they paint an attractive picture overall. “We have the selling point of a high quality of life and a low cost of living, along with a competitive cost of doing business,” says Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development organization. “You’ll be able to live here, own a home, have a short commute time, access to great parks — the livability that a mid-size city gives you.”
Meanwhile, across the river in Southern Indiana, where about 30 percent of the area’s workforce lives, businesses can find even a lower cost of living and operating costs. “It’s sort of a catch-22 in that we want to market ourselves as part of the region, but within that we have some distinct advantages,” explains Wendy Dant Chesser, president and CEO of One Southern Indiana, the region’s own economic development group.
Southern Indiana’s River Ridge Commerce Center
Southern Indiana boasts the Port of Indiana at Jeffersonville and a significant logistics infrastructure that involves roads, rails, water, and air. One of the region’s most significant cost advantages is that Southern Indiana benefits from an excellent logistics location for distribution to the entire eastern half of the country.
But River Ridge Commerce Center, built on a former ammunition plant site, is the shining star of Southern Indiana’s economic firmament. So far, it boasts 40 companies with more than 7,200 employees on 6,000 acres of deeded land — only 20 percent of which is already developed. At this point, the center boasts several major tenants and industries, including an Amazon warehousing and storage facility, a Tenneco auto-parts plant, a Clarcor air-filtration products plant, and snack manufacturing by Enjoy Life Foods, a Mondelez International brand that has been a leader in the “free-from” foods segment. “It’s unique,” McCammack says of River Ridge. “It’s going to benefit Clark and Floyd counties but also Louisville.”
Pretty much every characteristic of each side of the river gets interpreted by local economic development officials through a regional lens as a matter of necessity. That requirement has its advantages — and its disadvantages.
“Louisville is doing a lot of great things,” McCammack says. “It has amenities, and the region touts that. But the region is also seen as having an Indiana advantage with plenty of growth opportunities and ease of doing business.”
Kentucky residents also recently came to the aid of the region by passing right-to-work legislation, finally joining the status enjoyed by Indiana for several years now.
Business Diversity in Louisville-Southern Indiana
River Ridge Commerce CenterJeffersonville, IN
River Ridge Commerce Center, built on a former ammunition plant site in Jeffersonville, Southern Indiana, boasts 40 companies with more than 7,200 employees on 6,000 acres of deeded land — only 20 percent of which is already developed.
Amazon’s fulfillment center at Southern Indiana’s River Ridge Commerce Center opened in 2013.
Tenneco — which designs, manufactures, and distributes clean air and ride performance products for cars and commercial trucks as well as for aftermarket purchases — is among the tenants at Jeffersonville, Indiana’s River Ridge Commerce Center.
About 450 people work at the Clarcor air-filtration products plant in Southern Indiana’s River Ridge Commerce Center.
Enjoy Life FoodsJeffersonville, IN
Located in Southern Indiana’s River Ridge Commerce Center, Enjoy Life Foods, a Mondelez International brand, has been a leader in the “free-from” foods segment.
GE AppliancesLouisville, KY
GE Appliances is one of the marquee manufacturers in Louisville, Kentucky.
SFord builds hot-selling pickup trucks in Louisville, Kentucky.
Reynolds Consumer ProductsLouisville, KY
Lucas Oil Products
Other major manufacturers, which collectively employ more than 77,000 people regionally, include Reynolds Consumer Products, Akebono, BAE Systems, and Lucas Oil Products.
UPS WorldportLouisville, KY
The UPS Worldport in Louisville is the shipper’s largest global air hub.
Yum! BrandsLouisville, KY
Louisville’s concentration of food companies includes the headquarters of Yum! Brands — which owns the Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell brands — and Papa John’s, America’s No. 3 pizza brand.
Humana headlines the healthcare companies based in Louisville, with approximately 12,500 employees.
Louisville’s economy is actually built on five pillars: advanced manufacturing, logistics and e-commerce, lifelong wellness and innovative healthcare, food and beverages, and consumer and business services.
GE Appliances is one of the marquee manufacturers in Louisville. So is Ford, which builds hot-selling pickup trucks in Louisville. Other major manufacturers, which collectively employ more than 77,000 people regionally, include Reynolds Consumer Products, Akebono, BAE Systems, and Lucas Oil Products.
“GE has a wonderful legacy in the city,” Wiederwohl says about the appliance-manufacturing complex that was owned by General Electric until, as part of its broad streamlining and de-industrialization, the company sold it to Haier, a major Chinese appliance manufacturer. “There are a lot of families here who have a connection to GE, and that manufacturing base is what built our middle class. We’re very happy to have GE Appliances’ headquarters staying here” under Haier.
The area’s central location in the U.S. is a major advantage for its logistics and e-commerce sector, of course, which employs about 40,000 people regionally. The best-known operation in that segment is the UPS Worldport UPS Worldport in Louisville, the shipper’s largest global air hub, which allows companies global access to customers.
Louisville also enjoys a big concentration of food companies, including the headquarters of Yum! Brands — which owns the Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell brands — and Papa John’s, America’s No. 3 pizza brand. Humana headlines the healthcare companies based in Louisville, while the consumer and business services group of companies employs more than 30,000 regionally and has grown 15 percent in the last five years.
Challenges in Bridging the River
But there are difficulties — and tensions — as Southern Indiana and Greater Louisville cooperate regionally but also compete against each other to some extent.
“The biggest challenge is how to brand ourselves,” Chesser says. “How do we sell everything that we are in one tag line, in one logo, and get someone to read one paragraph? A lot of places have an issue like that, but ours is compounded because we’re selling two different states.”
Wiederwohl explains that a divide-and-conquer strategy is one way the regional partners avoid stepping on each other’s toes. “We don’t often compete for the same things,” she says. “They have larger tracts of land, for instance, whereas Jefferson County [home to Louisville] is largely built out.”
Bridging the river, the two sides also agree on the importance of making the region a center of digital business. They have advantages such as the substantial IT operations and expertise of some of Louisville’s largest companies. And in Southern Indiana, officials are working with the Ford Foundation on talent and workforce-development initiatives in local high schools.
Practical imperatives usually win out over regional differences. “It’s hard to market Southern Indiana alone as a great place to live, work, and raise a family, because outside of this area, we don’t have much of an image,” Chesser says. “So we think by partnering with our friends in Louisville, when they engage talent we’ll automatically benefit on this side of the river as well.”